Author: barboakley

Barbara Oakley, PhD, PE is a Professor of Engineering at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan; Michigan’s Distinguished Professor of the Year; and Coursera’s inaugural “Innovation Instructor.” Her work focuses on the complex relationship between neuroscience and social behavior. Dr. Oakley’s research has been described as “revolutionary” in the Wall Street Journal. She is a New York Times best-selling author who has published in outlets as varied as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. She has won numerous teaching awards, including the American Society of Engineering Education’s Chester F. Carlson Award for technical innovation in engineering education and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers William E. Sayle II Award for Achievement in Education. Together with Terrence Sejnowski, the Francis Crick Professor at the Salk Institute, she co-teaches Coursera – UC San Diego’s “Learning How to Learn,” one of the world’s most popular massive open online courses with over three million registered students, along with a number of other leading MOOCs. Dr. Oakley has adventured widely through her lifetime. She rose from the ranks of Private to Captain in the U.S. Army, during which time she was recognized as a Distinguished Military Scholar. She also worked as a communications expert at the South Pole Station in Antarctica, and has served as a Russian translator on board Soviet trawlers on the Bering Sea. Dr. Oakley is an elected Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering and of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.

The Promise of Habit-Based Learning

Cheery Monday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

It’s worth sending an unusual, “Cheery Monday” greetings this holiday week (at least it’s a holiday in the US!) with this morning’s publication of Barb & Terry’s essay “The Promise of Habit-Based Learning” in the journal Law & Liberty.  This essay turns the lens of neuroscience onto math education, showing how long-derided “rote” learning is actually extremely sophisticated, and  has an important place in education.  Here is the introduction to the piece:

“Education is a vital discipline, but something has gone awry. For example, over the past decades, the U.S. has dropped to the bottom of international rankings for developed countries in math. This decline has coincided with education reform, a shift that has emphasized understanding and downplayed practice. Could something that sounds so sensible have possibly been responsible for the drop?…

“The brain has two major learning systems. One is based on practice, and leads to fast, automatic behavior. This system is not accessible by conscious thought and is the source of intuition. The second system is based on deliberate thought—it is slow but flexible. You are consciously aware and can verbalize what you have learned. These two systems are roughly analogous to Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman’s “thinking, fast and slow.”

“Students need both fast and slow systems to learn well. Yet over the past fifty years, education, and math education in particular, has dismissed the importance of fast automaticity in learning—insisting instead that students can always look up whatever they need to know, and that drill equates to kill. But focusing primarily on slow, flexible thinking, appealing as it may be, is akin to asking a sprinter to run faster by hopping on only one leg.

“As management consultant Peter Drucker has noted: ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast.’ The culture of modern, Western approaches to teaching has long held that chasing after fluency kills student interest and creativity. Thus, although achieving fluency has now been written into current standards for teaching math, these standards are often minimized or ignored in actual practice by teachers.  After all, for close to fifty years, fluency, especially in math, has been de-emphasized and even ridiculed by educational leaders.”

There is more–much more, especially involving the support of neurally diverse students.  Read the whole thing!

The Gates Foundation turns its total educational focus to math education

Focus is definitely becoming more intense on the failures of mathematics education in the US. This article by Jay Caspian Kang in The New Yorker: “What Do We Really Know About Teaching Kids Math?” describes how the “field of math education is cluttered with bad and untested ideas. The Gates Foundation is spending more than a billion dollars to try to find a way forward.”  

Key graf: ““Math is unique because there is a right answer, and I think that politicizes it, somehow,” Hughes [the Gates Foundation’s director of K-12 education], said. “In other subjects, there may be different answers or you can have a multiplicity of interpretations. Math has a right answer; there are multiple ways to get there, but there is a right answer. We believe it’s important for kids to get to that right answer… This stands in opposition to much of the progressive push in math education…”

Birthdays & Thanksgiving

Every once in a while, Thanksgiving, which always falls on the third Thursday of November, happens to be on November 24th.  And indeed, on that day back in 1955, Barb’s mother spent all day cooking Thanksgiving dinner. She never got to eat it, though, because the cooking was the final straw that tipped her into the trip to the hospital. The result was Barb’s cheerful, if squealing, arrival into the world. So this Thursday is a special, true “double” birthday for Barb!  

And in a complete non-sequitur, enjoy seeing how the Vietnamese treasure learning with Barb’s segment on Vietnam Television Channel

Have a happy Thanksgiving week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

Altered Traits

Cheery Almost Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Greetings from India!  If you happen to be in New Delhi, Barb has a meetup tonight (November 3rd) from 6:00 to 7:00 pm in the lobby of The Westin Gurgaon, New Delhi. Her deep dive webinar into retrieval practice for Indian learners on November 5th is here.

Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body by Daniel Goleman and  Richard J. Davidson.  Barb spent this past week teaching about the neuroscience of teaching and learning at the Tergar Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal.  The Lead Abbot of the monastery is Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, perhaps the best-studied yogi in the world (here is a recent paper, co-authored by Davidson, summarizing the extraordinary differences in how Rinpoche’s brain as compared to the brains of typical controls).  Altered Traits gives a careful guide into what is known, and some of what is not known, about the neuroscience involved in various meditative processes. (For those wishing to dive deeper, here is a synthesizing article, behind a paywall except for the abstract, about the neuroscience of meditation.) 

