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  • Toby Sinclair

Super Learning Book Summary by Peter Hollins

⭐ Toby's Rating: 8/10 - Recommended For: Everyone

3 Big Ideas 💡

Learn the power of super learning

  1. Learning to learn can be a superpower. Master the skill of learning to help you learn anything.

  2. Many traditional approaches to learning are ineffective. Techniques like highlighting and mnemonics are not effective. Instead, practice testing and elaborative interrogation are better to maximise learning.

  3. Concept learning is one of the best ways to learn. This is when you learn the big ideas, the narrative, the why and then add in the finer details. Learn the narrative first then the specific facts.

2 Best Quotes from Super Learning 💬

It’s always best to start with the big ideas—the overarching concepts that link the little details together.

When you set out to learn something, instead of measuring the number of hours you spend on something, try instead to measure the number of times you revisit the same information after the initial learning. Make it your goal to increase the frequency of reviewing, not necessarily the duration.

Tobys Top Takeaway

I'm fascinated with learning how to learn. I do believe that improving the ability to learn is a superpower. It helps in almost all aspects of life. This story from Super Learning is a perfect example:

This was never more apparent to me than at my first job. I had a coworker named John, and I started a few weeks before he did. It soon become clear that he had lied on his resume and faked his way through his interview, because he had no idea what his duties were supposed to be or how to use the industry-standard software that we were all supposed to be proficient in. At first, I was angry and wanted to see justice done. But then a funny thing happened—he was an immensely fast learner. He had Post-it notes all over his desk, had notepads full of notes, and he always seemed to be writing sets of three-step instructions for himself. It was impressive to see his drive toward learning, and within months, he was performing at right about my own level of proficiency with everything he had lacked before. Sure, he may have faked his way in, but at this point, there was no practical difference between me and him. He had learned how to do our job in record time and stayed at the company for years afterward.

I've read many books on learning including Ultralearning by Scott Young. The new information I learned from this book is the 5 best active learning techniques: Practice testing, Distributed practice, Elaborative interrogation, Self-explanation, Interleaved practice.


Big Ideas Expanded 💡

The big ideas from super learning book expanded.

Concept Learning

Researcher Roger Säljö found in 1979 that we tend to view the act of learning in several ways, but it can generally be boiled down into two rough categories: surface learning and deep learning. Surface learning relates to gaining knowledge, facts, and memorization; deep learning refers to abstracting meaning and understanding reality.

It’s always best to start with the big ideas—the overarching concepts that link the little details together. A bigger narrative helps contextualize these facts and makes them mean something. If you understand the governing principles around something, the facts follow organically.

Cooking is the perfect example.

If you only understand the steps but not the why your skill level will be lower. The basic recipe generally doesn't say why you sweat onions and garlic first, why you bring the sauce to a boil, or why you let it simmer for a time. Understanding that sweating the onions and garlic builds a flavor base, that boiling the sauce distributes the ingredients, and that simmering them bonds the flavors together gives you a better handle on the process of your preparation. You can also adapt and adjust if things don’t go according to plan; because you understand why a certain step exists, you can come up with an alternative if necessary, get creative, or troubleshoot a problem. You become one of those people that doesn’t need a recipe because you know more than how to read a recipe—you understand what it means to make good food.

A technique to amplify concept learning is reprocessing. Examples:

  • “Rewrite this concept in plain English.”

  • “Write a movie or novel plot that demonstrates this concept.”

  • “Use this concept to describe a real-life event.”

  • “Describe the opposite of this concept.”

  • “Draw a picture of this concept.”

Learning through failure

“Productive failure” is an idea identified by Manu Kapur, a researcher at the National Institute of Education in Singapore.

Kapur conducted a trial with two groups of students. In one group, students were given a set of problems with “scaffolding”—full instructional support from teachers on-site. The second group was given the same problems but received no teacher help whatsoever. Instead, the second group of students had to collaborate to find the solutions. The “scaffolded” group was able to solve the problems correctly, while the group left to itself was not. But without instructional support, this second group was forced to do deeper dives into the concepts by working together. They generated ideas about the nature of the problems and speculated on what potential solutions might look like. They tried to understand the root of the problems and what methods were available to solve them. The two groups were then tested on what they had just learned, and the results weren’t even close. The group without teacher assistance significantly outperformed the other group. The group that did not solve the problems discovered what Kapur deemed a “hidden efficacy” in failure: they nurtured a deeper understanding of the structure of the problems through group investigation and process. The second group may not have solved the problem itself, but it learned more about the aspects of the problem and the ideas behind it.

