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.

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Practical Insights From Neuroscience: Improve Your Teaching of Math—or Anything Else—to Neurodiverse Students

Register now for this two-hour webinar from Learning & the Brain, (taught by none other than Barb), which offers CE credit for the live audience, as well as a recording available for one week following the live webinar. This webinar will run from 10:00 am – 12:00 pm ET / 7:00 am – 9:00 am PT on Saturday, April 1, 2023 for a total of 2 credit hours.

In this webinar, we’ll discuss how a growing body of research insight from neuroscience has revealed many surprises when it comes to teaching math. For example, some forms of teaching can engage students’ sophisticated pattern recognition systems, which can be invaluable in making math easier to learn, particularly at more advanced levels. And there are further surprises—for example, just because students know how to solve a problem in math does not necessarily mean that they can—or should—be able to explain it. In fact, forcing some neurally diverse students to explain their reasoning when they can already demonstrate their understanding can actually kill their motivation for deeper learning. In this talk, we will explore these and other counterintuitive insights from research that can allow you to make intelligent use of students’ differing underlying approaches to learning. We will also explore the intimate connection between retrieval practice in math and the metaphors used in art, music, and poetry.

This is a fantastic webinar with the best, most recent insights from neuroscience.  Don’t miss it—register now!

Spring 2023 On Course Conference

Recently, there’s been a lot of media coverage and college buzz on the impact Artificial Intelligence is having on education. Will ChatGPT support or prevent our students from effective learning? Our world of education is certainly on the cusp of a profound change! How might educators respond to this fascinating challenge? Attend the April 28, 2023 On Course National Conference (held virtually) for an exploration of AI.

    • Opening Keynote Session and Plenary with Dr. Derek Bruff, author of Intentional Tech and former director of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Bruff is also the author of the Intentional Teaching newsletter and producer of the Intentional Teaching podcast.
    • Mid-Day Keynote Session and Plenary with Dr. Robert Cummings, author of Lazy Virtues: Teaching Writing in the Age of Wikipedia. Cummings is Executive Director of Academic Innovation and Associate Professor of Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Mississippi.
    • Closing Keynote with Dr. Jonathan Brennan, author of Engaging Learners through Zoom and On Course: Strategies for Success in College, Career and Life. Brennan is a researcher in best practices in student success, holds a BA and an MA in English, an MA in Counseling Psychology, a PhD in Ethnic Studies (UC Berkeley), and an EdD in Educational Leadership and Change (Fielding Graduate University).
    • Register here 
    • More information 

Ken’s Korner

One interesting free newsletter we subscribe to, covering everything from the inner workings of Windows 11 to face recognition technology, is “Ken’s Korner.” We get a lot out of the short and informative technical articles.  You can sign up here.

Book of the Week

Power Failure: The Rise and Fall of an American Icon by William D. Cohan. This book has earned pride of place on The New Yorker Best Books of 2022, The Financial Times Best Books of 2022, and The Economist Best Books of 2022. Great leadership in business matters in providing for people’s needs, as Southwest Airline’s recent catastrophic meltdown attests. Power Failure is the magnificent telling of the rise and fall of one of America’s formerly greatest companies, and a cautionary tale of how eminence can lead managers to hubris—and disaster.  

General Electric Company grew in the late 1800s from Thomas Edison’s brilliant innovations. By 1896, the company was so important that it was one of the original 12 companies listed on the newly formed Dow Jones Industrial Average. Ultimately, the company’s story revolves around two men. Jack Welch, who is sometimes called “the CEO of the Century,” took GE to greatness during his reign as Chairman & CEO from 1981–2001. Many people working for GE revered Welch, whose rapid-fire and flexible brilliance (he also sported a doctorate in chemical engineering) meant that he relished well-reasoned dissent.  Welch’s successor was Jeff Immelt, a Harvard MBA whose slick ability to present and glad-hand were enough to get him to the top—but not make great decisions. It turned out that Immelt, unlike Welch, didn’t tolerate dissent and rarely took advice from others. Under Immelt’s leadership GE lost over $150 billion in market value—the company was not only ultimately dropped from the Dow Jones Industrial Average, but dismembered. (Cohan points out how Immelt’s self-serving biography often seems at variance with the facts.) 