There is some evidence that focused types of meditation, such as those that rely on bringing back attention that wanders, may suppress the activities of the default mode network–the brain’s states of relaxation. This suppression can reduce anxiety, which is great.  But there is perhaps a concomitant trade-off of reducing the mind-wandering that can sometimes be at the heart of creativity.  

During his discussions with Barb, as well as in his book The Joy of Living, (a very informative book on Buddhist meditative practices), Rinpoche emphasized that there are many other forms of meditation, besides focused mode, with many different neural effects.  It does seem, however, that many meditative practices begin with practice through focus, so it may good to be aware of potential tradeoffs in the type of meditative mind-training you may select. Meditation is indeed brain-changing!

 The Science of Learning: 5 Ways to Make Your L&D Strategy More Successful

In this unique new e-book, Coursera for business has partnered with Barb to offer five best practice tips that support L&D leaders in building high-impact, learner-centric L&D strategies. With this resource, you’ll learn how to:

  • Help employees master new skills
  • Help employees learn successfully
  • Cultivate employee curiosity
  • Help employees retain the material taught
  • Encourage employees to go beyond passive listening!

This webinar with Barb gives a good underlying sense of key ideas in the new e-book. And here is a not-to-be-missed blog post that includes a clip of discussion.

An app for social learning in Learning How to Learn

We will be experimenting with small study groups (squads of 2 – 5 people each) for students who are getting started with Learning How to Learn. Give it a try! Group learning can increase your motivation and chances of completing the course.

To connect with a squad, you will need to:

  • Download the “WeAreSix” app to your mobile device, available in the AppStore (iPhone) and in the Play Store (Android)
  • Once inside the app, enter the code for this course: goLHTL
  • And last but not least: Only join a squad if you are committed to sticking with it 🙂

Can we rewire our brains to become more fluent in math?

Mindmatters News contains a nice summary about how we can become more fluent with math—even when we think we’re not a “math” person. We love Fred Bech’s concluding words about the vital importance of good teachers: “A study by the Cambridge, Massachusetts–based National Bureau of Economic Research found that a student can learn as much as three times more from a very good teacher as opposed to a poor teacher. In fact, good teachers can provide as much as a $400,000 lifetime bonus to a student’s income. If the bottom five percent to eight percent of teachers were replaced with average teachers, the added benefit to the economy would be over $100 trillion dollars. The country would simultaneously vault to near the top of international science and math rankings.”

Turning Phone Time into Math Time—An Idea for Parents

Lydia El Khouri, who we mentioned last week in relation to an extended interview with Barb ( Part 1, and Part 2) writes with an interesting new approach she has taken in her house to help her children get away from excessive cell phone use:

“You really inspired me to change something in our house. Every morning my two children generally sat at the breakfast table reading their phones, it bothered me immensely and I wanted to turn it into a more constructive time. After our talk, I told them from 07.30-8am they were to do maths before they go to school when they are fresh and after a couple of days of complaining, they gave in and it is a thing in our house now thanks to you. So thank you so much, my husband and I feel so happy about this small change.”

So, inspired by Lydia’s example, “math time in the morning” might be an idea for your family if you have time before school in the morning!

Support for women 50+ with resources for reinvention

Our friend Hiroyo Saito, who does life coaching as well as coaching about teaching, has a website for women who are reinventing themselves to be their own best version.  Hiroyo focuses on mindsets, habits, and learning. Check out her writing at

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

Help Solve a 21st Century Canine Medical Mystery

Special Cheery Wednesday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Do You Love Animals? Help Solve a 21st-Century Canine Medical Mystery!

Today, Wednesday, October 19th, is giving day at the University of Wyoming, when matching funds will be available for a cause that is near and dear to Barb and her family’s heart: canine dysautonomia research. At the beginning of this year they lost their beloved Juniper “June Bug,” a 6-month-old rescue puppy to an awful disease that most have not heard of, but is increasing worldwide.

Canine dysautonomia, or CD, is a generally fatal disease of unknown cause found in certain parts of the Midwest and Western US states. It has also been found in the UK. The range appears to be spreading. The leading theory is that some unknown toxin in the soil, either bacterial or fungal in nature leads to degeneration of parts of the nervous system in some (particularly younger) dogs. Cases are often missed or not diagnosed until far into the disease course because initial symptoms are often vague and include severe vomiting and difficulty urinating/defecating. Classic symptoms that can aid in the diagnosis are protrusion of the third eyelid, dilated pupils, and decreased anal tone. Crusted nostrils and rapid weight loss are other symptoms that can occur. 

If caught early, there are some treatments that appear to be beneficial before aspiration pneumonia sets in, which is a frequent cause of death in this disease, including our triple P June Bug (Puppy Perfection Personified). 

Right now funds are desperately needed to help determine the cause of CD. If interested in donating on October 19th, when your donation can be boosted even further through matching please go to the following website:


Then click on “Canine Dysautonomia Research.” The link will go live at 2:00  pm Eastern Time, October 19th (with matching for 24 hours!)

Donations can also be at any other time can be made by going to:

and choosing: “Veterinary Sciences Canine Dysautonomia Research” as the “Giving Priorities.” Thank you from the bottom of our heart for any help you can give.  (We’ve given thousands of dollars.)

(Here’s a Canine Dysautonomia Facebook page if you also want to keep up on the latest research news.)

LearnTech Conference & Exhibition

Barb will be keynoting remotely at the LearnTech Conference & Exhibition, at 8:45 am Perth time, in Perth, Australia(natch!) on November 30th.  Barb’s presentation will be a special one that brings new insights to education from neuroscientific insights about how movies capture and hold our attention.  The awesome Dr. Steve Mackay, describing “Driving Awesome Outcomes with STEM in the Online World,” will be speaking right before Barb.

