Some time ago, through a nice bit of serendipity, one of my favorite podcasts introduced me to the ‘Learning How To Learn’ course on Coursera and a door had opened for me. A full course and some books later, many of my own experiences with learning started to make a lot more sense as I understood some of the neuroscience principles behind how learning actually happens. I began to realize that although my own learning was terribly inefficient, it didn’t need to be. I could be much more effective by consciously designing my process for how learning happens.
New mission in hand, I started to look for tools to improve my learning - but I was quickly discouraged by what I found (or didn’t find). Although there were plenty of tools available - they were all disconnected from each other. To make anything work the way I imagined, it would require either a lot of manual work connecting tools, a lot of time (and some dollars) spent exploring automation, or serious changes to my own routines and habits to adopt brand new ways of working and processing information.
Learning better was important to me - but not so important that I would want to do all of that work to make it happen. I felt that if I had to put in work, it should be on the actual learning, not on copying and pasting from one app to another, or manually processing analog notes into digital formats, etc.
So I obviously did what any sane person would do in this situation. I spent over a year coding an application that would allow me to learn how I wanted to learn.
I have to say, it’s actually quite useful now.
Below are the principles that went into designing my system. They are the underlying mechanics for how Lurnby works, and a starting point for where I plan to take it in the future. Like any natural system, it will continue to evolve. Hopefully thanks to feedback from other people and not just my own growing needs.
If this struck a note with you, get in touch. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Learning is an active process. It’s not enough to just consume information, you need to do something with it for learning to happen. To do anything with information, it needs to be on hand. I’m only focusing on text content for now, but even then I have multiple sources: newsletters, books, web content, and random text from other sources and they should all be in one place from which I can act on them.
Since I want all of my content in one place, I should make it as simple as I can to get it there. There shouldn’t be friction when adding content while browsing the web, from a mobile device, or from inside my inbox.
A lot of learning is about forming “chunks” of interrelated ideas. We are more likely to remember something if we connect it to something we already know. Whether I’m reading a newsletter or a chapter in a book - if I come across something I like, it should be possible to save just that bit, jot down some notes, and connect it to other things I’ve saved to form “chunks”.
Often you just need to write down some of your own thoughts in response to something you’re reading. Maybe it’s related to what you’re reading, or maybe through some magic brain process you’ve just solved some problem that you’ve been struggling with. In either case, you shouldn’t have to go anywhere else just to jot that down.
If I want to study or review, it should be as simple as possible to start. If it’s easy to start, it’s more likely to get done. To that end, I shouldn’t have to think too much about what I need to review.
There shouldn’t be any difficulty in taking my notes or highlights and adding them to any other tool in order to continue to do my best work. Convenience shouldn’t get in the way of effectiveness.