Learning How to Learn – a secondhand MOOC (A what???)

I feel like I’ve been deprived. I don’t rightly know how long MOOCS have been in existence, at least in any reputable form, but I believe I have been woefully ignorant for quite some time.

MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses – are just that. They are massive: the last one I took ran over 5K participants. They are open: You want in, you’re in. They are online: they fit into your schedule. And they are… umm… courses: they’re courses offered by universities worldwide. For you. And for me.

And did I mention they’re free? Yeah. Coolio. They should be called FMOOCs.

I am currently enrolled in Learning How to Learn, all about the neuroscience of learning and mastering new information. It has been fascinating, and probably frustrating for my poor, poor children, as I use them as guinea pigs for all my newfound means and methods. Homeschooling is the perfect laboratory, after all, for neuro-experimentation. Poor, poor kids.

Did you know?

  • 2013_1231AA.JPG
    My bro-ham and my nephew, catching a few Christmastime zzz. And flushing their brains.

    When we sleep, our brain cells shrink, allowing an influx of cerebrospinal fluid to wash through, flushing out waste proteins that are toxic to said brain cells. While we’re awake, we build up more and more of this toxic waste; it just hangs out, making trouble, stuck in the web of our ever-changing brain tissues. The good news is, taking out the trash is as easy as taking a little siesta. ‘Tis true, in rats and baboons anyway, and we have reason to believe in us as well. Could even explain correlations between sleep deprivation and brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Makes me want to take a nap.

  • Also occurring while we snooze: Our brains are subconsciously consolidating all of our newly ingested information into our existing neural framework, protecting our learning for future generations of thought. Its a little bit like defragmenting your hard drive. Your brain files everything in more logical and retrievable locations, and then updates the index, tracing and retracing the neural pathways you need to take to pull the files again later. And the more a path is worn in, the easier it is to find when you need it. So nice of your brain to do all that running while you sleep!
  • Actively processing new information by making up explanations and connections to current knowledge, regardless of the accuracy of those explanations and connections, is an excellent way to cement your learning. When you speculate on why a given fact might be true – say why galaxies spiral out in relatively flat discs – by attempting to explain why – maybe on a galactic scale a more one dimensional disc is more of a perfect shape than a three dimensional sphere – or connect that gem with other things already in your mental vocabulary – oh, that’s kind of like how a frisbee cruises so much farther than a kickball; I get it – you are much more likely to retain that information for later use. And you don’t have to worry about whether your speculations hold water or not. At some point in the future, if and when you stumble upon confirmation that you were right, or proof that you are not as smart as you thought you were, you will have a frame of reference into which to deposit THAT new information, cementing IT into your long-term memory. (See above defragmentation analogy for another example of questionable ruminations.) Go ahead, use ridiculous conjecture. It’s OK. In fact, it makes you smarter.

Don’t worry, there’ll be more… I’m enjoying this immensely, so I am certain you’re going to hear all about it. In the mean time, enjoy your new (and justified!) pastimes of getting plenty of sleep and tossing out wild and crazy explanations for everything new you learn. You’re happy little neurons will be synapsing like fireflies!

As an added bonus, you are bound to make more friends.  You’ll be in a much better mood for all that sleep and if you’re bold enough to speak your mental hypothesis aloud, it won’t be long before everyone starts flocking to you in search of cheap entertainment.

A chronological listing of the posts in this series:

7 thoughts on “Learning How to Learn – a secondhand MOOC (A what???)

Add yours

  1. Hugely entertaining read. I do not .. *ahem* .. recall the third point mentioned from the course .. uh .. *sweat drops* .. but it seems like it ‘should’ fit within the a context of something ‘Barb’ might have said. Yep there’s definitely a blind spot in my post-completion network. Specifically: a term which might combine analogy and imagination. No I think it’s analogy. But the ‘why’ .. I’ve long recognized the value of this nugget (the word why) but I don’t remember hearing much about it in the course. Alright, now to the next part of my review


    1. Thanks again David! Some of what was presented was from sources outside the course, so it is possible that this point was one of them! And a bit was just about my own process and connecting it to what I’ve learned. So… it is quite possible that you didn’t miss a thing! I appreciate your kind comments!


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