LearnTech will bring together leading thinkers and educators, and offer effective approaches to education for the modern economy. The event includes 10 expert speakers, an exhibition, product demonstrations and a panel discussion. More information can also be found on the LearnTech event page.

Retrieval practicea perceptive review of an important paper

This excellent article by Megan Sumeracki of the Learning Scientists notes: “In the spirit of addressing true student learning and their ability to take what they have learned with them into new situations, today’s blog covers a paper by Robin Hopkins and colleagues (1). They asked whether spaced retrieval practice throughout a precalculus class would help engineering students learn precalculus and perform better on the precalculus course’ cumulative final exam, and whether spaced retrieval practice during precalculus would better prepare them for the following semester’s calculus class. 

Overall, what the results show is that yes, spaced retrieval practice during precalculus does lead to better performance in (1) precalculus and (2) on a cumulative final exam in the next semester’s calculus course many months later!

A great review of Mindshift

Here is a terrific view of Barb’s book Mindshift by the Nourished Executive. Key grafs: “This book is a gift and one to be returned to for continued inspiration. The continued theme of life long learning and making choices to invest in our learning, no matter what obstacles you are presented with continues throughout this book.

Mindshift takes us on a journey around the world with various case studies, highlighting ways a Mindshift was needed to propel forward, navigating great uncertainty. I really enjoyed how each chapter closes with questions and ideas to reflect on. There was a continued theme of the intersection of music with math and science.”

Lengthy Podcast for Parents with Lydia El Khouri and Barb

This extended interview (here’s Part 1, and here’s Part 2) contains some of the best questions Barb has ever been asked related to learning. Lydia El Khouri’s perceptive questioning brings out great insights related to learning that can be extraordinarily helpful for you as a parent.

The Fastest Way to Memorize ALL the BRITISH KINGS & QUEENS

Five-time US Memory Champion Nelson returns with a wonderful video where he teaches his wife how to easily memorize all the British Kings & Queens.  Hilarious!

Where in the World is Waldo Barb?

Barb will be speaking today (October 20th) in Bangkok, at The Backyard, 18th Fl. SCB Academy, SCB Park Plaza, East, with the event running 9:00 am through noon. 

She will  be in Kathmandu, Nepal October 26-November 2 (hosted by Tergar Oseling Monastery). Translation into Tibetan will also  be provided; contact (Here is the livestream link at Tergar Oseling where we will be discussing learning, meditation, and neuroscience.)

Barb’s books are available at the Books Kinokuniya Tokyo–here she is with her Hero Husband Phil!

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

Running the Room

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Greetings from Dublin, Ireland! 

Book of the Month

Running the Room: The Teacher’s Guide to Behaviour, by Tom Bennett. This book is a masterpiece of specific advice about how to handle a classroom, written by a former nightclub manager turned teacher who has become one of the world’s leading experts on classroom management. It’s virtually impossible to summarize the many pithy insights of this extraordinary book, but this snippet gives a sense of the approach:

 “I once saw behaviour deteriorate from excellent to terrible in a matter of a few weeks. The school had a challenging demographic, but the behaviour was good because the senior staff led a team of motivated teachers in a rigorous way. Then along came a new head, whose first words to the students were, ‘I want you to see me as a friend,’ and ‘I will always give you another chance.’ Within a week, the most ambitious of students had tested his word and found that he would indeed permit anything as long as they thought he was a nice guy. Within a second week, the change in behaviour was palpable. A month later, with little support, teachers started to give up. The school went into a terminal nose spin. But it was OK: the school head moved on after a few years to another school, and no one was hurt apart from thousands of children who had their futures shredded by naivety, incompetence and the fairy tales we tell ourselves to feel good.”

Tom’s book, along with his company’s training, provides critical information that should be taught in every pedagogical program:

  • How to deal with students who are late
  • What are the best ways to work with parents?
  • Managing cover lessons successfully
  • How to tame smartphones
  • The best way to design a seating plan
  • How to start the lesson for the first time
  • Dealing with low-level disruption
  • Getting the class quiet when you – and they – need it most

Whatever your approach to teaching (or parenting), you will almost certainly benefit from this book. A bonus is that Tom is a funny, insightful writeryou’ll enjoy even as you are learning.

Barb’s ‘round the world travels (face-to-face unless otherwise noted) 

Barb will be in Europe and Asia speaking for a variety of private and public institutions over these next two monthstake a look and see if she will be travelling or speaking near you!

