11 min read ⌚
How to Teach Yourself Anything, Learn More in Less Time, and Direct Your Own Education
Not a fan of traditional education?
Then you’ll be interested in what Peter Hollins has to say in his 2018 book:
Who Should Read “The Science of Self-Learning”? And Why?
Whether you are a student with a high IQ or a parent of a child who is bored during most of its classes because it knows much more than his/her peers, you’ve probably already asked yourself if traditional education is the only way.
Peter Hollins is here to tell you that not only is it not—as proven by thousands of autodidacts who’ve changed our world, self-learning is a far better way. Especially today, in the era of Google and YouTube.
Short, enjoyable, and coherent, The Science of Self-Learning is a great book for anyone who wants to become an autodidact, as well as for parents who want to inspire curiosity in their children.
About Peter Hollins
Peter Hollins is a dedicated student of the human nature and a bestselling author.
A psychologist by trade, Hollins started writing books to reach a wider audience and help more people than what his private practice allowed.
Since then, he has written numerous books, Learn Like Einstein and The Science of Intelligent Decision Making the two most celebrated among them.
If you want, you can find out more at http://petehollins.com/.
“The Science of Self-Learning PDF Summary”
Before technology made acquiring information super-easy, there were not many ways to do that: the classroom, the laboratory, the workshop, and, sometimes, out in the field.
Either way, if you wanted to learn something, it required a lot of effort.
Nowadays, you can google absolutely anything you want and find out very specific info about your subject of interest in less than a few seconds—no matter where you are or what you are doing.
You have not only Wikipedia in your pocket, but the sum of all knowledge available to humans: thought-provoking videos, interactive presentations, in-depth reviews, interesting analyses, captivating book summaries… everything!
And just until three or four decades ago, the only way you could look up for general info was inside an encyclopedia! And it was even more difficult than just opening a book!
First of all, encyclopedias that really mattered were not 300 pages long but spanned for more than twenty or thirty volumes. Consequently, very few people could afford them. So, you needed to go to the library and look for information there. And God forbid it was something recent: you could never find the title of Taylor Swift’s first album in Britannica!
“It almost feels like the dark ages when you realize how difficult it was to simply acquire knowledge and learn about what you’re interested in,” writes Peter Hollins at the beginning of The Science of Self-Learning.
Less than 200 pages long and printed with quite a large font, Hollins’ book may seem like something assembled rather quickly, but don’t be fooled: there is a lot you can take away from The Science of Self-Learning.
And some of it can help you a lot along your way to mastery and greatness.
See for yourself!
The Principles and History of Self-Learning
You didn’t need the comparison above to know that the process of acquiring information has changed significantly over the last few decades. What hasn’t changed, however (even though Ken Robinson has been advocating this for quite some time) is the educational system: it is still based on the traditional top-down learning model.
In a traditional environment, you still learn what somebody else has decided that you should beforehand, be it your family, your private instructor, or, in most cases, a school board.
Not all of the aspects of these systems are negative, but many people have expressed the limitations of the traditional learning model, long before the advent of the Internet. Some of these guys you know quite well: Mark Twain, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin.
In one way or another, these three were all autodidacts, i.e., people who were fully or partially self-taught in the arts and sciences they eventually mastered. A sort of Will Huntings of their days.
You’d be surprised how many of your favorite authors (Hesse, Borges, Steinbeck, Tagore), musicians (Bowie, Cobain, Hendrix), directors (Tarantino, Kubrick, Welles), and even inventors (Da Vinci, Tesla) were just that: curious people who learned all that they learned by themselves.
That is the essence of being an autodidact or a self-educator, both a teacher and a student at the same time.
As you can see, self-learning is not a new pursuit. However, what’s new is how possible and attainable it is nowadays. “Courtesy of the Internet, the world is your oyster,” writes Hollins, “and we have the ability to learn anything we want these days.”
So that we can achieve this, first we must take a cue from the autodidacts of the past and understand the different mindset which makes self-learning possible.
The Learning Success Pyramid
To sum up, traditional learning is nothing more but a combination of reading and regurgitation. Self-learning is something more: a process of self-directed growth via profound intellectual curiosity.
Understandably, however, self-learning isn’t a mode operated by a switch that you can just flick on. Before you start educating yourself, you need to “put some mental and emotional groundwork in place to prepare for success.”
Legendary college basketball coach John Wooden can help you with that. His “pyramid of success” brilliantly structures the 15 stages (or blocks) one needs to pass on the course to success in his/her personal and practical ventures.
