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How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens
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How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  5,696 ratings  ·  705 reviews
In the tradition of The Power of Habit and Thinking, Fast and Slow comes a practical, playful, and endlessly fascinating guide to what we really know about learning and memory today—and how we can apply it to our own lives.
From an early age, it is drilled into our heads: Restlessness, distraction, and ignorance are the enemies of success. We’re told that learning is all
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published September 9th 2014 by Random House
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Average rating 3.92  · 
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Aug 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: education, science
According to Benedict Carey, a science reporter, the way we THINK we learn is actually very different from the way we ACTUALLY learn. About 95% of Carey’s book is a historical chronology of the clinical studies and science experiments that led to our current understanding of learning. The remaining 5% contains the useful points and strategies you need to be a better learner. Since I’m guessing almost all of us care very much about the useful 5% and very little of the historical 95%, I’ve boiled ...more
Aug 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: self-improvement
I’ve read plenty of books on how to improve memory and academic performance and I can confidently say that this one is the best so far. All the information here is original and explained in great detail. Among the techniques Carey offers to improve memory and academic performance is persistent practice, breaking up study time, incubation, and self-testing. The length of the book wasn’t too long or too short either. I’m glad I was recommended this book!
Riku Sayuj

Why So Serious

We all “know” we need to be organized, to develop good, consistent study routines, to find a quiet place and avoid distractions, to focus on one skill at a time, and above all, to concentrate on our work.

What’s to question about that?

Carey begins this book with the allegation that most of our instincts about learning are misplaced, incomplete, or flat wrong.

It goes like this:

Want to procrastinate? Good!
Can’t focus? Good!
No fixed schedule? Good!
Can’t study in a fixed place? Good!
Jay Williams
Aug 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Probably the most informative book I have read in years. I was amazed at the information it contains, and how it was written for ready comprehension. It stands the traditional ideas on learning on end, and provides a solid basis for the knowledge it provides. I especially liked the appendix which summarized the information from the entire book into practical guidelines for use. I will make sure many members of my family get a copy of this book. It is valuable for all ages.
Another excellent book on learning science--

The book covers much of the same ground as Make It Stick: the Science of Successful Learning—desirable difficulty, the necessity of forgetting in learning, testing as a learning technique, illusion of knowing, and spaced & varied practice—but the emphasis is more on the practical side of learning and offers some concepts, studies, and insights not found in Make It Stick.

Some of the things I took away from this book and will be applying to my own learn
Bryan Alkire
Sep 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Good book. It’s an interesting topic and I learned quite a bit which I suppose was the point. It’s very readable with concrete examples and examples of problems and the like. I wish I’d had this in school, unfortunately it came out just after I got done with grad school and exams. . Still, it never hurts to learn how to learn so I recommend this book.
Michael Nielsen
Mar 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An informative overview of research on memory, covering:

+ The enormous benefits of spaced repetition.
+ The benefits of being repeatedly tested (which sometimes greatly outweigh re-studying, even when you're not told the results)
+ The benefits of interleaving different types of material, and the remarkable fact that people believe they're learning less, but are actually learning much more.
+ The fluency illusion, i.e., the sense that people have that they're learning a lot when it's all going quic
I'd definitely recommend this to someone who hasn't yet ventured into the "learning how to learn" territory, but as someone who has taken multiple courses on this topic, I barely found any new information. Though the writing style's great - simple, fun and accessible. ...more
Nov 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Audible version:
Firstly, this was a struggle at times, probably through the frustration of my own powers of learning/recall. If you’re going to use this book for personal/self-improvement, or you want to use its lessons in your own classroom, then an audible version is immensely confounding – as I wanted to make notes and highlights continuously, and walking to and from work whilst listening didn’t allow me to easily do this! I also hated the attempts of the narrator to mimic the Irish accent or
Leland Beaumont
Aug 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
As soon as we shift focus from teaching to learning, understanding how our brains acquire information becomes paramount. The easy going, storytelling style of this book belies its depth and importance; this is a book about how brain cells form, hold onto, and retrieve new information.

How we do learn often differs from how we may have been taught to learn. Schoolmarms would be very surprised to find out what actually works. Here are some of the unusual conclusions developed in the book:

+ Forgetti
I could go 3.5 stars easily, but not four as much of the book was review, not surprising (although my parents never, ever suggested when, where or how I should study!) I wanted to retitle the first half of this book "How We Memorize" as Carey dealt, in an engaging way, with studies on how we retain factual information. This is not the heart of my interest in deep learning -- and I think the topic is covered better and with better, useful techniques for memorization, in Moonwalking with Einstein. ...more
Aug 07, 2014 rated it liked it
3.5--I wish my peers would read this and understand techniques that help children learn. Because I follow this kind of research quite a bit, there wasn't much here that I did not already know but I did appreciate Carey taking the time to explain the research behind the theories. This would be a great common book for college freshmen. ...more
Jan 16, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Review of learning studies.
Take aways:
1. Forgetting then retrieval makes the memory

2. Recreate same state of mind/study environment -shake it up so that can redo in a variety of circumstances

3. Space out learn over time to remember more

4. “fluency illusion” easy to remember now and also later; to overcome consistently engage in self-testing as you go (ie. recite from memory as part of studying)

5. Pre-testing as study tool - even a wrong guess engages the mind in a more demanding way than mem
Karen Chung
May 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
If you care about teaching or learning, do not deprive yourself of crucial information on how to do it better - hurry and read this book NOW!
May 10, 2020 added it
DNF. Too many irrelevant personal anecdotes.