Cohan’s book provides a perceptive perspective on capitalism itself—the motivation and fulfillment of people’s needs that great companies can provide.  But also, the cutthroat death spirals that companies can fall into. As Cohan pointedly observes, General Electric’s current CEO is the one who seems to be making all the money—not share holders. A lengthy read, but worth every page.

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

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

  • The LHTL recommended text, A Mind for Numbers
  • For kids and parents: Learning How to Learnthe book and MOOC. Pro tipwatch the videos and read the book together with your child. Learning how to learn at an early age will change their life!

Troubled Water: A Journey Around the Black Sea

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Month

Troubled Water: A Journey Around the Black Sea, by Jens Mühling. Barb glanced at the title of this book and thought, “The last thing I need is to be diving into, (amidst the hundreds of samples already downloaded onto the Kindle), is a book about the Black Sea.” Out of curiosity, she took a look at the first couple pages, and suddenly she was one hundred pages in, hooked by Mühling’s combination of scintillating prose (which comes across even in the translation by  Simon Pare from the original German) and remarkable ability to bring out fascinating bits of local lore and culture.  Troubled Water, as it turns out, is a compendium not only of adventure travel (fortunately, Mühling has a remarkable talent for holding his alcohol), but also of semi-forgotten and little-known groups. Mühling has no more than to hear about an outlying cultural group, whether it’s Turks in Romania, Bulgarians in Turkey, Greeks in Russia, or simply a hermit, and off he goes on the hunt to meet them. And we learn of all sorts of other aspects of the biology of the Black Seafor example, the fact that its unusual top layer of fresh water and bottom layer of salt makes a poisonous mixture that leaves three-thousand-year old sunken vessels as fresh as if they had sunk yesterday. 

If you want a “you are there” reading experience that gives you a good feel for a vitally important region, you couldn’t do better than to read Jens Mühling’s fantastic Troubled Water. Highly recommended!

Lessons From This ‘Golden Age’ of Learning Science

Barb was on a panel at SXSW with EdSurge journalist and podcaster Jeff Young and her friends, neuroscientist Andrea Chiba and Norwegian educational expert Olav Schewe. The reaction from the audience was awesome—don’t miss the podcast, here!

Our very own Terry Sejnowski in the New York Times: “Why Do A.I. Chatbots Tell Lies and Act Weird?”

As this New York Times article notes: “One of the pioneers of artificial intelligence argues that chatbots are often prodded into producing strange results by the people who are using them… Like any other student, an A.I. system can learn bad information from bad sources. And that strange behavior? It may be a chatbot’s distorted reflection of the words and intentions of the people using it, said Terry Sejnowski, a neuroscientist, psychologist and computer scientist who helped lay the intellectual and technical groundwork for modern artificial intelligence.

‘This happens when you go deeper and deeper into these systems,’ said Dr. Sejnowski, a professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and the University of California, San Diego, who published a research paper on this phenomenon this month in the scientific journal Neural Computation. ‘Whatever you are looking for — whatever you desire — they will provide.’”

Barb & Beth Rogowski together on Principal Center Radio

Principal Center Radio provides the best insights in professional practice for school leaders.  In this episode with host Justin Baeder, Barb teams with Beth, her co-author and co-instructor in the Uncommon Sense Teaching book and online specialization to bring you new insights from brain science about teaching.

121 Great Podcasts for HR Professionals in 2023

If you like podcasts, and are in HR, this list by London-based speaker agent Patrick Nelson provides a lot of ideas for good listening and learning!