  • September 24, Dublin, Ireland, opening keynote for the ResearchEd conference. (Sorry, this one’s already packed, with a waitlist to get in.)
  • September 27, Svalbard (Spitzbergen) Norway, Longyearbyen Skole (the world’s northernmost school); if you’re in Svalbard, Kirkenes, or Oslo, contact Barb at
  • October 2, Kirkenes, Norway
  • October 3-8 Oslo
  • October 9-11 Amsterdam
  • October 15 Tokyo Books Kinokuniya Tokyo, Japan 
  • October 18-25 Bangkok (speaking on behalf of Siam Commercial Bank; for more information, please contact Nisha Nipasuwan,
  • October 19 Ministry of Finance Learning Week of the Republic of Indonesia (webinar); (for more information, contact Okto Sulaeman of the Ministry of Finance).
  • October 26-November 2 Kathmandu, Nepal (hosted by Tergar Oseling Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal. Translation into Tibetan will be provided; for more information please contact
  • November 3-5 Delhi, India (speaking on behalf of Coursera, for more information contact Manisha Vasdev, )
  • November 7 Singapore (extended workshop at NTU, for more information contact Dr Sally Siew Hiang Ng,
  • November 9 Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (speaking on behalf of ETS Data Publishing and Coursera at leading Vietnamese universities and companies, for more information contact Albus D Hoang 
  • November 11-14 Hanoi, Vietnam (speaking on behalf of ETS Data Publishing and Coursera at leading Vietnamese universities and companies, for more information contact Albus D Hoang 
  • November 15 Mankassar University, Indonesia (webinar); (for more information, contact Sulfikar Sulfikar,
  • December 20, Defense Language Institute, Monterey, California (webinar); (for more information, contact Jon Phillips,  R FAC (CIV)
  • In-person talks to come next spring at Karolinska Institutet and Dalarna University in Sweden and in universities in Finland (for more information, contact Ann Rudman; Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada (headlining again for the indomitable ResearchEd; for more information, contact Paul W Bennett,; Reedley, California  for more information, contact Deb Borofka; and more!

Creating a Revolutionary Academic Program

Here is a terrific article by Umakishore Ramachandran and Zvi Galil about how the extraordinary low-cost, high value Georgia Tech Online Master’s in Computer Science (OMSCS) program was created relying on massive open online course (MOOC) technology. By relating their experiences—discussing the creative solutions they found as well as describing how they overcame challenges, Umakishore and Zvi hope to help colleagues and peers embarking on similar endeavors.

The 4 things it takes to be an expert

This is a wonderful analysis of what it takes to acquire expertiseand why so many experts perform in an unexpectedly poor way. This is one of the coolest videos we’ve seen on the vital importance of deliberate practice! [Hat tip, Adam Trybus.]

Better learning is today’s competitive advantage

This podcast interview with host Bill Ringle and Barb explores how the Pomodoro Technique can be usedand misused.  Enjoy!

A first blog post

Here’s a wonderful perspective by Elizabeth Templeman on Uncommon Sense Teaching, the book.  Key graf: “I should mention that learning about learning is central to my role, coordinating Supplemental Learning, and to guiding my amazing team of student leaders so that they can, in turn, guide hundreds of students, through their SL sessions, to learn more strategically and effectively. I only wish I’d known even a fraction of this when I was a student myself, many years ago, but it’s never too late to learn more about ourselves and how we perceive and process the world around us.

Next 3 years, I will be…

This is a wonderful blog post by an aspiring young man, Si Thu Khant, in Myanmar.   ‘…during the past few years, I’ve aimed to become a highly productive person. I created all the guidelines for an effective productive person and watched all the channels on YouTube that focused on productivity. I set up my daily life using all of the productivity applications. NONE OF IT WORKED FOR ME. I don’t know why, but I believe it is because my soul doesn’t desire the ordered things.” 

The world needs more such creative, independent thinkers. If you like Si Thu’s writing, feel free to reach out and let him know.  You could end up changing a life.

Lengthy Podcast for Parents with Lydia El Khouri and Barb

This extended interview contains some of the best questions Barb has ever been asked related to learning. Lydia El Khouri’s perceptive questioning brings out great insights related to learning that can be extraordinarily helpful for you as a parent.

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

Launch of the Uncommon Sense Teaching Specialization!

Special Cheery Friday Greetings from Learning How to Learn!

If you’ve been wondering why our Cheery Friday emails have been a bit sparse lately, you need wonder no further!  This is a very special greetings. Today, we announce the launch of our final MOOC Teaching Online, which completes the full Uncommon Sense Teaching Specialization. Hurray!

We should start by saying that courses about teaching online are often just repurposed general teaching courses where you can spend weeks revisiting dusty, often outmoded theory.  Not in our specialization!  In our latest course, you’ll see how insights from movie-making, along with core ideas how to motivate unmotivated students, form the heart of Teaching OnlineTeaching Online gives you a fresh perspective with important teaching-related ideas that weren’t covered in MOOCs 1 & 2!  In Teaching Online, you’ll learn, for example, not only how students form expertise—but you’ll also see what is going on in students’ brains as they sync together during social learning. You’ll also see what happens as Barb is almost eaten by a giant frog; Georgia Tech’s online learning expert, Professor David Joyner, insidiously steals bowls (and occasionally, the show); and our very own dear Terry Sejnowski dons his wizard cap. 

I​f you’re an educational administrator or business executive, you’ll find Teaching Online is terrific not only for university and K-12 instructors, but for industry trainers. If you want your instructors to really understand the practicalities of online teaching, from microphones, cameras, facial expressions, capturing attention, videotaping tricks to make teaching easier, and ultimately, make the information stick better, this is that course.  If you’re a Chief Learning Officer at a major corporation, you’ll find this course to be invaluable in helping your corporate trainers to up their game.  We pack more practically useful, in-depth content in one course than many universities do in entire specializations (and we’re funnier, too!) But there’s more!

MOOC 1: Uncommon Sense Teaching is like no other course on teaching—it weaves late-breaking insights from neuroscience with personal insights from the classroom to provide unexpected, yet practical, new approaches.  You’ll discover how to bring out the best from all your students in today’s diverse teaching environment, where students often have a wide range of abilities. 

