Mark Needham

Thoughts on Software Development

Learning: Study habits

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I came across an interesting article from the New York Times that Michael Feathers originally linked to on twitter which discusses some of the common ideas that we have about good study habits, pointing out the flaws in them and suggesting alternative approaches.

The author starts out by making some interesting observations about spacing out our learning:

An hour of study tonight, an hour on the weekend, another session a week from now: such so-called spacing improves later recall, without requiring students to put in more overall study effort or pay more attention, dozens of studies have found.

No one knows for sure why. It may be that the brain, when it revisits material at a later time, has to relearn some of what it has absorbed before adding new stuff — and that that process is itself self-reinforcing.

I’ve written previously about re-reading books and how we seem to notice different things when we process information the second time around.

I’ve also found that when I don’t understand something immediately that if I leave it for a while and come back to it later on it often makes more sense even though I haven’t deliberately tried to make sense of it.

For example I was playing with Clojure in November and December last year but then didn’t look at it again until quite recently.

Looking at it the second time the syntax and style of programming felt more natural to me which I think is because I’d played around with J a bit which is slightly similar.

This time I’m also using emacs and Swank instead of La Clojure and that combination of tools also feels more natural than it did when I tried last year. I don’t have any explanation for why that is!

I found the following section related to the type of material studied quite interesting:

Varying the type of material studied in a single sitting — alternating, for example, among vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language — seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time.

I don’t do this intentionally but I find that my interest in something rarely lasts more than a couple of hours so I tend to switch between coding, blogging and reading when I’m doing anything software related in my own time.

The article also goes on to talk about the value of testing ourself on material, suggesting that the harder it is to remember something the harder it is to later forget.

The only correlation I can think of with respect to my own learning style is that I find it easier to remember information if I write about it or explain it to someone else.

It’s a very interesting article and well worth reading.

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Written by Mark Needham

September 12th, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Posted in Learning

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