Educator Susan Kruger used Wooden’s pyramid as the foundation for something much more relevant in our case: the learning success pyramid. Much like Wooden’s diagram, Kruger’s pyramid identifies “the necessary elements one must bring to ensure accomplishment in learning throughout their life.” Unlike Wooden, Kruger kept the number of blocks to 3:
This is how Hollins sums up the descriptions of these three stages:
The learning success pyramid accurately lays out the three aspects of learning, two of which are typically neglected and thus serve as enormous barriers for most people. First, you must have confidence in your ability to learn, otherwise you will grow discouraged and hopeless. Second, you must be able to self-regulate your impulses, be disciplined, and focus when it matters—you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Third comes learning, which is where most people tend to start—to their detriment. Learning is more than picking up a book and reading, at least psychologically.
Related to Kruger’s second block (self-management) is another essential prerequisite of self-learning: self-motivation. Since you are both a teacher and a student, without it, you won’t be able to move forward through your life.
Via Daniel Pink, Hollins reminds us that there are three main aspects of self-motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose/impact. “The intangibles,” says Hollins, “tend to be far more powerful than what you would traditionally consider motivating.”
Interaction and Information
Now that you know the basics of self-learning, it’s time that Hollins shares with you a few techniques to help you on your journey to mastery.
Learn them, and use them as often as you can, and you’ll be able to get the most out of anything you read, hear, or see.
The SQ3R Method
Introduced by American educational philosopher and psychologist Francis P. Robinson in his 1948 book Effective Study¸ the SQ3R method is one of the most powerful tools in a self-learner toolkit.
Developed specifically with comprehension in mind, the SQ3R method makes reading and observing a much more active process, creating dynamic engagements between readers and books which allow for the information acquired to get stuck in a reader’s mind.
The name of the technique is an acronym of its five components: survey, question, read, recite, review. Let’s have a look at all of them
The first step in the SQ3R method aims to help you get a general overview of what you will be reading. We italicized the “will” for a reason: as tempting as it is, don’t start reading before you survey your reading material.
This step shouldn’t take long: 3 to 5 minutes is all it should take you to go through the contents of a single book and take note of the headings and the sub-headings.
“It’s just like taking a look at the entire map before you set off on a road trip,” writes Hollins smartly. “You may not need all the knowledge at the moment, but understanding everything as a whole and how it fits together will help you with the small details and when you’re in the weeds.”
Even in the second stage of the SQ3R method, “you’re still not diving into the deep end.” As suggested by its name, this stage is reserved for inquiries and questions.
What kind of questions?
Simple, general. You can just ask yourself, “What this chapter is about?” or convert the titles of the headings into questions: “Who is Peter Hollins?” Once again, this is a short 3-to-5-minutes stage, but it is essential: it is through these questions that you’re waking up your curiosity, an autodidact’s best trait.
Now you can begin reading—and reading actively. You’re not just reading something distant at this point, but you’re treading familiar ground, trying to find answers to the questions you posed in #2. There’s a big difference: you’ve just turned your reading from passive into active.
The only way you’d know if you have actually remembered something of the things you’ve read is if you test yourself. See how much of what you’ve read you can retrieve from memory. Try to answer the questions posited in #2.
It is of vital importance that you formulate and conceptualize the learned material in your very own words. Act as if you’re a teacher standing in front of a group of children, if it helps.
The final stage of the SQ3R method is reviewing. It is a variant of retrieving: saying back to yourself what the point of a passage, a page, or a chapter was.
Bertrand Russell claims that there is not a big difference between reading without taking notes, and not reading.
So, if you are one of those who don’t want to put any marks on the margin of a page, try to change that about yourself immediately: this may be the reason why you’re never able to remember the things you’ve read.
Fortunately, however, most of us do take notes when reading; unfortunately, it seems that very few take them in the right manner.
Devised by Walter Pauk, an education professor at Cornell, the Cornell note-taking system has been scientifically proven to work wonders in terms of efficiency, tidiness, and memorization. And you need nothing more than a reorganization of how you take the notes.
And it is quite simple: you just divide the list into two unequal columns (the right one about twice the size of the left one) and leave about 2 inches (5 cm) at the bottom of the page.
Now, in the right column, you put the notes, in the left you put the keywords related to the notes, and in the space on the bottom, a summary of what you’ve learned.