MOOC 2: Uncommon Sense Teaching, Part 2 will help you discover the hidden strengths of neurodiversity, and the value of forgetting. It will also help you discover hidden insights about critical thinking which, oddly enough, relate to our habitual thinking patterns! 

You can sign up for the entire specialization. (Yes, it’s that good!)  Or you can instead audit each MOOC for free by going to the individual MOOC and choosing the audit option at the bottom of the registration.  The animations and illustrations used in each MOOC are available for free under each video, even if you are just auditing. (Your patience is appreciated, though—please give us another week to finalize and upload the gifs for Teaching Online).

So here, after 1.5 years of devoted labor, is the Uncommon Sense Teaching Specialization and its three MOOCs—you can take either MOOC 0 or MOOC 1 first, and enjoy MOOC 2 after MOOC 1.  Enjoy!

Uncommon Sense Teaching Specialization

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

In Love with the World

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Hello from Abu Dhabi! Barb will be spending the week here keynoting and sharing during the professional development week at visionary—and swiftly climbing in the international rankings!—Khalifa University.

Book of the Month

In Love with the World: A Monk’s Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying, by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche and Helen Tworkov. We’re a bit meditation-heavy lately. But this is because in her upcoming trip to Nepal in October-November, Barb will be spending time at the Kathmandu Tergar Osel Ling Monastery. (Barb, Terry, and Beth’s book Uncommon Sense Teaching is used there as a textbook, thanks to its neuroscientific insight that also supports the monastery’s Buddhist perspectives.) In Love with the World is a fascinating book about the world of meditation because it centers around world-renowned Buddhist monk Mingyur Rinpoche’s near-death experience and the insights he gained from it.

Basically, Mingyur Rinpoche decided to do a “wandering retreat”—which meant going out into the real world instead of withdrawing into solitary meditation. In some sense, he sought to escape the patterns that had been locked in by his habitual, basal ganglia-based procedural system.  As he notes: “To break the mold of my conditioning, I had needed to do something a little extreme. In order to break through our conditioning and confront old habits, we might deliberately reverse a common pattern, at least for a limited time: If we habitually pick up a cup with our right hand, we commit to using our left hand; or we vow not to check our media devices more than once an hour; or for one week we promise never to exceed the speed limit when driving. I do not drive, but I have been told that this can be quite difficult. Anything that interferes with mindless repetition can function as a wake-up call, and an antidote to automatic, mindless behavior and habitual fixations. To encourage curiosity and flexibility, it’s important to discover our limits, and then stretch a bit further. In terms of lifestyle, a wandering retreat for me was a very big stretch, no doubt about it. But… That’s how I’d ended up on this train, all alone, in the middle of the night.”

Inside the Massive Effort to Change the Way Kids Are Taught to Read

This insightful article by Belinda Luscombe in Time describes why so many children—and adults—are unable to read.  

“As a teacher in Oakland, Calif., Kareem Weaver helped struggling fourth- and fifth-grade kids learn to read by using a very structured, phonics-based reading curriculum called Open Court. It worked for the students, but not so much for the teachers. ‘For seven years in a row, Oakland was the fastest-gaining urban district in California for reading,’ recalls Weaver. ‘And we hated it.’

The teachers felt like curriculum robots—and pushed back. ‘This seems dehumanizing, this is colonizing, this is the man telling us what to do,’ says Weaver, describing their response to the approach. ‘So we fought tooth and nail as a teacher group to throw that out.’ It was replaced in 2015 by a curriculum that emphasized rich literary experiences. ‘Those who wanted to fight for social justice, they figured that this new progressive way of teaching reading was the way,’ he says.

“Now Weaver is heading up a campaign to get his old school district to reinstate many of the methods that teachers resisted so strongly: specifically, systematic and consistent instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics.”

TikToker or Filmmaker? Baron Ryan walks us through his TikTok process

This fascinating video walks us through TikTok star Baron Ryan’s creative process in making his videos.  There is much food for thought here for online teachers regarding the ease with which Baron creates his videos.

Inspiring Words from Yu Cao! 

Learning How to Learner Yu Cao writes: “I am a passionate learner. I have benefited tremendously from your course in Learning How to Learn. During my school year, when I worked to get my Ph.D., I applied various learning methods in your book. I now also teach my students the strategies I learned from you when I teach calculus. It is delightful to keep learning new things using the techniques!”

And here, incidentally, is a wonderful review of Learning How to Learn on Class Central, our go-to repository of reviews of the best MOOCs out there!

The “Diffuse Mode” and The New York Times’ Spelling Bee

Our dear friend Jenny Wolochow Sr. Product Manager at Coursera, notes how this article describes how to be a better solver of the Bee.”My last bit of advice is to come back to it. Give your brain a break, and you’ll see something you didn’t see before.” Yup—make use of that diffuse mode!

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

Waking Up

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Month

Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, by Sam Harris.  This book is meant to be a common sense guide to finding spirituality without necessarily springboarding from a religious tradition. In Harris’s hands, we gain a clearer understanding of mindfulness. “It is simply a state of clear, nonjudgmental, and undistracted attention to the contents of consciousness, whether pleasant or unpleasant.” (But for those LHTLers amongst us who are interested in such matters, it seems cultivating mindfulness translates to continuously maintaining focus and concomitAntly diminishing both anxiety and creativity, perhaps a mixed blessing.) 

As Harris notes: “The crucial point is that you can glimpse something about the nature of consciousness that will liberate you from suffering in the present. Even just recognizing the impermanence of your mental states—deeply, not merely as an idea—can transform your life.”