IQ scores sinking in the US 

For many decades, IQ scores have increased around the world.  However, a recent study reveals that from 2006 to 2018, IQ scores declined within the US—evidence points toward educational systems.  As Terry and Barb’s essay in Law & Liberty suggests, unfairly dismissing  the vitally important habitual learning system (“drill is kill” rather than the much more accurate “drill leads to skill”) could be an important factor in the decline.  

Inspiring words from a learner!

We received this delightful email:

“Thank you for the fantastic course “Learning how to learn”, that is the best learning that I have received in my adult life. I am the person who definitely needs to receive this course. Now I am a postdoctoral scientific researcher, but I have always had many problems with concentrating and as I am very emotional, this also affected my focus. With much effort, I was able to achieve my professional objectives, but I paid a high price due to the time I had to put in, not to mention the accompanying frustration. Over the years, I developed some procedures that really improved my focus. The magic of this course is that it confirmed that I was on the right track. I was excited for each video, they were a good motivation during my intense work in my current position. You always focus on scientific work, which makes this course highly reliable. You are high quality professionals, it is evident. I am very happy now to understand more how my brain works, and how I can manage it to improve my life. Thank you for this fantastic, exciting, 

incredibly interesting course!! Today is better than tomorrow to watch this course.  Best wishes, Ana.” 

That’s all for now. Have a happy month in Learning How to Learn!

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

Traditional Math: An effective strategy that teachers feel guilty using

Book of the Month

Traditional Math: An effective strategy that teachers feel guilty using, by Barry Garelick and JR Wilson. This wonderful book is highly recommended for parents, grandparents, and teachers of all kinds who would like a solid guide to help youngsters learn math in a simple, elegant, and straightforward way.  As Stanford mathematician Wayne Bishop has pointed out, leaders in modern mathematics education often sadly and erroneously continue to push Freudenthal Institute’s discredited “reform” approaches to teaching math. On the uplifting side, as Bishop also points out apropos Traditional Math, “this book is a wealth of down-to-earth, logically presented topics from kindergarten through beginning algebra. The work will be effective for most mathematics teachers but especially so for those who have been indoctrinated with reform math but are recognizing its ineffectiveness and in need of solid ideas.” 

Barb will be using this book with her new granddaughter as she grows up!  

On a side note, Barb & her Hero Husband Phil raised their two daughters with twenty minutes of carefully designed extra math practice through use of the Kumon math program. The result of this extra “drill and kill” practice?  One daughter is now a Stanford trained pediatrician, and the second is a graduate level statistician.  Yet reform educators would have one believe that the decade Barb and Phil gave their daughters of tiny bits of daily extra math drill would turn the girls away from math. What reform educators characterize as “drill and kill” is actually all-important “drill to skill”!

It certainly wasn’t that the girls loved every day of their practice. (Take heart, homeschooling parents!) But that practice led to the solid internalization of mathematical patterns that the girls needed long-term for professional careers in STEMand for them to feel comfortable with and ultimately learn to love mathematics.  Incidentally, when Barb was recently in Vietnam, she learned that her daughter’s statistics graduate advisor rarely takes on students educated in the US, because he has found that US-trained students simply don’t have the comfort and ability with math of students from countries that use more traditional approaches to teaching math.  All those years of a little bit of extra practice a day for the Oakley girls paid off!  (And interleaving of math practice, as with Kumon and Smartick, rules!) 

Recognition of the need for change in K-12 education

And indeed, regarding the ineffectiveness of reform approaches to education, evidence continues to accumulate that conventional education approaches to teaching reading, writing, and math seem to be taking a great deal of children’s time without actually teaching these fundamental skills.  Some 65 percent of American fourth-grade kids, for example, can barely read. And when it comes to math, a recent analysis revealed that in 53 schools in Illinois, not a single student can do math at grade level. 

This perceptive analysis by Barry Garelick and Robert Craigen: “Reform Math: The Symptoms and Prognosis,” points toward what is needed to right the ship of learning and get children back on track, at least with math..

Math Teachers Everywhere!

