Ultralearning by Scott H. Young

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Ultralearning by Scott H. Young is a comprehensive book on, well, ultralearning: how to master a complex skill as quickly as possible.

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The combines theory with practice. Young grew his experience in the field through various experiments he undertook himself, like acquiring an MIT degree within a year, learning 4 languages in a year, and learning to draw within a month. 

Ultralearning is: a well planned strategy, self-directed and intense.

In a world where average is over and lower skilled jobs are quickly overtaken by machines, Ultralearning may be a strategy to ensure employment of all sort.

Young identifies a number of steps.

Metalearning

This phase determines your strategy. What to learn, which materials and methods to use, how to learn. Planning phase. May take up to 10% of total time spent.

Focus

You need focus for fast learning. So you need to plan time, opportunity, venture, etcetera to fit the ultralearning activities into your life.

Directness

As doing is best, plan for a direct method of learning. Prefer speaking a language over studying idioms.

Young identifies some ways to achieve this

  • Transfer: apply subject in a new context.
  • Do a project.
  • Go sit in the environment in which the skill must be practiced.
  • Simulate practical application.
  • Overkill, for example, aim to become world champion.

Drill

Find the bottleneck in your skill development (Young call this the rate determining step) and drill it. Ways to drill:

  • Time slicing.
  • Focus on a specific cognitive component (for example: pronunciation).
  • Copy others.
  • Deep dive a specific subtopic.
  • Try something, see what’s holding you up, focus on that (Young call this prerequisite chaining).

Retrieval

Immediate feedback is essential to achieve expert level. But also be assess what advise to ignore.

Kinds of feedback you can seek for:

  • Outcome feedback (a test result)
  • Information feedback (what was done wrong)
  • Corrective feedback: information feedback with also advice how to do better. This of course is best feedback.

Retention

Repeat to remember. Spread learning and repeat systems. Proceduralize, overlearn, use mnemonics.

Joshua Foer in Moonwalking with Einstein builds a memory palace to memorize 52 playing cards in a minute or 2.

Intuition

Great example here: Richard Feynman. 

I think it is more discipline than intuition. 

Principles:

  • Don’t give up on hard things.
  • Prove to understand – reproduce, explain yourself.
  • Don’t fool yourself.

Experimentation

  • Experiment to find your own path.
  • Diverge from your teachers and mentors.
  • Experiment with learning systems, technique, style.
  • Copy then create
  • Compare side by side experiments
  • Add new constraints.
  • Mix (unrelated) skills to something you uniquely can bring. This is Scott Adams combining two “ good” skills into a unique combination.
  • Explore the extremes.

A nice read. 

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