Make It Stick The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown
Jan 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
This is a rare book that, having listened to it, I want to buy as a hard copy to review.

There are a lot of ideas in here about ideal learning conditions, the research that backs them up, and the ways to make the most of one's brain. Fascinating and useful. I wish I'd listened to it before I took my boards exam. There were things I might have structured differently in my study plan.

I especially would like to have this on hand in the event that I'm involved in course design at some point. I think
Sep 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
We don’t learn the way we think we do. Things that are seen as detrimental like distractions, randomness, naps, boredom, different settings are actually what can help us the most. Learning or training our brains whether it’s in the storage or the retrieval aspects is just like our exercise routines the more varied , sporadic, intermittent the better. Agility and flexibility are extremely valuable for strengthening .

The author highlights tips we might already know like the importance of self test
Jan 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: all of my teacher friends
Recommended to Jennifer by: MindShift
I’ve been reading a lot of books about the science of learning lately. It started a couple of years ago when I began using an article by Carol Dweck in my developmental reading/writing course—an article about fixed and growth mindset and about how such a small thing like what you believe about your own intelligence or ability can have a huge impact. My students both related to it as learners but sometimes as parents too. Since then, I have seen/read discussions of mindset everywhere and one nigh ...more
Apr 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Well...I spent 8 years teaching students useless study habits. 😕 Informative and eye opening, but I would have liked bulleted suggestions for improving learning at the end of each chapter.
Mar 21, 2018 rated it liked it
This book started Chapter One with a fascinating question: why do people with brains split completely in half (surgery for severe epilepsy) still feel like one unified person?

The answer: somewhere in the left hemisphere, there is a system in our brains that researcher Michael Gazzaniga calls the "left brain interpreter". The interpreter what what puts together the story of our lives. Oh, and 'story' is truly the right word; the interpreter will make up bullshit to explain what it does not know!
Diane Law
Jan 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
If you are interested in the psychology of how we learn, this book presents scientific studies as well as personal anecdotes and experiments you can try yourself.
Its very accessible and written in a conversational style.
It focuses primarily in memory, rather than deeper insightful learning.
Feb 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Carey's "How We Learn" challenges our traditional views of learning by discussing the experimental results from the science of learning. The book is thus very similar to "Make It Stick" by Brown et al. In my opinion, Carey's book is more readable but not quite as useful and informative as "Make It Stick."

Our traditional views about memorization, studying, and learning tend to focus on making learning easy: study in the same location, develop a study ritual, reduce distractions, then read, take n
Dimitrios Mistriotis
Dec 07, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: avoid
Easily one of the books that do not worth the paper + ink it has been printed on. An impulse buy. I need to upskill my learning so got this to get some insights. The format of each chapter is Story - Research - Finding, there is no way to connect the stories, research material presented is sparse and does not connect. Findings that you can apply to how you work and learn stuff were at most one paragraph per chapter. Thinking that the book advertises it self as a how-to "unlock our brains potenti ...more
Nov 06, 2015 rated it did not like it
Ironically, the way I learn is simply not the way he writes. He has a chatty style, about the density of spongecake for the amount of space between information, and after three attempts, I realize I don't have the patience to wait for him to get to the point. So I can't claim that I actually know whether he does have a point. ...more
Chris Mayes
Mar 07, 2018 rated it did not like it
Mostly bad science from a non-expert. Not a good idea to extend principles of general cognitive psychology to educations psychology in particular if you don't know anything about the latter. ...more
Jan 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Such a helpful and insightful book. The findings presented in this book are really interesting and they really break the misplaced assumptions about studying and learning. Very helpful !!!
Roman Kozakov
Nov 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book provides an insightful explanation of the principle processes that enable us to learn. The text describes everything for each process from its initial discovery to recent studies that qualitatively and quantitatively express the impact of that process in enabling learning. Each chapter describes an underlying learning process that many may take for granted. However, Benedict does a great job in diving into each of these processes and unveiling each by providing an in-depth analysis sup ...more
May 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: research, non-fiction
As the sub-title mentions, the ideas preferred in the book is in fact surprising and goes against the conventional wisdom in learning that we have grown up with. Turning too many ideas on its head, through a mixture of cognitive research, social science experiments and philosophical detours Mr Carey presents a cogent and quite persuasive picture of how we can adapt ourselves to learn consistently and most efficiently while keeping our eyes and ears open for that cherished moments of creative daw ...more
Aug 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

4.5 Stars

To be honest, I've been looking for a book like this for a while. Not too long ago, I started reading “Thinking Fast and Slow”, but it couldn’t hold my attention long enough for me to finish it. I’ll admit, there were spots in this book that were a bit dry, but overall it was packed full of knowledge that was truly interesting. For instance, I really like how the author included a few brain teasers, as well as some truly bizarre brain experiments (splitting t
Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
Aug 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
How We Learn is almost a how-to book about what to do to learn better and faster. It turns out we're doing it all wrong.

Benedict Carey is a science reporter, and so he has experience taking complex or incomplete scientific concepts and making them crystal clear to the general public. Since we really still don't know much about how the brain works, that is, how it forms memories and recalls facts for instance, we're stuck with trial and error for the time being. Carey points to many interesting,
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Benedict Carey was a health and medical reporter for the Los Angeles Times starting in 1997. In 2004 he became a science reporter for the New York Times.

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