Harris has knocked around the world of meditation for many yearslong enough to have a good feel for both the best and the worst of meditation experts and spiritual gurus.  You’ll find yourself thinking about Harris’s ideas  long after you finish the book.

OpenStax: A Best-Selling Textbook Is Now Free

As Liam Knox notes in Inside Higher Ed, award-winning and prolific author and professor emeritus John McMurry has recently decided to move his classic book Organic Chemistry from industry giant Cengage to OpenStax, a nonprofit based at Rice University that is dedicated to developing open education resources (OER), learning and research materials created and licensed to be free for the user.  “That means for the first time, the digital version of Organic Chemistry and its accompanying solutions manual — usually priced at almost $100 — will be available for students to download free.” OpenStax is growing wildly in popularity. “According to a recent survey by Bay View Analytics, faculty use of OER materials grew significantly over the past few years, especially during the pandemic. In 2015 only 5 percent of faculty said they used OER course materials; in 2022 that number had jumped to 22 percent.”

OpenStax Free College Textbooks and Related Flashcard Sets

Barb will present Teach You Students How to Learn in a webinar hosted by iDoRecall and on August 17th at 1 PM EDT. Go ahead register, and you’ll receive a link to the recording so you can watch whenever it is convenient. Barb is the pro bono Chief learning Science Advisor of iDoRecall who has developed comprehensive sets of flashcards for most of OpenStax’s portfolio of Creative Commons high school and college textbooks. Everyone can access these flashcards for free. When you practice memory retrieval and struggle with the answer, you can click a link to open a PDF of the book at the precise, relevant location to refresh your memory.

Momentum builds behind a way to lower the cost of college: A degree in three years

This article by Jon Marcus in The Hechinger Report describes “A rare brand-new nonprofit university, NewU [with] a comparatively low $16,500-a-year price that’s locked in for a student’s entire education and majors with interchangeable requirements so students don’t fall behind if they switch.”  Part of the savings—and a big part of the draw—is that NewU offers bachelor’s degrees in three years instead of the customary four. Students are looking for a more efficient education, and a three year degreemuch as what is offered in European universitiesappears to be just the ticket.  As the article notes: “We didn’t think the three-year bachelor’s degree was going to be the biggest draw,” said Stratsi Kulinski, president of the startup college. “But it has been, hands-down. Consumers are definitely ready for something different.”

Barb Revisits Discussion of Pathological Altruism with the Atlas Society

Here’s Barb thinking she’s only on a podcast, so she’s especially frumpy when contrasted with the not only whip-smart, but also stylish President of the Atlas Society, Jennifer Anju Grossman. The Atlas Society is a benevolent group that tries to do good through rational, objective thinking. In this blundering (on Barb’s part) discussion, Barb manages to gratuitously diss objectivist heroine Ayn Rand even while praising some of her valuable ideas about pathologies of altruism. Here are the links to the webinar recording on YouTube and Facebook—take a look and listen and see what you think!

Zoom Party with Dr. Agarwal!

Join the Zoom Party from 5:00pm – 6:30pm EDT today (Friday, August 12) with Dr. Pooja Agarwal, co-author of one of our favorite books on teaching, Powerful Teaching.  These Zoom parties are a lot of funBarb went to one of Pooja’s previous ones this summer, and she plans to go again tonight.  See you there!

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

Flicker: Your Brain on Movies

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Books of the Month

Flicker: Your Brain on Movies, by Jeffrey Zacks.  We have no idea how this magnificent book slipped under our radar when it was first published in 2014, but it’s a doozy!  Zacks is a renowned neuroscientist, but he also loves movies. The result let’s us peer into Zack’s life’s work, including an in-depth look inside movies to see what makes them work, and what makes us love them. 

Most followers of Learning How to Learn, as well as virtually all cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists are aware of working memory.  But few are aware of the importance of “event models”–the contents of working memory.  We believe the concept of event models, which Dr. Zacks helped pioneer, will become an important one in education, and particularly online education.  More about that to come in our upcoming MOOC 3 of Uncommon Sense Teaching

99 Tips for Creating Simple and Sustainable Educational Videos: A Guide for Online Teachers and Flipped Classes, by Karen Costa. This simple, upbeat, encouraging book gives a nice boost for creating simple online videos for your classes that can be used over and over again (hence the “sustainable”) part of the title.  As Costa notes: “I’m here to shout from the rooftops that videos will make your life easier! Let me explain. How many e-mails or phone calls from students do you respond to each term asking you the same questions over and over? Tons, right? I teach first-year students, often in their very first online course. They have a lot of questions, and they need almost constant support. Being a great teacher is time-consuming. What if we could support our students and save ourselves time in the process?… This time is given back to me tenfold in the time that I save from answering countless and repetitive questions term after term. I have taught with and without these videos, and I can attest to the fact that in the terms in which I use videos, I receive far fewer frequently asked question-type queries from my students, and the quality of my students’ work is much better. That means I also spend less time working with students on revisions or resubmissions, because they are more likely to get it right the first time. While creating a video might cost you 15 minutes, it will pay you back in saved time.” 

If you’re looking for a quick-to-read motivator to get you going with simple videos, this is a good book to get you started.

Jump into the “Everest Memory Masterclass”!