Memory Retention

The Forgetting Curve demonstrates how we forget things over time.

If you read something about the French Revolution on Monday, then you’ll typically remember only half of it after four days and retain as little as 30% at around a week’s time. If you don’t review what you’ve learned, it’s very likely you will only retain 10% of what you learned about the French Revolution.

Retrieval practice is one of the best ways to increase your memory and fact retention.

Following these 5 steps will improve your learning and retention:

  1. Preview. Don’t just dive in; rather, begin by trying to get a broad overview of what you’re doing, in what context, and why.

  2. Attention. Crucially, the preview section helps you direct where your attention goes (that is, onto the most important concepts), but in the second step, you need to apply that attention fully.

  3. Review. Just as we previewed, now we look again and see what ground we’ve covered, and what material has been absorbed.

  4. Study. The material is there, now you need to make sure it’s taking root in your brain, permanently. The key to this? Repetition.

  5. Assess. Here, you want to check how well the process is going. Check how much you’ve retained, but also ask yourself how well your study techniques are working.

In order to commit more to memory and retain information better, space out your rehearsal and exposure to it over as long of a period as possible. In other words, you will remember something far better if you study it for one hour a day versus twenty hours in one weekend.

When you set out to learn something, instead of measuring the number of hours you spend on something, try instead to measure the number of times you revisit the same information after the initial learning. Make it your goal to increase the frequency of reviewing, not necessarily the duration.

Active Learning Techniques

Surprisingly these most common approaches to learning have been to shown less effective:

  • Summarization.

  • Highlighting.

  • Mnemonics.

  • Imagery use for text learning.

  • Rereading.

Five More Effective Techniques

  1. Practice testing - assessing your knowledge as you learn.

  2. Distributed practice - practising over time rather than in one long block. Small and frequent rather than long and infrequent

  3. Elaborative interrogation - the act of making a thorough explanation for why a certain fact is true.

  4. Self-explanation - imagining you are learning to teach someone else. Creating a book summary to share with others is a great example.

  5. Interleaved practice - learning multiple concepts at the same time. You might think multitasking is bad but this can help you draw connections between concepts.

The THIEVES method can help you learn. It's very helpful when reading books and articles. For each section reflect on what is presented:

  • Title

  • Headings

  • Introduction

  • Every sentence

  • Visuals and vocabulary

  • End of chapter questions

  • Summary

Teaching to Learn

Rather than teaching and learning being opposites, they are really two aspects of the same single process—in understanding both, we gain a fuller appreciation than if we had examined the subject from just one side or the other.

The Learning Pyramid

When teaching it's important to understand how people learn:

The more involved you are, the better you learn.

Asking questions is one of a teacher's most powerful tools.

It’s a change in perspective, to see learning as a quest for better questions and not better answers.

What makes a good question?

  • It's like a tool—it helps you do things and take action. It broadens your reach and your understanding.

  • Opens ideas up for you so you can see inside them.

  • Let's thinking flow, move, expand and, hopefully, arrive at an illuminating answer.

  • Is not there simply to give you the “right answer,” but to inspire your learning and understanding. It should guide rather than force.

A bad question only stifles thinking, shuts your mind down or sends you down an irrelevant path.

Accelerated Reading

The four levels of reading, and it was developed by philosopher Mortimer Adler in his suitably titled publication How to Read a Book. Adler explains that reading is not a single, universally consistent act.

Adler’s four levels of reading, from simplest to most complex, are:

  1. Elementary. You’re already past this level. This is, essentially, learning to read. It’s the kind of reading that’s taught in elementary school.

  2. Inspectional. This is casually examining certain elements of a book apart from the body of the text: skimming the table of contents and the index, or reading the preface or the blurb on the back inside jacket.

  3. Analytical. The third level of reading is the deepest level for consuming a single book or volume of work—it’s full digestion of, and interaction with, the material at hand. The challenge of analytical reading is simply: “If time were not an object, how thoroughly would you read this book?” Analytical reading can be described as taking the book out of the author’s hands and making it your own. You don’t just read the text; you highlight or underline key points, and you make commentary or ask questions. In a way, you can use the marginalia to simulate an ongoing conversation with the writer.

  4. Syntopical. In the final level of reading, you work with multiple books or pieces of material covering the same subject. One could describe syntopical reading as “compare/contrast,” but it’s actually a lot deeper than that.


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