Daniel Lemire's blog

, 15 min read

How to learn efficiently

20 thoughts on “How to learn efficiently”

  1. Jarvis says:

    Fantastic post!

    1. Catherine says:

      I agree, great post, but I just wanted to clarify that the initial ‘confusion ‘ from learning is a result of testing one’s concepts of a newly learned topic such as the difference between a function and an actual measurement in an equation and being able to distinguish it from another.

  2. Mike S. says:

    There’s a blog called “Study Hacks” by a guy named Cal Newport that has efficient studying as its central habit. Most of what the author writes overlaps with what you have here. I’m not affiliated with that blog in any official or informal capacity, I’m just a rabid fan.

  3. Moschops says:

    “Seek the most difficult problems, the most difficult questions and try to address them.”

    I (politely) disagree with this, based on my own experiences and what I hope is some logic. I gain nothing by being confronted with a question so hard that I cannot make any progress. The most difficult problems will always be beyond me, and beyond the vast majority of learners.

    I learn most by attempting problems that are hard, but achievable; problems into which I can make progress, even if I don’t complete them. I would propose that in terms of learning by solving problems, we learn very little by solving the easiest problems, and nothing by staring blankly at the most difficult problems, and learn most at some intermediate position in which the problem stretches us and taxes our understanding, but without being so hard we simply stare blankly with no idea where to even begin.

  4. Jess Hernandez says:

    Wow what an awesome article, I need to bookmark this. I’ve spent the last 3-4 years at a community college and I completed a few associates degrees. However I felt that I wasn’t truly learning anything so I’ve decided to join the “Coding House” basically a 2 month program where you learn full stack development through project based learning. I am super excited and I feel like this will be the first time I will be challenged to learn, understand and apply the concepts of what I’ve learned into real-life applications!

  5. Dharmasar Thero says:

    You’ve hit the nail on the head! Hardly any schools teach students how to learn. When my students ask me how I became expert in several fields, I always say it’s because I learn to acquire skills, not just information. I put my homegrown methods together into a course, Becoming Genius. Check it out on my site.

  6. samar says:

    Very well expressed. However, you may care to look through a publication I was a small part of in producing. It is called, “Learning, Schooling and the Brain” and is available for free download at http://www.agem.in/pdf/LSB.pdf

  7. Stonehead says:

    Do you have any data to back all this up? Because, without actual study that confirms your hypothesis, all of this is meaningless.

  8. anurag says:

    Very well drafted article indeed. I am studying for MBA and this should help me out in learning and improving my efficiency. Thanks for sharing this. I also write about career on my blog but never have read about learning tips.

  9. Jose says:


    While I agree on most of the article, saying learning Style theory is junk is highly dismissive.

    In fact, learning style theory is quite obvious when you study the brain extensively. There are different parts in the brain, and different people naturally develop more one area or another.

    On one hand you are saying that LST is junk but on the other hand you say that is better to personally struggle on a problem.

    One of the main reasons personally struggling with a problem is better is because LST, because naturally you redefine the problem “on your terms”.

    At the same time, while struggling could be useful for learning, it is probably also not the only way, or the most efficient.

    Struggling makes you remember something because it is painful and painful things are important to the body. But also is surprise emotion, which is a positive emotion that does not drain the energy of the person like struggling does.

    If you see an extraterrestrial alien landing from the sky you will remember every single detail of it, naturally.

    But if you see the same alien every single day doing the same for a year you could forget the details of the last encounter easily in the same way you have forgotten what you eat yesterday if it was made routine.

  10. @Stonehead

    Yes, there are many references to back this up. A good starting point is given at the end of my blog under “further reading”.

  11. @Jose

    The Learning Style hypothesis is that by adapting the teaching to the students, we should get better test scores. Experiments do not back this up.

  12. Pedro De Bruyckere says:

    I collected a lot of the research on the non-effective learning styles theory, check http://theeconomyofmeaning.com/2014/08/06/another-nail-to-the-coffin-of-learning-styles-research/.
    Of of the best recent (scientific) reviews of study strategies can be found here: http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/journals/pspi/learning-techniques.html

  13. Joe Graham says:

    Profound and beautiful post, thank you.

  14. Nick says:

    Every tip you gave here are completely meaningless platitudes. Take out a blank piece of paper and write down what I learned? How can I verify if anything I’m writing makes any sense above rote memorization? I read posts like this all the time and its all the same. If you want to really get onto something try checking out Harvard Professor Eric Mazur’s Confessions of Converted Lecturer.

  15. What I particularly appreciated about your post was how easy it would be to share your ideas with learners/students and not just other educators. Thanks for that, as well as for the clarity of your presentation.

  16. @Nick

    Take out a blank piece of paper and write down what I learned? How can I verify if anything I’m writing makes any sense above rote memorization?

    You are just reorganizing the material for yourself as if you were about to teach what you just learned. If there are gaping holes in your understanding, you will often find out on your own. It is very hard to explain something you do not understand at all.

    Of course, you should test yourself again and again to make sure that you correctly understand the material.

    There is no silver bullet. Learning requires various activities.

    If you want to really get onto something try checking out Harvard Professor Eric Mazur’s Confessions of Converted Lecturer.

    That is great source for teachers but my blog post is directed at people who want to learn.

  17. Njama says:

    Good post. Spell check “insistant”

  18. CHanson says:

    Seeking out the most difficult problems is definitely challenging, but could also be crushing. Especially if the necessary foundational knowledge is lacking.

    Alternatively, student could look for challenging problems just beyond their comfort level. Once those are conquered, repeat at the next higher level.

  19. Neil says:

    This has a lot of similarities with this ‘top down’ learning concept: http://www.allcoolandnew.com/learning-fun-faster/

    Very interesting stuff!