Learning: Six must read books

Here is a list of the most highly recommended books on learning from the Coursera course “Learning how to learn — powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects” with Barbara Oakley.

General books on learning:

Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential, by Barbara Oakley. Most books on learning tell you to follow your passion. This book shows you how you can broaden your passions and learn and do things you never dreamed you could do. It’s a book of inspiration, adventure, and scientific insight about learning, all wrapped into one.

Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. It gets at the heart of what it takes to become better at what you are trying to learn, and it provides solid encouragement and examples whether you are an 80-year-old trying to learn martial arts, or an 8-year-old learning the guitar. Ericsson is the best researcher around in the field of expertise, and Robert Pool (who has a doctorate in mathematics), helps work wizardry to make the book not only an incisive, but a fascinating read. Don’t miss this book.

The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance, by Josh Waitzkin. This is a wonderful book that looks at learning from a very different perspective than that of an academic. Waitzkin was a chess prodigy–his father, Fred Waitzkin, wrote the book Searching for Bobby Fischer, about his son’s exceptional talents. But Waitzkin is also a international martial arts champion. Waitzkin’s insights into the commonalities of both conventionally “athletic” and “mental” forms of learning is fascinating. Much of the discussion is highly relevant to many of the key ideas laid out in Learning How to Learn, including chunking and focused versus diffuse modes of thinking. Interestingly, a good time to attack in martial arts is when your opponent blinks–that momentary dip into the diffuse mode…

Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, by Peter Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark McDaniel. Henry Roediger’s world-class research and this book help you understand why and how to use approaches like spaced repetition, self-testing, and introducing difficulties into your learning can be helpful. It also explains common “illusions of competence” in learning like rereading and underlining.

The Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching the Practice of Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning, by James Zull. Although this is an older book, first published in 2002, it holds a rich way of looking at how the brain works that stands the test of time. Zull is a Professor of Biology and Biochemistry at Case Western University as well as being the Director of the University Center for Innovation in Teaching and Education, and Professor of a Human Learning and The Brain class. He gives a penetrating perspective on how learning takes place that can add insight to not only your own ability to learn, but to your teaching.

Best Books for Teachers

Teaching and Learning STEM: A Practical Guide, by Richard Felder and Rebecca Brent. Although this book is geared towards STEM, it’s also a great resource for teaching well in any discipline.