For those who feel there might be something missing about modern math curricula, do NOT miss registering for Barb’s Learning & the Brain webinar workshop for math teachers (not to mention art, language, and other teachers) who want to see the latest insights from neuroscience about effective learning in math and other topics.

Do Intensive Learning Projects Work Better Than Slow Ones?

Here is a thoughtful and counterintuitive posting by the indefatigable Scott Young about why bootcamp-type intensive courses might sometimes work better than conventional spaced repetition.  (Certainly Barb found that her intensive training at the Defense Language Institute put her Russian language skills on a solid footing, even if they’d rusted a bit over the past fifty years.) Scott’s book Ultralearning, by the way, is a classic in the learning literature.

Tips for Fresh Subscribers!

A perceptive new learner named Yash wrote to ask:

“I am a new follower of yours. I have just enrolled in Learning How to Learn for Youth.  I wondered whether you have some tips for fresh subscribers?” [Learning How to Learn for Youth  is our different, shorter course oriented for younger people.]

 What a great question!  Barb’s answer was:

“Everyone’s a little different, because of their life schedules and needs and what-not.  But for me, one thing that works great is to make some forward progress in the course every day, even if it’s just five minutes of work.  There is truly something magical about 45 minutes a day, though, that helps the material click into place much more quickly.  It’s the consecutive, day-by-day work that will get you through.”

Do you have additional or different insights for Yash, or for any new subscriber?  If so, post here in Learning How to Learn, or here in Learning How to Learn for Youth.

That’s all for now. Have a happy month in Learning How to Learn!

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

Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Month

Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle, by Daniel L. Everett.  At a time when ChatGPT has everyone’s attention, this timeless book of exploration by linguist Daniel Everett lends perspective on the nature of language.  It also describes what might be called the views of “happy stoics” (the Pirahã) and their perspectives on life itself.  

Daniel Everett was a brilliant missionary, graduating at the top of his class from the Moody Bible Institute, who was sent to crack the seemingly uncrackable Pirahã language in the far-off reaches of the Amazon and translate the bible into Pirahã.  What Everett found was unexpected—that the Pirahã language appeared to overthrow the vaunted linguistic theories of MIT’s Noam Chomsky. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the Pirahã worldview challenged and changed Everett in ways he himself would never have predicted. 

Interestingly, Chomsky’s recursion theory, convincingly rebutted by Everett’s hard-won research, was developed with Marc Hauser, the disgraced former professor who resigned from Harvard after substantive allegations of scientific misconduct. As our own Terry Sejnowski describes in his Deep Learning Revolution, Chomsky’s theorizing is thought to have held back advances in artificial intelligence by decades. (We suspect far more will come out about Chomsky and his theories after his passing.)  If you like adventure, language, numerical thinking, or what happens when worldviews collide, you’ll almost certainly love Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes, just as we did. Enjoy!

Calling all Lithuanians…

Barb will be in Lithuania in the May 24-25 timeframe. Would you like her to speak about the neuroscience of learning and teaching at your institution? If so, reach out to by February 17th.

Engaging Learners through Zoom Workshop

Need new strategies to teach through Zoom? A virtual professional development workshop that is actually energizing and fun? The Engaging Learners through Zoom Workshop offers teachers, college educators, administrators, and trainers the antidote to Zoom fatigue!  It’s so good even Barb (co-instructor of the highly rated “Teaching Online” MOOC on Coursera) is attending! Jonathan’s book on engaging learners on Zoom is also worthwhile. You’ll discover:

  • Multiple synchronous online learning structures backed by cognitive neuroscience
  • Dozens of active learning strategy examples with step-by-step directions
  • Ideas for including diverse content across numerous disciplines

The Most Perceptive Essay We’ve Read about ChatGPT and Educational Assessment

Don’t miss this brilliant essay by polymath Daisy Christodoulou about the perils of conclusion-jumping when it comes to ChatGPT.  Key grafs:

“If computers really are so brilliant at these typical academic skills that are taught in schools, maybe we should stop teaching them completely or only teach the particularly advanced, specialist and niche ones that computers can’t do?

