Learning Methodologies

It has been a long time since I blogged. On one hand, I have been not feeling well, and on the other I had so much to write about I didn’t know where to start. Learning, economics, liberalism, F.A. Haye, Milton Friedman … the information firehose is in full spate.

I blogged just recently about what I personally do to aid my language learning. And in a course that I am taking on GC (Great Courses Plus), called The Learning Brain, they covered exactly the same things.

The four best methodologies for learning almost anything (in terms of explicit knowledge like mathematics, literature, science, etc.) are as follows:

Spaced Learning - This means that instead of trying to cram your learning into as small a space as possible, you space it out over a period of days or weeks. In one study, students were asked to try to learn the English translations of a bunch of Spanish words.

-        All the students studied the words during 6 sessions

-        3 groups of students

-        1 group had all 6 sessions  back‑to‑back on the same day

-        1 group had the 6 study sessions a day apart.

-        1 group had the 6 study sessions a month apart.

**The students with longer breaks between each study session forgot the meaning of more of the Spanish words they had studied, so they had to relearn them. In contrast, the students who had all 6 sessions back‑to‑back on the same day didn’t forget much from one session to the next.

HOWEVER … All groups were given a test 30 days after their last study session

Single day cram group - remembered 68% of the Spanish word translations.

Day Apart Group - remembered 86% of the translations.

Month Apart Group - remembered 95% of the translations.

Pretty cool huh?

Interleaving - this means that instead of studying your information in blocks that are all more or less related to each other, try to interleave the knowledge you are trying to learn. E.g. when it comes to a language, instead of trying to study all the present tense conjugations for a large number of verbs, it is better to interleave studying the present tense, the imperfect, and the past tense all at the same time. It forces your brain to reinforce the connections it needs to make the information readily available.

Making explanations - I have always called this teaching what you are learning. I have found that when I tried to teach what I am learning to somebody else, it greatly aids in consolidating the knowledge in my head. It should be fairly obvious, but when you try to write something down in such a way that you could explain it to somebody else, it forces you to understand what it is that you’re trying to explain.

Testing - Not really talking about formal testing here, but more mechanisms like flashcards which force you to test yourself on what it is you’re trying to learn. Apparently, this really helps with knowledge consolidation. Studies have shown that testing helps not just for fact‑based questions but also led to improved performance on more conceptual, inference‑based questions. Having someone test you on material you have studied a little helps much more than re-reading the material.

What has been shown to not work? Cramming, re-reading, and highlighting (I still use highlighting all the time though ☹).


It was pointed out in the same course, and I never really thought about it, that language is probably the most difficult thing that human beings ever have to learn. And when he explained it, it made sense. Babies have to learn to interpret an almost infinite stream of phonemes (basic sound units), they have to be able to separate out spoken phonemes from random noises that they are hearing (doorbells, dogs barking, etc.) and realize that they are in fact spoken language. Then they have to learn how to string them together, how to start understanding grammar, etc. As the professor points out, it is probably the most complex thing that human beings ever have to learn. And yet all babies appear to be able to do it, with no training. It is one of the reasons that the critical age for learning languages is before the age of 12. Children are basically wired to be able to do this more efficiently up to that age. Now I don’t feel so bad about why it’s taking me a long time to figure out how to understand Spanish.

But I am taking a serious look at how I can better integrate these methods, especially testing, into my study methods.

Out Of Interest ...

Out Of Interest ...

Research tools -  

Why am I writing about this? Because what I find myself doing these days involves a lot of research. And research on the Internet is NOT easy. Personally, I divide my research and writing into three stages: Mind Mapping, Research, and the actual Writing. I will discuss the first two here.


Mind Mapping. Mind mapping is a methodology that can be done either with paper and pen or application. It simply involves writing down your central theme and then attaching lines to that theme with the various ideas that you want to or considered to be part of the topic. I do this very often with the paper and pen, or there are a number of applications that certainly do an okay job. Once you rough it out like that … much easier to research by section and you have your outline for whatever you are writing. [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_map ]

Scapple - from Literature & Latte - I think it is about $14

Xmind - about $60 a year or $129 for the Pro version one time

Mind Jet - about $380. The premium mind mapping software

I have all three. But I find that for most things Scapple works very well. And for most people, if you wanted something a little more sophisticated, for the price, I would choose XMind Zen or Pro.

Then, phase 2, and this is the difficult one, the actual research itself. Finding information online is difficult.

More precisely, I should say finding accurate information online from relatively unbiased sources is difficult. It takes a lot of time. I have found the following websites of interest when it comes to trying to track down information.

www.necrometrics.com – Death tolls through history – Very interesting site


https://scholar.google.com/ - A way to research academic papers for information

www.khanacademy.org – A free way to check basic mathematics and scientific facts

https://www.bls.gov/bls/other.htm - Statistics Source

http://guides.emich.edu/data/free-data - Meta source for statistics

www.nationmaster.com – Another statistics source

www.statista.com – Reliable statistics source but paid and expensive – still wavering about subscribing to it

www.britannica.com – Nice to cross check sites like Wikipedia (but yes – subscription beyond basic access)

www.wikipedia.com – Good source BUT … When doing research I think it is good to make a habit of crosschecking what you find here on Wikipedia. Remember that there is not an enormous amount of control over the information that is there. I think many people have fallen into the habit that if it’s on Wikipedia, it must be correct. I’m not sure that is always true.

I have noticed that when you’re trying to get statistics on industries, it is fairly reliable to see if you can find (at least in the United States and Europe) the public face of that industry like the U.S. steel organizations or the US aluminum organizations or the the EU ACEA (European Automobile Manufacturing Association). If you are looking for high-level statistics like number of people employed in which countries or states, these organizations provide the information for free and it is accurate. I have taken a serious look at STATISTICA, but I’m balking at the cost. Although it has a very good reputation. I would subscribe instantly if I was doing enough research to justify it. It is $588/year. ☹

I would like to add one more site that I found just the other day which I think would be of interest to people who are interested in buying things on Amazon. Reviews are, or should be, a good way to evaluate whether you buy a product or not. However fake reviews are a problem. Especially for products like charging cables, batteries, accessories, etc. for some reason.  I found the following site --


which might be of interest. When you see a product on Amazon that you are interested in simply cut and paste the link to this website and it will give you an analysis of the reliability of the reviews. I first heard about this on an NPR Planet Money podcast. Apparently when Amazon was contacted about this by Planet Money, they (Amazon) simultaneously try to both downplay it (problems with fake reviews), and then mentioned at the same time that they were working on something that would do the same thing as reviewmeta.com.

I hope this has been a useful read. I always welcome feedback. Now to see if I can get out an article on Economics.