Week 3 in Action

This week Dr. Oakley introduced us to some great techniques for maximizing memory and what she deemed as anti-procrastination tools, but are really more useful when it come to daily planning and management of the (mere) 24 hours we have in a day. 


Personal Learning Challenge: This week’s personal learning challenge has to do with time management skills, or my lack thereof. As I touched on earlier procrastination is not really an issue of mine. I tend to adhere to a pretty strict philosophy of what Dr. Oakley calls, “Eat your frogs first.” I just call it getting it over with so it’s not hanging over my head…Both philosophies deal with doing whatever is the hardest, most disliked aspects of whatever you are doing or learning first. This method has served me pretty well over the years with the exception of certain occasions. For example, when the “frog” is a research paper, or a huge section of difficult reading, or even a colossal mess created by my 2.5 years old and 12 month old. What tends to happen is that I spend too much time “eating my frog” and don’t have time for the other aspects of my day. I am suffering from a lack of good planning, and time management skills.

Solutions Based On: “Eating your frogs first” and tips for creating and using a daily planner journal.

New Solution To Try: On of the most interesting aspects of this weeks material, for me, was the fact that if you don’t produce a physical copy of your task they will haunt the minuscule space in your working memory. With that in mind I feel that since I don’t ever write lists, or tasks I am making my life that much harder. My new solution is going to be to keep a planner journal and write out nightly to-do lists. The following are helpful hints and tips to maximize the effectiveness to-do lists and well allocated time. 

  1. Dr. Oakley recommends keeping a weekly list of longer term projects and tasks as well as daily list comprised the previous night. (This is done so your unconscious mind can chew on these tasks while you sleep)
  2. Schedule other “random” tasks into your learning. (I.e. washing the car scheduled with time working on the processes associated with finishing a research paper.)
  3. Don’t just write the tasks prior to their completion, notes on outcomes and what was effective and what did not work also benefit you for next time.
  4. ALWAYS PLAN YOUR QUITTING TIME!! (This is almost as critical as your working time, as it gives you a “clocking out time”)
  5. Schedule in active leisure time as studies show that actively pursuing leisure time results in better performance in non-leisure time than in individuals who do not actively pursue leisure time.
  6. Eat your frogs first. (Do the most despised thing  or hardest thing first)
  7. Believe in the Law of Serendipity which says that Lady Luck favors those who try. (This helps when you become overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of your tasks, as it reminds you to just give it a shot.)

So in order to not run out of time because I spent waaaayy to much time focusing on the first, hardest task on my list I am going to try to schedule out my day the night before, and the sunday before. I will allocate my time into 30 minute to 1 hour chunks of time. I will schedule in the academic, the leisure, the random, and also a quitting time. Look for future updates on my progress with being better organized and how that will make me a more effective learner. Until next time. 



Week 2 in Action

Wow!! There are TONS of really great learning techniques being presented this week. Our lecture series this week focused mainly on alternative methods for learning other than passive rereading. Some of the stratagem we examined were; Chunking, overlearning, Einstellung, Interleaving, and the negatives effects of highlighting and underlining.

Personal Learning Challenge: I tend to have a hard time retaining information, since I have two small children I can almost never dedicate all four slots in my working memory to learning concepts.

Solution Based On: Chunking and the “Octopus of Attention” metaphor.

New Solution To Try: Professor Oakley taught us that chunking information is a way to manipulate working memory to hold more. If you think of the short term memory system along the lines of the “Octopus of Attention” you can imagine chunked information as being like a ribbon extending from on the four slots with information attached all along the ribbon and only the main idea taking up a slot. The freeing up of any more of my working memory to use in active learning of concepts is obviously helpful to me so I think I would benefit from chunking the material I am trying to learn. Chunks are forms by first focusing your complete attention on the material (maybe putting the kids down for a nap or sending them to the sitter) and secondly gaining an understanding of the material, and finally by gaining context of the information through practice. (Essentially learning not only HOW but also WHEN to use the chunked information) Definitely no small feat. But she also gave us the useful techniques of interleaving (doing various problems mixed up with other assorted problems) and deliberate practice (practicing what you find the most difficult first) to help us along the way. Happy Learning folks.


Note: This was written with the top of a blue laundry basket being thrust between my face and my hands and my computer screen..not bad for the circumstances if I do say so myself!