5-TIME USA Memory Champion and Guinness Record Holder, Nelson Dellis’ amazing “Everest Memory Masterclass” is open for registration this week! You’ll learn all the things you need to have an amazing memory for lifeyou’ll learn how to apply memory techniques to suit all the important situations in your life where memory is essential. Barb herself is in one of the bonus interviews. Nelson is limiting the size of this cohort, so make sure to check it out and sign up! Signup here.

Barb on Fast and Slow Learners 

Check out Barb’s podcast discussion of fast and slow learners with Mike Bergin, the President of Chariot Learning and Founder of TestBright, and Amy Seeley, President of Seeley Test Pros. This is a hot topic in learning, so you’ll be interested to hear the latest!

A review of good flashcard apps

Here is a nice article by Ransom Patterson of College InfoGeek of five top flashcard apps, along with discussion of the pluses and minuses of each.  At a time when learners are increasingly realizing the value of retrieval practice, this is a helpful article indeed.

Long-term effects of using the MOOC ‘Learning how to learn’ to teach learning techniques

This intriguing study provided insight into the long-term effects of using the MOOC Learning How to Learn to teach learning techniques on students’ foreign language learning behavior over a two year period.  The upshot?  As author Beate Luo concludes: “Time spent on Learning How to Learn was time well spent.”

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

Ten Fallacies that Make Founders Fail

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Books of the Month

The San Francisco Fallacy: The Ten Fallacies That Make Founders Fail, Jonathan Siegel. Many books on entrepreneurship tell you what to look for, and what to look out for.  But they don’t focus on the failures—and how those failures can eventually lead to success.  Siegel’s book is jaw-droppingly good. He knows how to write and how to tell a story—this means that it’s hard to put his book down as he makes point after point from his sometimes disastrous, but ultimately phenomenally successful career as an entrepreneur and angel investor. (Incidentally, the “San Francisco Fallacy” refers to herd mentality in thinking that the enormously expensive Silicon Valley area is necessarily the place to go for tech startups.) 

VERY highly recommended!

The 2-Hour Cocktail Party: How to Build Big Relationships with Small Gatherings, by Nick Gray. The more Barb has researched the neuroscience underlying how we learn, the more she (as a shy person simulating an extrovert) has discovered the importance of personal relationships, not only in learning, but in life.  Interacting with people with whom you have become familiar, as it turns out, activates the brain’s reward mechanisms.  It’s little wonder that we teachers like to use techniques such as “Think-Pair-Share,” and collaborative learning sessions sprinkled amongst the more difficult sessions of explicit instruction.

Which leads us right to Nick Gray’s delightful The 2-Hour Cocktail Party! (Nick himself, it should be pointed out, doesn’t drink, so alcohol isn’t at all necessary for Nick’s approach to work.)  The trick to activating those happy feelings of reward, remember, is not just interacting with people—it’s interacting with people with whom you are familiar.  How do you become familiar with people?  Invite them to a short cocktail party!  And that’s part of the trick—the party should be short.  Nick (in real life, one of the world’s nicest people) shows you how to comfortably set up the part, from sending out the first invitations, inviting your great guests (people you’ve wanted to meet!), pre-party prep, navigating the first twenty minutes, icebreakers, how to end on a high note, and what to do the day after.  

This is a wonderful book—Barb is planning her first party for after the launch of MOOC 3 of the Uncommon Sense Teaching specialization (Teaching Online) in two months!  

Uncommon Sense Teaching, the MOOCs

And speaking of which, MOOC 1 & MOOC 2 of Uncommon Sense Teaching are doing fantastic!  Here is an article in Market Screener about the second MOOC. Key graf: “How have learners responded to the course? It has been wonderfully rewarding to know that many have found it tailor-made to hone their teaching and learning skills. As one learner remarked: “How can we teach, without knowing how learning works?” It’s heartening also to find that many have come away with inspiration, guidance, and hope in these uncertain times – when the teaching experience itself has changed so much. This very evolution in the way we teach has, in fact, led me to start working on another course. Teaching Online, the final course in this series, will launch soon!”

Jump on the Waitlist for the “Everest Memory Masterclass”!

Nelson Dellis (now a 5-TIME USA Memory Champion and Guinness Record Holder) is launching his next cohort for his amazing “Everest Memory Masterclass.” Since last time, he’s revamped the class with more content, interactive sessions, interviews, and strategies––you’ll learn how to memorize names, learn languages, remember your todo lists and calendars, and tons of other practical things! He usually limits the size of his cohorts, so make sure to jump on the waitlist so you can access the class when it goes live in July! Jump on the waitlist here!

Strategie di Apprendimento in Italiano

La nostra amica Maria Luisa Dettori, ricercatrice presso l’Università degli Studi di Sassari (Italy), ha realizzato tre brevi video che hanno l’obiettivo di diffondere la conoscenza delle strategie di apprendimento fra i più giovani, in italiano. I primi due (1, 2) sono basati sui corsi Learning How To Learn e Uncommon Sense Teaching, Il terzo presenta il metodo di studio proposto dalla prof. Saundra McGuire nel suo libro Teach Students How to Learn (Stylus publishing) e altre risorse.

Meditating probably won’t make you a better person

We’re big fans of Adam Grant (here’s our review of his powerful book Think Again.) Adam strikes again with an intriguing, no-holds-barred article on meditation. As he observes: 

“Meditation doesn’t quiet your ego. In an experiment, people who were randomly assigned to meditate actually focused more on themselves.

