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New Research Shows I Was Right About Watching Lectures Faster

A new paper argues that watching video lectures at 2x the speed has minimal costs to comprehension. From the abstract: “We presented participants with lecture videos at different speeds and tested immediate and delayed (1 week) comprehension. Results revealed minimal costs incurred by increasing video speed from 1x to 1.5x, or 2x speed, but performance...

The Science of Achievement: 7 Research-Backed Tips to Set Better Goals

Setting goals can transform your life. Goals can help you get in shape, improve your finances, learn a new language, or finally launch that business. But goal-setting can also leave you miserable. Burnout, stress and disillusionment are high on the list of potential side effects. The crucial difference between success and burnout often comes down...

Cognitive Load Theory and its Applications for Learning

Why is learning effortful? Why do we struggle to learn calculus but easily learn our mother tongue? How can we make hard skills easier to learn? Cognitive load theory is a powerful framework from psychology for making sense of these questions. Cognitive load theory, developed in the 1980s by psychologist John Sweller, has become a dominant paradigm...

The Best Essays of 2021

As the year ends, I thought I’d revisit some of my favorite entries from the past twelve months: The Productivity Frontier: Can You Get More Done Without Making Sacrifices? – How much more productivity can you squeeze out of your day? Is such a squeeze sustainable? Productivity enthusiasts like me often talk about systems to maximize the amount you...

Digging into How We Teach and Learn: 7 Books That Have Challenged and Shaped My Thinking

In my quest to understand the nuts-and-bolts process of how we learn complex, valuable skills, I’ve read quite a few books on learning, teaching and skill acquisition. This batch of books challenged my thinking and changed my mind on quite a few things. I read these books to further investigate learning by doing and the problem of transfer. Transfer...

How Much Do You Need to Know Before Getting Started?

Say you need to learn a complicated skill: physics, French or computer programming. How much time should you spend building your background knowledge before you start practicing the actual skill? Consider machine learning. One way to learn this field would be to master first the underlying math. Then, when you encountered the programming commands...

Learning by Doing: When Does it Work? When Does it Fail?

How much do we learn simply by doing the things we’re trying to get good at? This question is at the heart of a personal research project I’ve been working on for several months. Readers can note some previous entries I’ve already written on this project. My original intuition was that we get good at what we practice, and skills are often quite specific....

What if You Don’t Feel Smart Enough?

I often don’t feel smart enough to do what I do. I don’t say this out of false modesty or as an attempt to be more relatable. I spent the last decade taking on rather-immodest learning challenges. I’ve always been confident in my ability to learn new things. Instead, the insecurity comes from recognizing that, no matter how hard I try, there are tons...

The Craft is the End

I once met with a successful academic and author. He told me that he didn’t understand most of his peers. Getting tenure at a university is a lot of work. You need to produce a lot of the right kind of intellectual output to get recognized. But after that, you have total freedom to pursue whatever work you think is true and important. He commented...

Which Works Better: Habits or Projects?

In a recent essay, I argued that most people are trying to do too much. In the attempt to do everything that interests them, they end up making little progress on anything. One reader noted a problem. Doesn’t this view of having a few serial projects contradict the idea of building good habits? Isn’t it the idea to make slow and steady progress on...

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