Illusions of Learning / Competence

       You wake up bright and early the morning of test day, eat a nutritious breakfast, and smile to yourself in the mirror while brush your pearly whites, You know this stuff, you studied, you’ve got this one in the bag, is the mantra that plays over and over in your head while your drive to school. Before the test comes around you take a deep breath and silently remember all the hours you spent reading your text last night and smile. The next set of events in this scenario can go anyway really, you can either;

  • Get the test and realize you are ill prepared and guess your way through using eenie-meenie-miney-mo knowing you’ve failed.
  • Complete the test and think you did well only to get back a failing paper and be completely befuddled.
  • Know you were not prepared but feel like you at least managed to pull out a passing grade.

The exact train of events is irrelevant. The result is what matters, or lack thereof in this case. The scenario detailed above has happened to all of us at some point or another. It is an example of what Professor Oakley has described to us as an “Illusion of Competence” (Refered to as an illusion of learning in the grading rubric) 

Illusions of Competence

This is a phenomenon that occurs when students incorrectly gauge their knowledge with certain information. These illusions of competency are usually no fault of the students but rather the result of ineffective study methods. According to Professor Oakley, simply having a desire to learn and spending sufficient time with the material will NOT guarantee mastery. While those two things are generally necessary, proven effective study methods are also required. Some of those techniques will be covered in this section.

One of the first steps in shattering illusions of competence is to know yourself and be able to identify when your deliberately misleading yourself. (to know when your fooling yourself!)  Another one of the critical pieces is to practice effective study techniques, these are techniques that have been scientifically proven as methods that create mastery with material. Some of those highly effective, proven study skills include;

  • Using self-testing, such as recall, often. For example, after reading a section of a textbook to turn the page and attempt to “recall” the main ideas of what you just read. Another effective form of self-testing would be flashcards. Whatever works best for you. Anything but subsequent, passive reading. Passively reading a text has proven to be a waste of valuable study time. Unless, you let time pass between readings, then it can be considered spaced repetition and is helpful, not as helpful as active forms of self-testing, but better than nothing. 
  • Minimize highlighting and underlining- This is a big one for me personally! According to Professor Oakley the actual act of using your hand to do the highlighting and underlining creates a false sense of mastery in the brain. Also the highlighted text can be mistaken for something that has been logged into your mental database when, in fact, it has not. A highly effective alternative to highlighting and underlining is to jot down key concepts, ideas, and notes in the margins of the text. If you insist of highlighting try to keep it to one sentence or less per paragraph.
  • Making mistakes is actually good for your learning process. When mistakes are made in a no-risk situation like self-testing they can function as a road map for what NOT to do ad help correct flaws in your thinking. Learn to relish your mistakes because chances are you will not make the same one twice. (hopefully!)
  • Avoid practicing only the “easy” stuff- Another highly effective study technique is called Deliberate Practice, this is actual the exact opposite of practicing only the easy stuff. In deliberate practice you focus on what you find the most difficult first. Deliberate practice is often said to be the difference between a good student and a great student. When you overlearn the easy stuff you can create a false sense of mastery and waste your time.
  • Avoid jumping directly into the homework without first reading the text, attending the lectures, and/or gaining some knowledge on the topics. This is a common mistake made by students. You should let the learning take its most nature route, not try to “outsmart” the information by taking shortcut. 
  • 2 Minute Picture-walk thrus; These are a great way to start learning new material. It involves taking a brief (2 minute) glance at the material, reading headings, looking at pictures, charts, etc. to get a sense of the main ideas and concepts you will be learning. This should be done prior to any readings and is not a substitution for in-depth readings by any means. 
  • Interleave your material when studying; This is a GREAT was to become fluent with the material. Just as important as knowing HOW to use certain information, is knowing WHEN to use it…and also WHEN NOT to. Interleaving is the act of jumbling up problems from every place the material is drawn from. Solving problems that take different approaches and methods of problem solving will help you information become more accessible.
  • Study in different places when possible; Doing so will alleviate any physical clues that you can pick up from your environment. And since chances are that the location you study in is not the location you will be tested in, being able to recall the information, whatever your physical location, can help with that. 
  • Have Faith in the Law of Serendipity; which says that lady luck favors those who try. This can help you if you become intimidated by the sheer volume of the material you are attempting to learn. Just breath and start. Once you start the neural discomfort you felt prior to studying it, is said to ease within 30 seconds. If that is not a reason to stop procrastinating I don’t know what is. I would rather be incredibly overwhelmed and neurally stressed out for 30 seconds than stressed out and procrastinating for weeks, wouldn’t you??



 Well, I hope some of these suggestions will prove helpful in making better learners out of all of you! Have a great day everyone….

Up next is Week 2 in Action where we will look at a personal study problem I have and how I use the tools presented during week 2 to begin correcting it. 

