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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

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4.9 rating, based on 20,316 reviews

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...
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Coursera MOOC Course Review: Learning How to Learn Dated: June 2020 Learning can be a struggle for almost all of us. This course has invaluable Ah-Ha moments, one being that retaining an ‘open’ mindset is the wisest life strategy. Whose proverb...
  • 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...
  • 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.

    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...
  • 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...
  • 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 !
  • 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...
  • this whole course has been life-changing for me! like every lectures I watched were indeed brilliant and valuable! Even though I'm a STEM student, I've still struggled grasping abstract concepts and remembering scientific terms, but this course has made me realize how easier it would've been if only I understood the neuroscience of how the brain learns. Ms. Barbara and Mr. Terrence were also pleasant teachers, they certainly explained the concepts and ideas comprehensively, albeit simply. which I appreciate! I dislike teachers who uses too much jargons. Anyways! the learner I was before this course would definitely be impressed with the amount of knowledge I've gained after this course
  • A course that helps you break down the barriers of learning new topics. To eliminate the "this discipline is not my thing, I should stop trying so hard" ways of thinking, and it helps you become a more efficient person in your exams and study sessions.

    If you want to change the way you study and have better results in exams, this course is your solution.
  • Very useful and helpful. Recommend to everyone. Never too late to learn!

    I really like this course, and I really appreciate that it is "free." Before this course, I believe that as a student, knowing how to learn is a very important thing. However, teachers and professors in school seldom teach us "how" to learn. Thus, I feel very lucky to find this course. I think everyone should take this course because it really helps us to learn ways to facilitate our work.

    Last, as the professor said, I will "teach" others to take this awesome course because I believe that it will benefit more people in the future.

    Thanks to the professors and the people who complete this course.
  • I really enjoyed this course and learned so much! The delivery of the material, extensive additional resources, frequent tests, assignments and wealth of researched techniques was refreshing, invigorating, motivating and inspiring! I was familiar with some of the learning concepts, but not all of the fascinating science behind them.

    I started applying some of the learning techniques while doing the course and could already see the positive influence on my learning.

    Barb Oakley and Terry Sejnowski did a great job at presenting the material together.

    I feel blessed to have been given the chance to learn these great techniques!
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Recommended -- by someone who went to a tough college many, many years ago, was a pretty diligent student in high school, and felt (and has now had confirmed!) that they weren't making the best use of their time in college. This was my first reluctant...
  • It is a very interesting course. All concepts in this course have application in the real life. In the course, there are interviews of important persons, in the scientific world. They give recommendations about techniques of study, worse and better forms of study that in my personal opinion sometimes we think to give results. The course has a methodology of learning that you can identify the use of analogies and metaphors to teach these methods of learning. I enjoy several weeks of this course, it is a big adventure through learning. I recommend buying the books because It is information very valuable.

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