Review of “Ultralearning” by Scott H. Young

The book Ultralearning teaches the reader how to learn better and get better results from what they are trying to learn. “Ultralearning is a strategy for acquiring skills and knowledge that is both self-directed and intense.”

I read this book more from the perspective of a teacher rather than a learner. I may use the concepts at some point to do my own ultralearning projects, but since I am creating content to teach people new skills, I’m looking for ways to make my content more engaging. I want to know the best ways to teach people and help them learn what I’m teaching.

One of the things I really liked about this book was that the author provided practical information about ultralearning. He didn’t just present a bunch of concepts; he gave strategies and tactics for getting results.

The Nine Principles of Ultralearning

Here are the nine principles of ultralearning, along with some things I’ve learned about each principle:

Learn how to learn a topic. Find out how others who successfully learned the topic learned it. Don’t just try the first tactic you discover because other tactics may help you learn more effectively.

Focus on starting your project. Focus on sustaining progress on your project. Focus on ensuring that your learning is directed at what you need to learn to increase knowledge, not just make yourself feel good by focusing on the basics.

Learn by using the new skill you’re trying to acquire in a situation similar to or exactly like the situation you would actually use the skill. For example, learning a new language is more direct when you try to use the language in conversation with someone rather than just listening to lessons or using fun apps.

Knowing what you really need to learn and deliberately practicing. Focus more on the areas that you are deficient in to improve your weakest skills. Practice an isolated component.

Learning something doesn’t do you any good if you can’t remember it when you need it. Testing yourself on what you’ve learned is best done by doing retrieval exercises or tests rather than referring to books or content about the subject. Do your best to extract the information you are learning from your memory to help form long-term memories of the content.

Find ways to get honest feedback from your learning initiatives through tests. It’s easy to get feedback that stokes your ego, but this feedback does not help you grow and learn. Some feedback is noise and is not helpful. Other feedback is a signal and can help you build up the skill you’re trying to learn by letting you know about things you need to improve upon.

Spending a lot of time learning something is almost useless if you don’t retain what you’ve learned. Some things are essential to keep in your memory, while others can be looked up if needed in the future.

Knowing a skill so well that you can apply it to different situations. Having such a deep understanding of a subject, you know all the possibilities to solve a problem and when to use which solution.

Experimentation helps you learn because it forces you to try new things to accomplish a task or goal. Experimentation expands your knowledge and understanding of the topic in unexpected ways. Experimentation is accomplished by using different resources, techniques, or styles.

Some of my favorite highlights in the book:

  • “Passive learning creates knowledge. Active practice creates skill.”
  • “Your deepest moments of happiness don’t come from doing easy things; they come from realizing your potential and overcoming your own limiting beliefs about yourself.”
  • “What could you learn if you took the right approach to make it successful? Who could you become?”
  • “Flow is the enjoyable state between boredom and frustration; when a task is neither too hard nor too easy.”
  • When learning, “Sometimes what’s the most fun isn’t very effective and what’s effective isn’t easy.”
  • “…enjoyment tends to come from being good at things.”
  • “…one of the most important educational tasks is to teach self-education.”
  • “It is when one learns to do something that nobody else can do that learning becomes truly valuable.”
  • “The better one gets, the more one recognizes how much better one could become.”

Of course, there’s a lot more in the book, and I have more questions than answers after reading it. Since ultralearning is a personal thing, I’m not sure I’ll be able to apply it strictly to teaching others, but I’ve developed some ideas about how to improve my content by reading this book.

If you truly want to master a skill, you may want to check out Ultralearning and follow the book's principles, tactics, and strategies to start your own ultralearning project.

Software coach showing others that software is easy to learn.