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Fundamentals of Learning: Learn faster and better using neuroscience

Learn faster and better using neuroscience

Topic: Data
Connie Missimer

Many of us feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of knowledge— and disinformation— we face daily. Currently there are over a dozen theories about how best to learn, suggesting that the complexity of the brain coupled with human variability have made this a challenging field. However, the field of learning-science offers some major findings about how the brain learns, some of them counterintuitive. It seems we’ve been wasting a lot of time on learning! In this course we’ll tackle three areas: In the first hour, mapping what you want to learn to two major methods; in the second hour, ways to locate the best-supported information; and in the third hour, ways to evaluate the information. There will be throughout a great deal of group chat.

What you'll learn-and how you can apply it

By the end of this live, hands-on, online course, you’ll understand:

  • How to use two major parts of the brain to more easily learn
  • Renewed confidence about tackling information that had seemed daunting
  • Techniques for evaluating information

And you’ll be able to:

  • Try out new learning approaches during the course
  • Apply these learning techniques in other areas
  • Use additional methods of evaluating information

This training course is for you because...

  • You are an executive or senior leader in any area of your company and you need to help your team surf this information tsunami as it relates to your workplace needs
  • You are a manager or individual contributor in any area of your company and you want to become a thought leader, requiring broad learning.
  • You are head of a growing company, and you need to be as efficient learner as possible to stay ahead of the competition and aware of business opportunities.


  • No background in psychology or education needed.

Complete the following exercise before class and be prepared to discuss:

  • When you’re trying to learn something, how do you approach it, e.g., constant re-reading, spending a long time at it?

About your instructor

  • Connie Missimer is a philosopher and an expert in critical thinking. Connie’s fascinated by empirical findings, especially strong counterintuitive ones, relating to daily work. She's the author of influential articles on her empirically based theory of critical thinking and has conducted workshops both nationally and internationally. Previously, Connie was a senior manager at AT&T, where she advised cell phone and tablet partners Samsung, HTC, Microsoft, and Google on making their products more user friendly, and worked on MS Learning and Windows and in the Tablet Group at Microsoft. She holds over a dozen patents. Connie is the author of a number of books, including Good Arguments: An Introduction to Critical Thinking, now in its fourth edition, which offers the basics in analyzing theories and arguments, and her latest, Critical Thinking at Work: Does Your Company Pound or Flex? She holds an MS in philosophical literature from UC Berkeley and an MS in human-centered design and engineering from the University of Washington.


The timeframes are only estimates and may vary according to how the class is progressing

Introduction (15 min)

  • Overview of the course, highlighting the research surprises
  • A quiz before you even begin to study a field is helpful
  • Go big-picture before you know hardly anything
  • Don’t be fooled by “fluency”
  • Make breaks from learning a part of learning
  • Toggle between two parts of your brain for most effective learning
  • Evaluate by comparing and sussing out the source

Focused vs. Diffuse Thinking (20 min)

  • Big Idea: Your brain has two major ways to learn—don’t use just one!
  • Focused and diffuse thinking—what they are, why our brains have them, and how to toggle between them
  • Exercises
  • Q&A

The Fluency Trap (20 min)

  • Big idea: Being able to understand (fluency) is different from learning/knowing
  • Ways we can be tricked about this
  • Exercise
  • Self-quizzing and prolonged rumination overcome the fluency mirage
  • Exercise
  • If you’re stuck, try the age-old association technique (make a crazy connection that sticks in your mind)
  • Association exercise
  • Q&A

Learning by Paying No Attention (some of the time) (5 min)

  • Big idea: Your mind has a back burner that keeps cooking without your knowing
  • Making yourself stop and do something unrelated actually helps learning
  • Speaking of making yourself stop, let’s test this with a 10-minute break.
  • Break (10)

Procrastination (15 min)

  • Big Idea: Procrastination: Why we do it, how we can get around it
  • Surprise—people who procrastinate are often more creative when they do deliver the goods
  • How not to wait forever: Getting off the dime by promising yourself you’ll only, e.g., study, for 15 minutes and then reward yourself afterwards
  • Exercise
  • Completion makes your amygdala happy
  • Q&A

Problem-Solve to Learn Faster (30 min)

  • Big idea: Problem-solving is a great way to learn
  • Turning a subject into a (set of) questions or problems
  • Exercise
  • The Zeigarnik Effect- We recall problems better when they don’t have pat answers
  • Two exercises from different fields in the humanities and sciences
  • Q&A
  • Break (5)

Evaluation (30 min)

  • Big Idea: You learned it—How do you know it’s (likely) true?
  • Look for alternatives and supporting evidence.
  • Examples (child vaccination, climate change, opioids)
  • Neurobiology of opinion change
  • Exercise
  • Going against established evidence requires getting greater evidence
  • Signals of trustworthiness: Do they ever make corrections, retractions? Do they ever discuss strong alternative evidence?
  • Exercise
  • Short-cut of going to sources you already know are well-supported and willing to amend their views
  • Q&A

Wrap-up (25 min)

  • Summary Effective Learning Does Not Require a Brutal Slog
  • Big idea 1: Learning can be more efficient and fun if you know some empirically supported ways to approach any subject.
  • Big idea 2: And yes, you can learn things you did not imagine you could! Your brain is as good as anybody else’s.
  • Review of the major findings/techniques from the course
  • Focused and diffuse thinking make better learning
  • Fluency trap, how quizzing yourself can avoid it
  • Make a problem out of it for better memory and more fun
  • Procrastination can be good but no forever; ideas to end a bout of it
  • Learning needs evaluation—Ways to learn how likely what you read is
  • Q&A