“No. First of all, we will always want to teach academic skills for personal development. It’s good to be able to read, write and count even if a computer is faster and quicker. We didn’t stop teaching PE because of the invention of the car, or drawing because of the invention of the camera.”

If you’re into ChatGPT (and who isn’t, these days?), this essay can’t be missed!

University of Texas to Offer Large-Scale Online Master’s Degree in A.I.

Inspired in part by the Georgia Institute of Technology, which became the first leading computer science school to start a large-scale, low-cost online master’s degree, The University of Texas at Austin is starting a large-scale, low-cost online Master of Science degree program in artificial intelligence.  As this New York Times article notes:

“The first of its kind among elite computing schools, the new program could help swiftly expand the A.I. work force in the United States as tech giants like Microsoft rush to invest billions in the field.

“The university announced the initiative amid a clamor over new technology powered by artificial intelligence that can generate humanlike art and texts. And while some of the technology industry’s biggest companies are laying off workers after years of rapid growth, hiring in A.I. is expected to stay strong.

“University officials said they planned to train thousands of graduate students in sought-after skills like machine learning, for a tuition of about $10,000, starting in the spring of 2024. School officials said the cost was intended to make A.I. education more affordable. By contrast, Johns Hopkins University offers an online M.S. degree in artificial intelligence for more than $45,000.”

A Sizzling Video Book Review of A Mind for Numbers

Business Analyst Pallavi Dharkar gives an eminently informative and watchable review of A Mind for Numbers.  She has a book club—we’ve followed her LinkedIn profile to learn more; her book choices are (obviously) terrific!  

Most Children in Poor Countries Are Being Failed by Their Schools

This fascinating article in The Economist describes winning efforts in education in both poor and wealthy countries through tightly structured approaches to schooling.  (Direct instruction!) Key quotes from the paywalled article: 

“In America…there is growing awareness that schools have been clinging to modish but ineffective “child-led” ways of teaching reading that other developed countries such as Britain have junked. Literacy programmes that were dismissed as old-fashioned are coming back into favour.

“McGraw Hill, an American publishing company, sells a series of highly scripted courses aimed at primary-school children. Bryan Wickman of the National Institute for Direct Instruction, a charity in Oregon, says that using the simplest, clearest language possible is crucial when teaching the smallest children. He says the idea that lessons based on scripts must inevitably bore children should surprise anyone who enjoys other things that are performed from scripts, such as plays…

“[T]eachers sometimes bristle at the constraints that scripts impose: “It is not what they teach you in teacher school.” Sceptics often come round…when they see kids making swift progress. Mr Wickman points out that other expensively trained professionals, such as pilots and surgeons, also have procedures that they must follow to the letter. After some initial complaints (similar to those expressed by dubious teachers) such regimented approaches have become widespread in those fields. They help reduce mistakes, and spread better ways of doing things.” 

There Is No Thinking without Memorizing

This beautifully-written article “There Is No Thinking without Memorizing” by Professor Jon Schaff gives a great overview of counterintuitive notions in education. Key graf: “We deploy faddish educational notions such as ‘critical thinking’ to the detriment of our students. What is often derided as ‘rote-learning’ is actually essential to sophisticated analysis. Memorization creates a base of knowledge. We draw upon this foundational knowledge as we engage in more conceptual thinking.”

Inspiring Feedback for the Day

You’re never too old to learn, as one LHTLer notes:

“I’m a 39 years old veterinary medicine student with an aviation background. I learned how to fly through repetitive practice (actual flying), while in vet school I’m learning to be a doctor through repetitive lectures and written exams. I find vet school very challenging, but I apply what I learned from your course every day of my academic career. So, I want to sincerely thank you for creating and making “Learning how to learn” available to anyone. It is the best help and tool a student can have!”

Celia Angelica Barnett, BS, LMU-CVM Class of 2025, Student Ambassador, Tutor

That’s all for now. Have a happy month in Learning How to Learn!

