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University of California, San Diego

Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects

University of California, San Diego via Coursera


This course gives you easy access to the invaluable learning techniques used by experts in art, music, literature, math, science, sports, and many other disciplines. We’ll learn about how the brain uses two very different learning modes and how it encapsulates (“chunks”) information. We’ll also cover illusions of learning, memory techniques, dealing with procrastination, and best practices shown by research to be most effective in helping you master tough subjects.

Using these approaches, no matter what your skill levels in topics you would like to master, you can change your thinking and change your life. If you’re already an expert, this peep under the mental hood will give you ideas for turbocharging successful learning, including counter-intuitive test-taking tips and insights that will help you make the best use of your time on homework and problem sets. If you’re struggling, you’ll see a structured treasure trove of practical techniques that walk you through what you need to do to get on track. If you’ve ever wanted to become better at anything, this course will help serve as your guide.

This course can be taken independent of, concurrent with, or prior to, its companion course, Mindshift. (Learning How to Learn is more learning-focused, and Mindshift is more career-focused.) A related course by the same instructors is Uncommon Sense Teaching.

To join the fully translated Portuguese version of the course, visit:
To join the fully translated Spanish version of the course, visit:
To join the fully translated Chinese version of the course, visit:
To join the fully translated French version of the course, visit :


  • What is Learning?
    • Although living brains are very complex, this module uses metaphor and analogy to help simplify matters. You will discover several fundamentally different modes of thinking, and how you can use these modes to improve your learning. You will also be introduced to a tool for tackling procrastination, be given some practical information about memory, and discover surprisingly useful insights about learning and sleep.

      (Please note that this module should only take about an hour--the extra time quoted relates to purely optional activities.)
  • Chunking
    • In this module, we’re going to be talking about chunks. Chunks are compact packages of information that your mind can easily access. We’ll talk about how you can form chunks, how you can use them to improve your understanding and creativity with the material, and how chunks can help you to do better on tests. We’ll also explore illusions of competence in learning, the challenges of overlearning, and the advantages of interleaving.
  • Procrastination and Memory
    • In this module, we talk about two intimately connected ideas—procrastination and memory. Building solid chunks in long term memory--chunks that are easily accessible by your short term memory—takes time. This is why learning to handle procrastination is so important. Finally, we talk about some of the best ways to access your brain’s most powerful long term memory systems.
  • Renaissance Learning and Unlocking Your Potential
    • In this module we’re going to talk more about important ideas and techniques that will enhance your ability to learn. You’ll also discover how to more profitably interact with fellow learners, how to recognize your own strengths, and how to avoid the “imposter syndrome.” Fighter pilots and surgeons use checklists to help them with their critical duties—you can use a similar checklist to help you prepare for tests. Ultimately, you will learn more about the joys of living a life filled with learning!

Taught by

Terrence Sejnowski and Barbara Oakley


4.9 rating, based on 21,801 Class Central reviews

4.8 rating at Coursera based on 82318 ratings

Start your review of Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Before reviewing, I would like to note that I was a straight-A student in school, graduated Magna Cum Laude from university, and have taught myself both Japanese and Chinese. I love learning, hence why I took this course. With that said, this should...
  • Jayne McCormack

    Jayne McCormack completed this course, spending 3 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be very easy.

    A very useful course covering concepts behind how to learn effectively and efficently. Barbara Oakley is a warm and friendly presenter whose videos make a potentially dull subject fun and enjoyable (with the use of zombies, flying mules, etc). Terrence...
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    If you're like me, you probably thought that the steps to proper learning were obvious. And in a sense, they are obvious, so you'd be right. Those people who told you to stop procrastinating, start early, and try harder/smarter if you weren't putting...
  • Panos Gr completed this course, spending 3 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be very easy.