“Wait, I know what you’re thinking: they were doing the wrong kind of meditation. Au contraire: they did loving-kindness meditation that guided them to be compassionate toward others. And they walked away more self-absorbed! (The same was true for people who were randomly assigned to do yoga.)

“At the end of the day, I’m a social scientist: I want to get to the truth about how well-being practices affect us. And sometimes the best way to do that is to present the argument that the defense doesn’t want to hear.

“Mind-body practices have a place in our lives. But focusing inward on your own sensations can shift your attention away from other people. If you want to become kinder, you might be better off investing your energy in action and interaction. There’s no substitute for listening to other people’s problems and volunteering to share your time, talents, and ties with them.”

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

Distributed Classroom

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Books of the Week

The Distributed Classroom, by David Joyner and Charles Isbell. Online teaching has a sometimes confusing welter of terminology. Common buzz words include synchronous, asynchronous, remote, flipped, hybrid (blended), and hyflex. (This article provides a quick overview of what these terms mean.)  Where Joyner and Isbell’s book comes in is to provide an encompassing perspective on how the many different forms of online learning can be used by universities, high schools, and other educational institutions to meet the needs of diverse populations.  Both authors have been deeply involved in the development of Georgia Tech’s outstanding Online Master of Science in Computer Science (or OMSCS) degree, which has captured 10% of the market for US computer science masters degrees and has become one of (if not the) largest masters program in the world due to its quality, accessibility, and low price. If you are interested in creating better online programs, this book is worth your time.

Who Killed Jane Stanford?: A Gilded Age Tale of Murder, Deceit, Spirits and the Birth of a University, by Richard White.  This book has all the ingredients of a thriller—a murder by strychnine of the primary founder of one of the world’s leading universities. In able hands, this book would have been a real page turner—the deceit, acrimony, corruption and malevolence by academicians that underlie the true origins of Stanford University are mindblowing.  Sadly, the bulk of the writing centers on petty details, while skimming over important big-picture issues such as the corrupt means by which Leland Stanford apparently gained his wealth.  A great book if you like petty details.

Barb speaking in person in New Jersey June 25th, 2022

Barb will be giving an intensive three-hour active opening training session for teachers at the Middle College National Consortium Summer Professional Development Institute June 25, 2022 at the Hyatt Regency – Jersey City. Don’t miss if you’re a university professor or K-12 teacher who would  like to know the latest involving practical insights from neuroscience to help instructors!  It’s all here, including the neuroscience of slow learning and how to help your “hiker” students, as well as your race cars, to excel; how to tap into habit-based centers of the brain to help student gain intuition in understanding complex patterns and solving complicated problems; how and whytaking a few moments of neural “breaks” can help with the learning process, and much, much more. Plus, Barb would love to meet you!  For more information about the fascinating insights from the full three-day conference, and to register, go here.

Supporting Students with ADHD and Autism

Here is an excellent compendium by Jennifer Gonzalez (the blog Cult of Pedagogy), about how to best support your students who have ADHD. Neuroscientist Andrew Huberman’s podcast on ADHD is even better. 

This excellent article by autistic learner Chris Bonello explains why he resents being called “a person with autism,” instead of an autistic. As he notes “It is up to us to decide how we identify. It is not up to others to decide on our behalf.” And in her enlightening TEDTalk, Adriana White describes “Autism and Neurodiversity: Different Does Not Mean Broken.”

The “Digitally Enhanced Assessment and Feedback” Conference

Check out this free event next week (Wednesday the 8th June from 14:00 – 16:30 (GMT-London time)) The theme for this event is ‘Digitally Enhanced Assessment and Feedback.  It’s a free event with some world leading experts sharing their thoughts and experiences, and in some cases, their latest research findings.  Register here!

A great opportunity for ed-tech entrepreneurs!

Barb’s friend Elle Wang is a research scientist who is also an experienced judge and advisory board member for such groups as the $1M XPRIZE Digital Learning Challenge and the $5M XPRIZE IBM Watson AI for Good Competition.  Elle has partnered with Maven to build and launch a cohort-based course to teach ed-tech entrepreneurs to develop an efficient and effective research and product testing plan. At the end of the course, all participants will be able to write a compelling project pitch, ready to be submitted to research-focused funders such as the NSF SBIR to win up to $2 million dollars with 0% equity taken. 

In the process of developing this course, Elle is collecting quick feedback via a 1-minute survey, here. If you would like to help Elle out, and/or are interested in the course, please fill out the survey. Incidentally, if you fill out the survey, you be eligible to register for the course with the early bird price and receive invitations to free workshops.

Embrace Discomfort!

We have long lived a life with the mantra of “Learn to grow comfortable with being uncomfortable.”  And wouldn’t you know it, up pops a research study revealing that this approach is a good one for many reasons. As this Greater Good Magazine article about the findings notes: “There are many ways we seek comfort in life. We can find it in a warm shower, a fuzzy cuddle with a cat, or a night on the couch with no obligations… But according to a new study, our desire for comfort could be holding us back when it comes to personal growth. If we want to improve ourselves and achieve our goals, we may want to start actively seeking out discomfort.”

Three cheers to this!  And if you happen to be reading all the way into the distant corner this Cheery Friday, in this-coming autumn, Barb will be off to speak in a high school in Spitsbergen (also called Svalbard), a set of islands far north of Iceland that form one of the northernmost habited places in the world. The great number of polar bears mean that it’s not a good idea to go outside the limits of town without a weapon.  (Polar bears may be cute, but they can also be sneaky b*stards.)

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team