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

Tiger Woods

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Month

Tiger Woods by Jeff Benedict  and Armen Keteyian

We are major fans of biographiesthis is our favorite genre, so when we say that Tiger Woods is one of the best biographies we’ve ever read, it also means it’s one of the best books we’ve ever read.  (That’s really saying something, since we knew nothing about golf going into the book.)  From its opening pages at the scene of Tigers’ very public car wreck, and working backwards through his implosive career arc, Tiger Woods is a book that’s virtually impossible to put down. It’s hard to believe the authors could bring such great insight when they weren’t even able to interview their subject, but if anything, the book is probably even better for its dispassionate ability to delve into the thick of Woods’ increasingly aberrant life.  For parents, Tiger Woods provides a wonderful instructional manual on how not to raise your kids.  A must-read.

Live Panel Discussion with BarbWhat Did the World Learn on Coursera in 2022?  

Join all-star instructors and industry experts Andrew Ng (Machine Learning), Barb Oakley (Learning How to Learn), and Charles Severance (Programming for Everybody) for a live panel discussion moderated by Shravan Goli, Coursera’s Chief Operating Officer. Tue, Jan 17, 2023, 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM US Eastern time!

Medical and nursing school studentsand their teaching institutionsfocus on improved learning

Lecturio provides courses for medical and nursing schools and their students around the world.  Barb worked with cardio-thoracic surgeon Peter Horneffer at Lecturio’s home studios in Leipzig to create the Durable Learning Course for medical and nursing school students to help them learn how to learn in the intense field of medicine.  Check it out!  And if you are with a medical school and are interested in tapping into Lecturio’s awesome body of health science courses, reach out to  

Podcast with Paul Fenner, President & Founder of TAMMA Capital (and father of triplets plus one!)

TAMMA Capital founder and president Paul Fenner, CFP®, EA, ChFC, CRPS®, has the privilege of being the father of triplets and another daughter and having a beautiful and supportive wife. TAMMA was founded when Paul’s triplets were born.  Paul saw firsthand how his own family struggled with financial anxiety, and the challenges and pressures it caused. This is one of the reasons why he chose to become an investment advisor and build his firm to help bring peace of mind to TAMMA families. (The first letter of each of their first names results in TAMMA.) Paul and Barb’s podcast about encouraging your kids to learn is “must listen” for parents.

Learning Ideas Conference

Barb will be keynoting at the Learning Ideas Conference, an online event which focuses on “Creativity in Learning Design.” The conference brings researchers, practitioners, and others together to create new learning experiences, leveraging research from a variety of disciplines along with imagination and creativity. February 16, 2023, 7:00 AM – 6:00 PM Eastern timesee you there!

Retrieval Practice involves the Diffuse Mode (Default Mode Network)

We often tend to think that studying involves focusing actively on the materials being learned.  In other words, that studying is “focused mode.”  So it may come as a surprise to learn that retrieval practiceperhaps the most important study technique of all, moves the brain temporarily into diffuse mode as thinking shifts from external to internal focus during the retrieval process.  That’s yet another reason that the default mode network is so important!

That’s all for now. Have a happy month in Learning How to Learn!

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

The Scout Mindset

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Year!

The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t, by Julia Galef. Critical thinking has stood for decades near the top of the World Economic Forum’s “10 skills needed to thrive in the fourth industrial revolution.” A real standout for us amongst the hundreds of books on this vitally-important topic is The Scout Mindset—a book about being able to see things as they are, not as you wish they were

You can think about it this way.  Some people are like soldiers.  They are there to protect their own thoughts and the thoughts of their team.  It really doesn’t matter if those thoughts are well-founded or not, their job is to fight off any evidence that might be threatening to their position. As Galef, co-founder of the Center for Applied Rationality, observes: “A scout is different.  Scouts are sent out to find out what is really out there—not what we want to be there.”  

