Ultralearning Book Summary

The book Ultralearning by Scott H. Young teaches us the habits that ultralearners use to improve their abilities to learn and retain information. The book uses stories and examples representing ultralearners and their learning techniques. The book is not a scientific exploration of the efficacies of learning methods. This book summary will cover the nine principles of ultralearning and how someone could apply ultralearning to a project.

Why be an ultralearner?

For many of us, learning new things is hard. It would be nice to be like Neo, learning Karate with a simple upload and, “I know kung fu.” Alas, it is not so simple. You can adapt the ultralearning techniques without becoming an ultralearner. Formal education and low-intensity habits are viable alternatives. Some skills benefit more from low-intensity habit development, for example, negotiation. The techniques laid out in the book can be combined and used however you prefer. In my experience, the best way to learn is whatever combination keeps you learning and interested. You do not need to adopt this label. You might look back and realize how effective you can become when using some of the nine principles.

The Nine Ultralearning Principles

  • Metalearning
    • Plan the learning project around what to learn for how long.
  • Focus
    • Remove distractions, avoid procrastination, and manage your focus level.
  • Directness
    • Apply what you are learning a direct as possible experience.
  • Drilling
    • Focus on one area of learning to add leverage to your improvement.
  • Retrieval
    • Recall what you know so you can move it to long-term memory.
  • Feedback
    • Seek information that suggests how you can improve your learning.
  • Retention
    • Retain your knowledge over the long term.
  • Intuition
    • Apply what you have learned to new situations to show your understanding.
  • Experimentation
    • Vary how you learn to express creativity and make learning fun.

Alan’s Version of Your First Ultralearning Project

This book suffers from tactics overload. Scott shares the idea of a project for you to apply the principles to your learning project. In my version, I select some of the tactics. I also add some points from Andrew Huberman’s neuroplasticity super protocol.

  • Metalearning
    • Benchmark and exclude - what do the experts recommend? What do you want to focus on knowing?
  • Focus
    • Make space to learn and record what works for you, such as hours, environment, etc.
    • Use the get alert and get focused techniques mentioned in Andrew Huberman’s article to prepare yourself.
  • Apply Apply Apply - Use projects or relevant scenarios or jump in the deep end.
  • Drills
    • Prerequisite Chaining
    • Make a guess what the skill might require and jump in. Then review what you need to improve.
  • Retrieve Retrieve Retrieve
    • Summarize based on what you remember.
    • Write questions based on the summary of the main points of a section.
  • Feedback
    • Record metadata about how you are learning. Over time make changes and review.
    • If you know someone who can give you accurate direct feedback, ask for clear specific feedback about one area of what you are doing.
  • Retention
    • Space it out - Your brain needs you to take breaks.
    • Andrew Huberman recommends 90 minutes max per session.
      • If you dedicate more time in one day to study, make sure to space those sessions out 2-3 hours.
    • Huberman also suggests taking a nap within one hour of studying and keeping a good sleeping schedule.
  • Intuition
    • Teach others. Or speak out loud to yourself to learn what you don’t know.
  • Experiment
    • Change one variable and measure if your performance improves.

You will be more successful if you start by researching your learning plan. You can ask experts or review guides. Shape your environment to focus. Participate in activities that allow you to use the learning in a life-like environment. You can learn the core parts of the skill and drill in those areas. You retain knowledge when you retrieve it to apply to a problem. You can also keep what you learned by testing yourself. You either seek others to give you specific feedback for improvement, give yourself feedback via tracking, then use that feedback to tweak your learning. You can use the Feynman technique to teach others what you know. When you teach you find the gaps in your understanding. Finally, you can play with variables with what/how you learned something. This process can make the whole process more entertaining.