June 6, 2022

Ultralearning by Scott Young Book summary

In his book Ultralearning, the author and learning expert Scott Young develops his theory on what ultra-learning should be.
What is ultralearning?
Ultralearning is a strategy for acquiring skills and knowledge that is both self-directed and intense.
It is a strategy, so it can be used or not used.
It is self-directed, because you are the one who determines the path.
It is intense because it is about acquiring knowledge in a fast but solid way.
People who are dedicated to learning have differences but also many common traits.
But first of all, why is learning worthwhile?
The first reason is because it allows us to achieve significant improvements at work.
Also on a personal level it allows us to become a better version of ourselves.
Doing difficult things also increases your security and self-confidence.

The nine principles of ultralearning

1 Make a knowledge map.
What do you want to learn and what is its structure? Traditional education follows an approach that everyone learns the same way, but you can design the best path for your own learning. This will improve your learning in that particular project, and increase your ability to learn in general.
Your knowledge map should divide the topic into three categories: concepts, facts and procedures. Concepts refer to what is to be understood. Facts refer to what needs to be memorized. Finally, procedures refer to what to do. Not all learning includes all three categories. For example, learning a basketball shot will require almost only procedure. Once you have considered each of the categories, you should focus on the most relevant category.
After creating the meta-learning map, you should identify which aspects of learning may be difficult and think of techniques to overcome them.
With all that you can determine how you are going to learn. You can use the approach of others, adapting it to your needs.

2. Focus.

Young calls sharpening the knife to improving concentration.
To improve concentration, start by eliminating all distractions. Put your cell phone away and limit your internet connection.
Young recommends tricking your brain that you are already focused. You can use the pomodoro technique that divides the task into specific time periods (e.g. 20 minutes). Set your alarm to go off when the "pomodoro" is over and then give yourself a break (like 5 minutes for example).
A tactic used to improve concentration is called interleaving, dividing what you have to study in short periods of time.
You should adapt your work plan to the mental state you are in, leaving the tasks that require more intense concentration for the moments when you have more energy.

3. Go straight to the point.
In traditional education there is a great distance between the learning context and the target environment. For example, we learn French in a classroom, rather than by talking to a native speaker. That's why we then struggle to apply our training in the real world. Scott Young recommends that the path between the learning experience and the application experience be as direct as possible.
Young recommends learning by doing, so-called project-based learning. This places the learning directly in the target environment, thus skipping the challenge of transferring skills. The best way to use project-based learning is immersion learning, for example, a French language student spending a year working in France. Some skills however cannot be learned by immersion, such as flying a plane, but even then simulations can be used.
Practice what you want to learn as soon as possible. Reading about it or watching lectures can be complementary but it is important to do what you want to learn as soon as possible.

4. Practice.
Young recommends starting with direct application of the skill and then identifying the areas you need to perfect and practicing them. Then go back to direct practice until you see other skills that need to be perfected. This is what Young calls "direct then drill." Practicing what you are best at is more enjoyable, but attacking your weakest point leads to more progress.
You can try to determine steps in the learning process and repeat it until perfection, but that's only possible if you can easily isolate one step of the whole process. If you can't, you can always separate a skill into its components. You can also use the copycat method. Choose an idol who excels in the area you want to improve and emulate his or her approaches.

5. Knowledge recovery.

Test yourself to learn. It has been proven (see 2011 Purdue University study) that testing helps you learn better than rereading or making mental diagrams. However, it is more comfortable to review, because it makes you feel that you master the subject better, so it is the most used system, although it does not produce the same results as testing.
Young gives several ideas for recovery:
Try to write down everything you can remember.
Don't take notes as you read. Instead, pose questions that prompt you to retrieve the information.
Think of an assignment that tests everything you've learned.

6. Feedback.
Don't dodge negative criticism. If you do, it will be harder for you to learn. Fear of feedback is one of the biggest impediments to faster and more effective learning.
Young says that almost all feedback is valuable, but some is more useful than others. Scott Young distinguishes several types of feedback:
* Performance feedback. This is the most basic form of feedback and involves determining whether the desired outcome has been achieved. It can be encouraging, but often lacks sufficient information to make meaningful changes.

* Informative feedback. Informative feedback consists of highlighting problem areas and isolating errors based on when the feedback is received.

*The most effective form of feedback is corrective feedback. This type of feedback tells you precisely what you are doing wrong and how to rectify it.


Young relates the case of Nigel Richards, who in 2015, won the World French Scrabble Championship, despite not speaking French. There are 386,000 French words approved for Scrabble, but Richards won by memorizing a lot of words.
You have to memorize the important information, but it pays to space out the memorization sessions so you can remember the information over the long term. Spaced repetition is potentially the most effective technique for learning information. Test your knowledge of random chunks of information. If you remember it, you can review it over time; if you don't remember it well, you may want to review it sooner.
Don't fill a leaky bucket. Think about why you forget sometimes and try to avoid it.

8. Intuition: Deepen before you build.
Having a deep knowledge of a subject allows you to develop intuitions full of connections. Young proposes several ways to accelerate the acquisition of the knowledge needed to intuit:
Ask stupid questions because they will allow you to build a solid foundation.
Seek out challenging learning experiences that lead to a deeper understanding of the topic. Never run away from challenges or take shortcuts. Always choose the most comprehensive solution to a problem.
Don't give up when the going gets tough. Instead, use a struggle timer, telling yourself that you have to try to overcome the challenge within a set period.
Try to increase your understanding of the topic so that you can challenge common concepts and theories.

9. Experimentation is what makes you a genius.
Young uses Vincent Van Gogh as an example for this last principle. Van Gogh dropped out of art school and was always described as an unremarkable painter. Today he is considered one of the greatest artists in history. He achieved this success through constant experimentation. His characteristic artistic style changed considerably from his early years. He did not immediately hit upon his distinctive aesthetic. That's why Young describes experimentation as the secret ingredient of ultra-learning.

The first approach you can take to experimenting is to copy and then create. Emulate someone else's work and then use it to test your own ideas. One way to improve the effectiveness of your experimentation is to set limits on your creativity. Working within strict boundaries can force you to try a process that you would not normally do.


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