How to learn effectively from a textbook?

What skills to learn, what tools to get
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mathiverse
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How to learn effectively from a textbook?

Post by mathiverse » Mon Nov 25, 2019 3:02 pm

I've started reading Economics by McConnell and Brue since a group of forumites are planning to do a reading group about it.

I read the first chapter, completed all the end of chapter questions to the best of my ability, and, well, now what?

How do I know I'm learning the concept well and getting better? There aren't suggested answers for the end of chapter questions, so I can't even compare my answers to those to get hints on how to do them better.

What do folks normally do to ensure they are learning effectively from a textbook? How do they know they are learning whatever is needed to actually use the info they are learning? Do folks try to memorize the terminology and other things and test themselves that way? Do they create their own problems to answer? Something else?

I don't want to get to the end of this long textbook and find it all leaves my head as soon as I finish it.

Thanks!

intellectualpersuit
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Re: How to learn effectively from a textbook?

Post by intellectualpersuit » Mon Nov 25, 2019 3:13 pm

I try to incorporate the information into my working knowledge base. If I can apply the information to real life when appropriate, I have learned it. This is my check.

JamesR
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Re: How to learn effectively from a textbook?

Post by JamesR » Mon Nov 25, 2019 10:46 pm

Back when I took economics 101 at university, the text book was "Principles of Microeconomics" by Gregory Mankiw.

When the midterms was coming up, I decided to review some of the chapters, but I ended up actually reading the whole book cover to cover over the weekend. That was just purely reading for enjoyment, so I wasn't taking notes or writing down the answers for the chapter questions, aside from possibly doing a light mental review of some questions.

I also re-read the whole book before the final exams. This proved to be successful for me in my exams. Long term though, my understanding of the terminology and concepts faded pretty quick, I just have the general gist / framework left over.

Later I also picked up the sequel "Principles of Macroeconomics" but I didn't manage to finish reading it, I wasn't sufficiently motivated since it wasn't needed for a course.

There is a combo book "Principles of Economics" by Mankiw, you could possibly take a look at it and see if you like it?
---

Personally I think one of the quickest ways to grasp a specific subject is hitting up the library and checking out 10+ books on the exact same subject matter and reading/reviewing/skimming most of it in whatever order you prefer. By going over a collection of books written in different ways and covering different aspects of a subject, and also going back and forth over them multiple times really helps to come to a certain grasp of the subject.

When I was 20 years old I used this method to do a deep dive into day trading, swing trading, risk control, money management in the span of 1-2 months, though I eventually realized I didn't have money to do that effectively and put it on hold and moved on to other things. I happened to take out 21 books from the library, and only 1 of the books had 1 chapter that actually touched on the subject of risk control/money management (kelly bet sizing), which I was enormously grateful to discover.

If you want to REALLY know the material, then perhaps you'd need to write a book on it or teach it or something. That would really hammer it home ;)

You could also use tools like Anki for drilling the vocabulary/terminology.

In a sense, a subject matter IS the terminology, so if you can thoroughly understand the terminology and can use it effectively, then you're a subject matter expert.

daylen
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Re: How to learn effectively from a textbook?

Post by daylen » Mon Nov 25, 2019 10:58 pm

JamesR wrote:
Mon Nov 25, 2019 10:46 pm
If you want to REALLY know the material, then perhaps you'd need to write a book on it or teach it or something. That would really hammer it home ;)
An intermediate solution is to draw diagrams or 'mind maps'. Eventually, it becomes an art.

7Wannabe5
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Re: How to learn effectively from a textbook?

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Tue Nov 26, 2019 6:30 am

I find textbooks a bit too sanitized for my taste. What I like to do is use a textbook as a sort of road map to original or more entertaining sources. For instance, the first thing I might do before even cracking McConnell and Brue open would be to investigate the authors' other contributions and/or biography on the internet. Then if, as is often the case, the first chapter touches on a bit of history of the topic, I might choose to go sideways and read some well-reviewed books on the history of the topic before moving forward. This serves to dispel the "Word of God" presentation often found in text-books.

daylen
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Re: How to learn effectively from a textbook?

Post by daylen » Tue Nov 26, 2019 7:00 am

This could just be a personality preference (Ne), but I also do not read textbooks in a linear, page to page way. I own 50+ textbooks and I use them more for reference. During a study session the goal is usually to answer a question or construct something (diagram, map, categorization, blog post, etc.), and this may entail reading 10 or so chapters/sections from four different textbooks as a primer.

Mostly the concepts do not change but the terminology and scale does. Though, no one can fully internalize the depth and breath of mathematical constructions today like they could a few hundred years ago.

bigato
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Re: How to learn effectively from a textbook?

Post by bigato » Tue Nov 26, 2019 6:01 pm

I really like your answer 7w5, both because it makes me feel validated (instead of guilty) for being unable most of the time to digest a textbook directly, but also because it points out towards valuable strategies that I even used to some degree in the past, but was only marginally conscious of! :)

slsdly
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Re: How to learn effectively from a textbook?

Post by slsdly » Wed Nov 27, 2019 7:23 am

I have found the book, Make It Stick, has helped me improve how I learn:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/187 ... e-it-stick

I realize it is another book to read, but doing some learning about how to learn might help.

jacob
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Re: How to learn effectively from a textbook?

