Learning how to Learn

How we learn is an interesting subject – each of us may have different ways in which we engage with the process of learning.

For some time, it has been thought that we may have specific ‘learning styles‘ that are individual to us.

For example, there is one premise that we are one of the following:  ‘visual’, ‘audio’ or ‘kinesthetic’ learners.

This learning style is known by the acronym VAK and was developed by Walter Burke Barbe and colleagues who proposed three learning modalities:

  1. Visualising modality
  2. Auditory modality
  3. Kinesthetic modality








Body movements



Object manipulation





But is there a better way to ‘learn how to learn’?

There is new way to learn that is rooted in neuroscience; the premise that the brain is ‘plastic’ and we can effectively ‘re-tool’ our brains, and Engineering Professor Barbara Oakley has the key!

This method uses the ‘focused’ and ‘diffuse’ modes of our brain, which helps us learn in very different ways.

Prof Oakley posits that using analogies can provide powerful techniques for learning, and by doing a little work every day, even on difficult subjects, we are growing new neural learning pathways.

The important bit is learning to switch between the focused and diffuse learning modes helps our brain to learn more efficiently and process new ideas.

If you would like to make a daily advancement in your Masonic knowledge, this method is the one to try!

The following talk was given at a local TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences.

From the YouTube description:

Engineering professor Barbara Oakley is co-teaching one of the world’s largest online classes, “Learning How to Learn”, https://www.coursera.org/course/learning.

She know first-hand how it feels to struggle with math. Dr Oakley flunked her way through high school math and science courses, before enlisting in the U.S. Army immediately after graduation.

When she saw how her lack of mathematical and technical savvy severely limited her options—both to rise in the military and to explore other careers—she returned to school with a new found determination to re-tool her brain to master the very subjects that had given her so much trouble throughout her entire life.

Barbara Oakley, PhD, PE is a professor of engineering at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.

Her research focuses on the complex relationship between neuroscience and social behavior, and has been described as “revolutionary” by the Wall Street Journal.

Oakley’s books have been praised by many leading researchers and writers, including Harvard’s Steven Pinker and E. O. Wilson, and National Book Award winner Joyce Carol Oates.

Her book A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel in Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra), published by Tarcher-Penguin, 2014.

Prior to her academic career, Oakley rose from private to captain in the U.S. Army, during which time she was recognized as a Distinguished Military Scholar.

She met her husband, Philip, when she was working at the South Pole Station in Antarctica.

Her experiences with well-intentioned altruism were shaped by her work as a Russian translator on Soviet trawlers on the Bering Sea during the early 1980s.

Oakley was designated as an NSF New Century Scholar—she is also a recipient of the Oakland University Teaching Excellence Award (2013) and the National Science Foundation’s Frontiers in Engineering New Faculty Fellow Award.

Oakley is an elected Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.

Check out Barbara Oakley’s website: https://barbaraoakley.com/


You can enrol on the ‘Learning how to Learn’ course here: https://www.coursera.org/learn/learning-how-to-learn

Learn Like a Pro: Science-Based Tools to Become Better at Anything

By: Barbara Oakley PhD 

Do you spend too much time learning with disappointing results? Do you find it difficult to remember what you read? Do you put off studying because it’s boring and you’re easily distracted? This book is for you.

Dr. Barbara Oakley and Olav Schewe have both struggled in the past with their learning.

But they have found techniques to help them master any material. Building on insights from neuroscience and cognitive psychology, they give you a crash course to improve your ability to learn, no matter what the subject is.

Through their decades of writing, teaching, and research on learning, the authors have developed deep connections with experts from a vast array of disciplines.

And it’s all honed with feedback from thousands of students who have themselves gone through the trenches of learning.

Successful learners gradually add tools and techniques to their mental toolbox, and they think critically about their learning to determine when and how to best use their mental tools.

That allows these learners to make the best use of their brains, whether those brains seem “naturally” geared toward learning or not.

This book will teach you how you can do the same.


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