If you are looking for a great holiday gift, we highly recommend The Scout Mindset—one of the best books on critical thinking we’ve encountered. 

A useful Twitter thread discussing metanalyses and growth mindset

In the past, we’ve been critical of growth mindset.  But this set of Tweets has encouraged us to be more open to the idea that, in some circumstances, growth mindset interventions may have modest value. [Hat tip Adam Trybus].  We like this observation from amongst the comments:   “Having a growth mindset probably matters. But interventions on growth mindset probably don’t work very well.” 

Duolingo burns its userbase

It’s a bit sad watching language-learning app Duolingo throw away its greatest feature—the variety of pathways learners used to be able to use for advancement.  Users are up in arms about the rigid new single pathway, but Duolingo CEO and co-founder Luis von Ahn is doubling down on the changes, convinced that the complaints will pass.  Self-determination theories of motivation in learning predict otherwise.  And indeed, despite her three years of consecutive experience, Barb has deleted her Duolingo account and is now joining thousands (millions?) of others in exploring other language learning platforms.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, Memrise, Babbel, Busuu, and other platforms are apparently experiencing overwhelming surges.

Short form version of Barb & Terry’s essay “The Promise of Habit-Based Learning”

Here is a short-form version of Barb & Terry’s popular essay on the value of habit-based learning. 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.  

Age of distraction: It’s not just the kids. Parents can’t focus either. 

Here is a useful article from the ever-interesting Deborah Farmer Kris on how to calm your increasingly distractable mind.  (We love how Deborah describes the “Pavlovian response”): 

“One of the most popular attention strategies is the Pomodoro Technique… Choose one task to work on (unitasking!), minimize distractions, set a timer for 25 minutes and go. After 25 minutes, take a brain break — step outside and get some fresh air, move your body or just let your brain rest and clear.  Then dive in for another 25 minutes. 

“I’m using this strategy right now. After my disastrous attempt at crafting the introduction, I turned on a favorite Pomodoro app — one that shuts down notifications on my phone. I’ve used this app so often in the last few years that my response is Pavlovian: My brain chatter settles down, my anxiety ebbs, my focus sharpens and I am suddenly able to engage with whatever project or article I’ve been procrastinating. 

“When I teach this strategy to students in study skills workshops (and when they actually try it at home) the response has been universally positive: “I finished my homework in half the time it usually takes me” or “I got a draft of my college essay written in 25 minutes after dreading it for weeks.”

Helping your gifted child to achieve their potential

It’s worth your while to read this blog post on how the founder of Mentava, a new  support platform for gifted kids, got 50 high profile angel investors to join their seed round.  We believe Mentava  is going to go far, because it is meeting the needs of gifted children being held back by today’s approach to education.  As the platform notes: “Gifted kids are dramatically underserved by today’s education system. Education policy heavily focuses on getting struggling students up to par, but isn’t concerned with whether high performers are achieving their potential. And the problem is getting worse: California’s DOE says no algebra for 8th graders, Virginia eliminates accelerated math before 11th grade, NYC competitive admissions switching to random lottery. ‍Whether during preschool, elementary, or beyond, Mentava provides students the opportunity to accelerate their learning when their school is unable to do so.”  If you have a gifted child (and isn’t every child gifted?), we encourage you to check out Mentava. [Hat tip: Lissa Hanckel]

You don’t need to necessarily be perfect in reviewing everything you are trying to learn! 

This worthwhile study “Selective restudy can reset recall of forgotten information,” reveals that restudying helps not only with remembering the material that’s been reviewed, but also helps with remembering related material.  This is a definite spirit-booster for those who can’t make it through everything they’d like to in a given study session! [Hat tip: Artur Wieczorek]

Birthdays and Thanksgiving

Well, we’ve got stuffing on our face with our posting about Thanksgiving, which is on the 4th, rather than 3rd, Thursday of November since, (ahem), 1942. Scout mindset matters!  [Hat tip: Cere Tabbert]

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

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