It is a beautiful late-summer day here in Connecticut and I am going to take my little ones for a trip to the park. I think we may walk there and my 2.5 year old can ride his big wheel. 🙂

Week 1 in Action

Grading Rubric for this assignment reads as follows:

 “Write an article or textbook module, or create a website, Pinterest board, blog, or podcast about
how to broaden your interests and passions—including a description of your own preliminary
attempts to go outside your comfort zone in learning or trying something new. ” 

I am going to address that aspect of the assignment by taking each weeks key lessons and describing how I have been or plan to incorporate them into my learning style. Each week will feature a challenge and a solution based on the material taught. I will also clearly state the tip I am basing my solution around. With that said on to “WEEK 1 – IN ACTION.”


Personal Learning Challenge: I am a single mom to two toddlers and also a student and most of the time carving out studying sessions is impossible with the kids so what I end up doing is leaving them with the sitter and doing my studying at the college. This makes for quite a bit of time away from them and extra expense. It would be really great to be able to study while they are around. 

Solution Based On: The Pomodoro Technique / Two Separate Thought Modes

New Solution to Try: Based on the anti-procrastination technique the Pomodoro technique (which is just basically setting a timer and studying until it goes off 25 minutes later and then giving yourself a reward) and the fact the after FOCUSING on the information you are trying to learn, it is good to give the DIFFUSED MODE  a chance to work with the material by doing something relaxing such as exercising or resting I decided to try a Pomodoro-esque-babysitting-diffused-thinking technique. It will involve getting my babies squared away in the play room and setting the timer and studying for 25 minutes, then going to play with them for the 5 minute reward. Doing another cycle of study / playing as a reward and then taking the kids for a walk as a reward to both them and me. The exercise will give my diffused mode a chance to play with the new information and the kids will love it. Hopefully I can learn more efficiently AND save a bundle on babysitting! Hopefully next week I will learn how to study for those 25 minutes! 🙂


We all know that memory is an incredible process..the actual in’s and out’s are still widely disputed and most scientists still have only a vague idea how the multiple processes that make up what we call “memory” work. Some aspects of memory that I will touch on here include;

  1. The 3 step process of encoding, storage, and retrieval.
  2. The trajectory of a memory through the sense (perception), through the short term or “working” memory, and finally into our long term memory. (what we consider remembering)
  3. What happens when we lose a memory.

Encoding – Storage – Retrieval

This is the process through which our brain filters out the stimuli we don’t need which is actually most of what is going on around us. The brain is constantly bombarded by sensations and if it were to consciously acknowledge and process all of it…well..we would probably suffer from sensation overload. Perception takes place in the blink of an eye…literally. It only takes a fraction of a second to establish a sensory impression. The process just discussed is summed up as encoding. This is similar to the process with the same name used by computer programers, encoding is the inputting of something.

So you’ve encoded your memory..it starts out in your short term memory or your “working memory.” Our professor likes to compare it to an ineffectual mental chalkboard. One commonly held theory states that working memory can hold 7 – 8 things for 20-30 seconds. That time can also be reset by re-stating the information. (such as repeating a phone number to yourself) Memory experts say that the way you store your memories is crucial to how you retrieve them. In order to become a permanent part of your consciousness a thought has to travel from short term memory to long term memory, the way to do that is by repeatedly tracing the thought path it takes to think that thought. Hence the term, practice makes permanent


When we forget something what is actually happening is a breakdown in the three step process discussed above. Sometimes this can be because we did not encode the memory effectively in the first place, maybe we were not paying attention. For instance when you cannot find your keys, maybe when you put them down you were thinking about what to cook for dinner and did not encode sitting them on the refrigerator, out of reach of little hands, now when you go to retrieve the information of where they are it is not there. You have FORGOTTEN where your keys are. Bummer.


Mohs, Richard C..  “How Human Memory Works”  08 May 2007.  HowStuffWorks.com. <http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/human-memory.htm&gt;  10 August 2014.

It seems the instructor or our M.O.O.C and the author or the above referenced article differ on the amount of information short term memory holds. Hmm. The tables below are some facts I found interesting about the two types of memory discussed in our lecture on memory.

Working Memory

  • what your currently dealing with
  • holds only 4 bits of information
  • must keep repeating information to hold off natural dissipating processes
  • can be manipulated to hold more
  • inefficient blackboard
  • Used when encountering something new

Long Term Memory

  • Like a large storage warehouse
  • Must be revisited multiple times so it can be found later
  • Has unlimited storage capabilities so information can become lost under other information
  • Fundamental concepts and techniques
  • Spaced Repetition is a method of moving information from the short-term memory to the long-term, it entails repeating the information your trying to learn on a spaced out schedule so as to not attempt to “learn” it in one sitting.
  • Over time metabolic processes cause information that is not properly stored to vanish.
  • Proper storage takes time and practice.