In case you have problems visualizing this, here’s a short video to help you better understand what Cornell Notes are:
Read Faster and Retain More
In the third part of his book, Peter Hollins demonstrates some simple—but very effective—speed-reading tactics, which we can sum up in four actionable pieces of advice:
• Stop subvocalizing. The obvious and self-explanatory one. Subvocalizing is defocusing and slows you quite a bit. If you are doing it, it’s time you stopped;
• Train your eyes. If you want to read faster, you’ve got to train yourself to read faster. And the best part of your body to start training is your eyes: the less they slide away from the page, the faster you’ll be able to read.
• Strategically skim. Slow readers read linearly, but fast readers read diagonally. Learn to strategically skim the pages where the main topics are merely introduced, or some marginals topics are discussed.
However, Peter Hollins is adamant that speed-reading is not enough (or even the right way to go). If you want to retain more and actually grow as a self-learner, you need to learn how to read properly, regardless of your speed.
He shares nothing new here—he merely advises his readers to buy that brilliant Mortimer & Adler classic, How to Read a Book—and reminds us of the four levels of reading:
• elementary: how you probably read right now;
• inspectional: when you start wondering what it is precisely what you’re reading;
• analytical: when you start taking Cornell notes;
• syntopical: when you start comparing the acquired information with other books on the same topic.
The difference between traditional and self-learning is basically the difference between the first and the other three levels of reading; becoming an autodidact is all about becoming a syntopical reader.
After all, at school, nobody teaches you to start asking questions about what you’re reading: if anything, they teach you the opposite. Autodidacts don’t think that way: they actively search for meaning—both in the texts they read, and, more importantly, in the lives they lead.
Key Lessons from “The Science of Self-Learning”
1. Traditional Learning is an Outdated Model
2. Self-Learning Is Not a New Concept—But It Is Made for Our Times
3. Use the SQ3R and Cornell Notes Method to Read and Retain Better
Traditional Learning is an Outdated Model
Now, don’t get us wrong: learning in a classroom comes with a lot of benefits. The problem is this traditional learning model has negatives as well, some of them even quite obvious.
For example, in traditional learning, you’ll always learn what somebody else somewhere (your family, your private tutor, a school board) has decided is best for you to know.
In addition, traditional learning is psychologically restrictive, since instead of arousing, it stifles curiosity in children, who are specifically taught not to question what they are required to learn.
Self-Learning Is Not a New Concept—But It Is Made for Our Times
Not only due to the reasons pointed out above, self-learning has been advocated by great minds ever since the Renaissance.
In self-learning, you are your own teacher and student: it is you who makes the syllabus and you who must adhere to it, you who make and grade the tests.
Da Vinci, Tesla, Hesse, Twain—these were all autodidacts or self-learners, meaning, they all managed to excel in the field of their choice without a teacher. And they did it at a time when there was no Wikipedia and no YouTube.
If it ever made sense for people to become self-learners, now is that time. In other words, if you are using all these modern technological benefits to instead of exploring the world around you—then you’re missing out on quite a lot!
Use the SQ3R and Cornell Notes Method to Read and Retain Better
Though quite simple, the SQ3R method and the Cornell note-taking system should help you read better and remember things longer.
SQ3R stands for survey, question, read, retrieve, review—which is how you should approach every single book you’ll ever read. You should also use the Cornell note-taking system to organize your knowledge better while you acquire it.
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“The Science of Self-Learning Quotes”Traditional education is about reading and regurgitation. Surely this is not the best approach to keep up in life, and there are other approaches that can be more beneficial. Click To Tweet Self-education is a thriving industry. Students direct their own learning in topics that used to only be covered in college settings, and far beyond of course. Click To Tweet An autodidact is, simply put, a self-educator. It’s what you’re probably aspiring to. Click To Tweet Anyone can be an autodidact—there aren’t any restrictions on age, gender, or background. All that’s required is the willingness to actively find new knowledge and to do so with discerning, evaluative mind. Click To Tweet In self-learning… you’re your own instructor. The only personality you have to deal with is your own. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
“Never judge a book by its cover” may be a cliché, but The Science of Self-Learning is living proof why it is worth repeating clichés from time to time.
Though quite unappealingly designed samizdat, this book offers just enough to get you on track to becoming an autodidact, and, more importantly, isn’t shy at all to reveal many of its sources.
If you are not a fan of traditional education, here’s a great place to start your research into the art and science of self-learning.