Review A Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley

Review A Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley

DISCLAIMER: if you took the course Learning How to Learn on Coursera, the book will not be really new for you. On the other hand, if you took a course, then you know that space repetition is a very useful technique, which means the book can be useful even in this case.
25 Feb 2016 4107
DISCLAIMER: if you took the course Learning How to Learn on Coursera, the book will not be really new for you. On the other hand, if you took a course, then you know that space repetition is a very useful technique, which means the book can be useful even in this case.

It is curious that we as programmers alongside many other representatives of other professions, spend a significant portion of our time on learning. We learn all sorts of new technologies, new concepts, patterns and paradigms, or simply connect to the new project in its tenth year of life. This means that we spend a lot of time learning. Because we learn for most of our lives, we must be very good at this. Shouldn’t we? Well, I don’t want to offend you but ...

Despite the importance of learning, we rarely reflect on the effectiveness of this process. For example, what do you think about the effectiveness of the way you read? It’s easy to check: how well do you remember and can explain the topic or details of the last book you read to a friend? What about the book before that one? If you read something, this is already very good. If you make notes in the book, then this is just wonderful. But you will be surprised that the abundance of notes can be not just useless, but harmful. Highlighting the key points is helpful, but only after you think them over and make your own marginal notes.

mind_for_numbers.jpgYou will also be surprised that a re-reading of the material can also be harmful (especially if you re-read it right away), and the most effective way to remember is to try to restore the information you read/heard in your memory. And this technique is even more effective than all kinds of trendy tricks, such as mind maps.

Or here's another example. Perhaps you've noticed that your experience grows through some kind of leaps (level-ups): BAM, and you look at the tasks you perform in a different way; BOOM, and the terrifying words of smart people about the patterns and design principles become clear; TADA, and it is somehow easier for you to look at the requirement management process. Such breakthroughs happen at certain moments of time and give you a fuller picture of the world, or at least part of it. And this is due to the fact that expertise forms in an interesting way. First, we create knowledge chunks, and then these chunks of knowledge combine into increasingly larger fragments, and this leads to an intuitive understanding of the issues and a more integral picture.

In Barbara Oakley’s book there are many interesting concepts such as focused and diffuse thinking, benefits of sleep and rest, the importance of practice and proper repetition, memory palaces, and more. In addition to "learning patterns", there are antipatterns, such as the above mentioned problem with highlighting, or the problem of looping on the task with a wrong solution. The book provides plenty of tips for students and often mentions problems of studying mathematics and natural sciences, but these remarks do not distract you from reading, and the book’s usefulness extends beyond the study of sinuses in biology.

I should also mention the information on the formation of skills and procrastination. Because now there are over 9000 distracting factors and doing something intently at home or at work becomes unbearably difficult. But since the problem is not new, there are proven approaches and solutions such as the Pomodoro technique, turning off audio alerts and pop-ups, etc. The book provides a sensible description of the nature of skills and how to form them, which can be very useful for changing your behavior.

Conclusion

A day has 24 hours for everyone. But some manage to do more and some less. The difference lies in the efficient use of time. There are two key factors of increasing this efficiency: it is necessary to stop doing unnecessary things (or minimize them) and learn to do the right things as efficiently as possible.

Since self-development is a good thing, then, instead of tossing it away because of the lack of results, it is better to continue doing it and try to make it as effective as possible. It is clear that the book will not be able to study for you and you will still have to turn off the your favorite TV series during the study of applicative calculators and other stuff, but the smart tips will help you to open up new approaches to learning new things or forming new skills. This will make the learning process more efficient, and therefore more interesting.

Verdict: Must Read!

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Sergey Teplyakov
Expert in .Net, С++ and Application Architecture

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