Michiel Nuyts

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How To Learn Fast

October 01, 2019

Learning is our Superpower

If you want to increase your value to your employer or just to yourself, the one superpower you’ll need to have is how to learn effectively. Think about it, the ability to do research, find the right materials and really study it to a level where you could teach it to others is really an attainable superpower. This is one of the fastest ways to increase your value to others and yourself. And the great thing about it is that anybody can do it! We are all born with the same potential as human beings. Doesn’t matter where, or in what circumstances we are born, our potential is equal. This is what sets us apart from all other species, the ability to imagine something we want to achieve, and set in motion the wheels to get us there.

Learning and reading are the best skills you need to develop in our line of work, it’s what results in the biggest gains. I’ve been spending a lot of time trying out ways to get better at learning. One of the biggest breakthroughs was reading “Make it stick” from Peter C. Brown and Mark A. McDaniel. They talk about spaced repetition as the best method to quickly learn and retain the information you want to learn. I tried this out with my own method, I would have 4 columns in a Notion kanban board.

My First method in Notion

I took time between columns to kind of forget about the cards I learned, because of empirical research we know that the harder it is to recall information if we eventually do recall it, we will have created better retention of that piece of information, it will be much harder to forget it. By the time cards were trained to the last column I would be able to remember it without effort.

I was getting hooked when I studied the book “A Philosophy of Software Design” by John Ousterhout with my new system. When I finished it, I could talk about it for hours! And it opened my eyes to see the problems in our codebase at work that prevented us to scale it to more lines of code, and bigger dev teams.

I’ve learned that just reading a book is kind of a waste of time, most of the information will be forgotten in just a few weeks. I often look at books I have at home and ask myself: You know, I actually don’t remember much of what I read in that book… Isn’t that kind of a shame? We live in a time where everything is already written down in books, written by people that accomplished the very thing we want to accomplish. Studying it the correct way will get us there much faster than just giving it a read.

Automating my System

This realization kind of changed my life. So much so that I wanted a better system then my 4 columns in Notion. I wanted to know how much time went between learning a card and be backed up by an algorithm that calculated the perfect time between learning cards. Of course, many of us have heard of Anki, I think it’s a really great option, but the UX was a bit lacking and I wanted to personalize my workflow a bit more outside of the Anki options. Also, the creation of cards can be a bit time-consuming.

So as a developer, of course, I started working on my own version of Anki, where I could decide between simple and advanced boards based on the current information I was learning. There’ll also be an automated creation screen where you can transform text, pdf’s and other textual information really quickly into flashcards. You can choose to go with default Anki/SuperMemo algorithm flashcards or a more simple board where cards get automatically locked with time-spans you can configure.

I am making good progress, and spending around 20 hours a week on it! I’m hoping to launch a first BETA release in November this year. I’m really excited about it, and hope to solve the learning problem for more people out there! Here are a few screenshots!

A view of the simple boards

View of the Simple board

Everybody loves statistics!

Everybody loves statistics!

Import Cards from other users

Import Cards from other users

Early look at the creation screen

Early look at the creation screen

Early look at the Anki/SuperMemo Style cards

Early look at the Anki/SuperMemo Style cards

I’m really curious to hear feedback about this. What are you struggling with when it comes to learning new information? And let me know if you are interested in being involved in the first beta test! I’m planning to do it around November this year!

Have a look at https://www.spaced-learning.app if you want to join the beta!

The stack of the Application is React, NextJS, TypeScript, FireBase, and Algolia. I might talk about it more in future blog posts if people are interested in it, let me know in the comments!