Post by jacob » Wed Nov 27, 2019 9:26 am

There's a ordinal list of engagement ... I don't remember where I saw it, but it sounds about right based on my experience in the educational system. The further you go down the list, the better you learn. It went something like this ...
  1. Listened to it
  2. Read about it
  3. Talked about it
  4. Wrote about it
  5. Tried it
  6. Taught it
  7. Did it
The difference in outcome from undergraduate physics in my two alma maters was tangible because the teaching philosophies were so different. The Aarhus philosophy was to spend a lot of time solving textbook problems on fundamental stuff ("did it" level). This of course took time away from learning more advanced material which was reserved for graduate school (4th year+). The Basel philosophy was to spend less time on exercises and instead do student presentations (somewhere between "tried it" and "taught it"). This made it possible to cover more material. There's therefore a trade-off between how solid one's understanding is and how much one can cover given equal time.

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fiby41
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Re: How to learn effectively from a textbook?

Post by fiby41 » Wed Nov 27, 2019 10:26 am

What do ya'll think about Bloom's taxonomy levels:
L1 Remembering
L2 Understanding
L3 Applying
L4 Analysis
L5 Evaluating
L6 Creating

daylen
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Re: How to learn effectively from a textbook?

Post by daylen » Wed Nov 27, 2019 10:49 am

@fiby Not bad. I saw it in an into teaching course while I was teaching high school. Very standardized here in the U.S. education sector, and it captures the basic idea Jacob outlined. Though, it is a bit vague. Perhaps this is to allow generalization across many fields.

Quadalupe
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Re: How to learn effectively from a textbook?

Post by Quadalupe » Wed Nov 27, 2019 11:39 am

Good question! I recall one of the first lectures I ever had, in which the lecturer talked about the Forgetting Curve. Basically, we were taught around 200% of the stuff they expected us to remember over a year, because the half time of the knowledge was say a year. After a year, we would still remember 100% of the most relevant material (in theory).

Anyway, I think one of the best ways to learn is to really interact with the material. This means reading the stuff, summarizing it (try to do it in 1 line, 1 paragraph, 1 page), answering the questions and also creating questions yourself about the material. For our ERE learning tribe (as I'm fond to call it), I think it would be great if we'd create some questions of our own. We could then self-assess/peer-asses/let Professor Fisker/Fish grade us.

jacob
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Re: How to learn effectively from a textbook?

Post by jacob » Wed Nov 27, 2019 11:48 am

Haha, the more cynical among us thought the forgetting curve was a gaussian/delta-function centered around examination time.

Quadalupe
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Re: How to learn effectively from a textbook?

Post by Quadalupe » Wed Nov 27, 2019 12:24 pm

And by more cynical, you mean the TA's right? :P

jacob
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Re: How to learn effectively from a textbook?

Post by jacob » Wed Nov 27, 2019 12:38 pm

Actually I heard it from an asst. prof. (untenured).

Campitor
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Re: How to learn effectively from a textbook?

Post by Campitor » Wed Nov 27, 2019 2:49 pm

My recommendations from learning from a textbook:
  1. Take handwritten notes while reading especially if it regards emphasized concepts and formulas.
  2. Handwritten notes help cement ideas better than typewritten notes unless you have an eidetic memory - the physical aspect of writing cements ideas better - google it if skeptical.
  3. Revise your notes.
  4. Use the Feynman technique to shakeout concepts you're still struggling with - video/article regarding this: https://mattyford.com/blog/2014/1/23/th ... ique-model.
  5. Reread and take fresh notes if the subject is especially difficult.
Learning is like any other activity - you get better at it if you're deliberate in your execution and practice it frequently - there are no shortcuts to excellence. Good luck!

Jean
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Re: How to learn effectively from a textbook?

Post by Jean » Wed Nov 27, 2019 2:54 pm

I write down cheats with all the things i don't remember but think are important. Being very lazy, i end up remembering them so i don't have to write them down.

ertyu
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Re: How to learn effectively from a textbook?

Post by ertyu » Wed Dec 04, 2019 5:36 am

Textbooks, in general, teach you how to manipulate the models and tools of the discipline. For example, economics textbooks are often focused on teaching you how to manipulate the graph models: if the price of a complement good changes, would demand move left or right?

My suggestion when studying economics for your own edification is to focus on the concepts not the technicalities and to immediately re-direct your focus from understanding the model to understanding the process and to thinking of real world situations to which this model applies (or not). For instance, you are now reading about the PPC. It can be used to illustrate why continued stimulus via infrastructure spending in China might generate less and less benefit as more projects are being pursued.

iopsi
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Re: How to learn effectively from a textbook?

Post by iopsi » Thu Dec 12, 2019 6:59 am

Lately i've looked at spaced repetition and incremental learning

http://augmentingcognition.com/ltm.html

https://help.supermemo.org/wiki/Incremental_learning

The first blog post is particularly interesting.

I'm trying software based spaced repetition (with anki) and for sure i can tell you i'm remembering most things (or many than i would otherwise).

Later i'll probably try incremental learning too.

I suggest you give it a go.

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