Hope this overview does not make any memory experts or scientist..or even teachers for the matter..cringe. But both babies are napping..AT THE SAME TIME!!! yea..that never happens..so I have a few other things to do..this post on memory was one of them. Hope you found it enjoyable..or at least not a total waste of time.  😉

When I’m not blogging….

Here is my REAL identity…full time mommy to these two.

Aaliyah...age 12 months

Aaliyah…age 12 months


Elijah...age 2.5.

Elijah…age 2.5.




When I’m not blogging….

I am spending time with my two little ones. There they are up there. We are planning a POOL DAY today in the yard with our little paddling pool. They kids love that even more than beach days, and splash pad trips, and even swimming in a regular public pool in our town. I guess because its more manageable for them. They both love water.

Also have my writing assignment to compose for Coursera. I will probably post that as well to get the most mileage out of it.

Also planning a post dedicated to MEMORY and the fascinating  things I have learned about it. Did you know that short-term memory can hold 7 -8 things for 20-30 seconds?? I didn’t but do now!

Have a lovely Saturday Courserians! Good luck on those essays.


Focused vs. Diffused Mode

One of the key topics that was covered this week that I think would benefit others from discovering is the difference between the FOCUSED mode of thinking and the DIFFUSED mode of thinking.

FOCUSED MODE is just what is sounds like, a concentrated, focused form of thinking

DIFFUSED MODE is a more relaxed thinking state, one the the brain settles into at resting.


“The Pinball Analogy”

If you image the brain like a pinball machine, focused thinking would be your standard difficulty machine with nobs tightly packed and your thoughts bouncing off of those nobs randomly and rapidly. Only through practice do those random paths become ingrained. (The nobs are likened to neurons and neural synapses the pinball) In diffused mode the pinball game is an easier version, the nobs are more widely spaced and the thoughts are freer to take there own path.



Another way of imagining it that made a little more sense than the pinball analogy was the FLASHLIGHT ANALOGY.

This involves visualizing your brain as a flashlight; Diffused mode of thinking could be thought of as a setting on the flashlight designed to cast a broad light not very strongly, while focused mode would cast a very strong light in smaller area.


  • You cannot use both modes of thought at once.
  • Its best practice to toggle between focused and diffused mode.
  • METAPHORS rock!! (as far as learning goes that is)


Its pretty self explanatory how to use our focused modes of thinking, but how do we tap into the relax state of the diffused mode and use that for learning????

Lets look at one of the foremost surrealist painters of the 20th century, Salvador Dali.

the-persistence-of-memory-1931 Picture1.jpg_Dali


Seen above is Salvador Dali and one of his most well known paintings called ironically enough for this lesson, “The Persistence of Memory.” Painted in 1931, “The Persistence of Memory” was a work of surrealism. Surrealist painters considered their artwork to be reminiscent to a dream. Dali’s self described descriptions of his work was as, “Hand painted dream photography.” I’ll save the complicated analysis of this painting for my Art History class but for our purposes lets just say Dali was considered very creative and very free thinking…sound familiar???

Salvador Dali was said to relax and drift off to sleep with a key dangling and upon his dozing off to sleep he would drop the key, it would jangle and startle him awake. This is an example of Dali bouncing between thought modes. He would clear his head and relax his mind until sleep came, entering the diffuse mode, then he would wake up and drag all those wonderful diffuse mode ideas back the focused mode and the results were brilliant works like the painting above.

Also Notable: 

  • Thomas Edison also used a similar approach to travel between thought processes.
  • Thinking about something prior to sleeping or napping will give you a better chance of DREAMING about that thing.
  • Dreaming about it will help you to retain whatever it is that your studying.
  • EXERCISE is a wonderful way to gain entry into the diffused mode of thinking. It is also beneficially in numerous way apart from the physically obvious ones. Those benefits include the generation of new neural pathways in the brain.
  • Sleep acts as a dishwasher and flushes the brain of toxins. (really!)


Until next time…happy learning.


Dali, S. (1931). The persistence of memory [Painting found in Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY]. Retrieved August 8, 2014, from                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Persistence_of_Memory#mediaviewer/File:The_Persistence_of_Memory.jpg

Pinball machine, image © Kevin Mendez, 2014.

Salvador Dalí with ocelot and cane, 1965; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ File:Salvador_Dali_NYWTS.jpg From the Library of              Congress. New York World- Telegram & Sun collection. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c14985; Author: Roger Higgins, World   Telegram staff photographer; no copyright restriction known. Staff photographer reproduction rights transferred to Library of Congress through Instrument of Gift.