    This was one of the most rewarding courses I have taken. It's also very conveniently the most time-effective one because it teaches you a broad variety of tips and "cheats" for hacking into your own mind and making yourself feel and BE more productive....
  • Fantastic course. No wonder it's so popular. It's thorough, engaging, cleverly challenging and most importantly leaves you longing to keep learning for life. I cannot recommend it enough. As a taste thereof (that will hopefully help you gauge if it's...
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    The farmer who wishes to maximize the yield from his crops could pursue the strategy of spending all of his working hours in directly maintaining his crops by hand. A superior strategy would be for the farmer to spend time inventing a tractor, a period...
  • Ali Pacheco completed this course, spending 6 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    This is the first real elaborated review I´ve done in my life. That´s the kind of impact this course can produce. I felt like I wanted to express my opinion about it and my gratitude. If you are someone who likes learning or teaching, or need to perform...
  • Gregory J Hamel ( Life Is Study) completed this course and found the course difficulty to be very easy.

    Learning How to Learn is a 4 lesson self-paced course that summarizes key findings in neuroscience about how we learn. The course touches on brain function, working and long-term memory and various methods for improving learning as well as overcoming...
  • Yes, with my best possible truthfulness, honesty & sincerity (if I have those virtues to a satisfactory degree), I should, nay; must attest this most valuable course as an extraordinarily helpful one I ever have completed. Additionally, aspirational...
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    An excellent course, thoroughly worth the time taken to complete. I learned so much about the way our brains work, which gave me a completely new appreciation of the mind. The messages are pretty simple: get a decent sleep, exercise, stop procrastinating,...
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Dr. Oakley was fantastic. Sure, the videos are graphically simple, but she has done a great job of visually breaking up sections of her teaching by changing what you see on screen. She uses different combinations of camera angles and pictures to focus...
  • Thanks to the creators for developing this course. The content is curated very well. I had ironically been procrastinating taking this for too long but I'm glad that I used my willpower energy to make the leap and go through it completely. I liked it so much that I immediately signed up for the Mindshift course taught by the same instructors.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    I am on a self-teaching path towards becoming a software engineer with no formal training in college-level math or Computer Science. One of the main frustrations that I was having was my inability to problem-solve effectively or coming up strategies for...
  • It's really a very important, effective and useful course that everyone should take.
    In this course, all aspects of learning have been covered in a very interesting and simple way. you will learn more about how your brain works, how your memory is going on and how you can improve it. You will learn very useful studying techniques that will help you learn more effectively like chunking, pomodoro technique, Anki flashcards, spaced repetition, recall, frequent testing and To-Do list. You will also learn about how to overcome the enemy of all of us, procrastination,.
    Finally, I advice everyone taking the course to watch the optional interviews. They are really very helpful and give us true stories from which we can learn alot.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Learning How to Learn is a wonderful course for any student, education professional or lifelong learner. The course itself is full of useful information and scientific evidence on the process of learning. I highly recommend watching the optional interviews...
  • Profile image for ThisGuyAgain
    This course is a gem and I would want everyone to take this course if they want to deepen the understanding of how learning occurs. I've learnt a lot from these videos than any YouTube videos on the internet. It helped me understand what Learning actually...
  • It is an excellent course for everyone. It helps me understand more about learning techniques and other related important things which are very crucial to my future studying process. It is very helpful, productive, and detailed course. Great job !
  • This was an excellent course. It really delves into understanding how and why you learn and ways to improve it. The teachers are exceptional. I learned how to learn and it was evident in the outcome of the course. If you truly want to learn how to learn, this is the way. It has changed the way I look at things in studying. It is a short class but the information gained is immense. I will be telling everyone I encounter, who is trying to learn a new skill or just want to educate themselves, about this course. I could not be happier.
  • When I enrolled in this course, I was not interested in such courses because I believed that education is the basis for revision and revision, and I must discover the specialty that suits my personality. But after I enrolled in the course, he learned a lot of useful things that would control my mind and learn everything difficult subjects in science and mathematics and easy such as law and others. I learned how to transfer information from short-term memory to long-term. My effort is wasted in learning step by step
  • This is a must-take course for any adult learner about to undertake any significant learning activity.

    In my humble opinion it should be required material in every degree course and I would not be exaggerating to say that completing it has changed my life.

    As an adult learner with ADHD, I found it useful in particular to enhance my self awareness and understanding of how my brain works.

    Although I had heard of pomodoro and anki cards before - I did not have a technical understanding of WHY they worked until now.

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