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Learning how to learn | Barbara Oakley | TEDxOaklandUniversity

This talk was given at a local TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences. Engineering professor Barbara Oakley is co-teaching one of the world’s largest online classes, “Learning How to Learn”, https://www.coursera.org/course/learning.
She know firsthand how it feels to struggle with math. Dr. Oakley flunked her way through high school math and science courses, before enlisting in the U.S. Army immediately after graduation. When she saw how her lack of mathematical and technical savvy severely limited her options—both to rise in the military and to explore other careers—she returned to school with a new found determination to re-tool her brain to master the very subjects that had given her so much trouble throughout her entire life.

Barbara Oakley, PhD, PE is a professor of engineering at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. Her research focuses on the complex relationship between neuroscience and social behavior, and has been described as “revolutionary” by the Wall Street Journal. Oakley’s books have been praised by many leading researchers and writers, including Harvard’s Steven Pinker and E. O. Wilson, and National Book Award winner Joyce Carol Oates. Her book A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel in Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra), will be published by Tarcher-Penguin on July 31, 2014.

Prior to her academic career, Oakley rose from private to captain in the U.S. Army, during which time she was recognized as a Distinguished Military Scholar. She met her husband, Philip, when she was working at the South Pole Station in Antarctica. Her experiences with well-intentioned altruism were shaped by her work as a Russian translator on Soviet trawlers on the Bering Sea during the early 1980s. Oakley was designated as an NSF New Century Scholar—she is also a recipient of the Oakland University Teaching Excellence Award (2013) and the National Science Foundation’s Frontiers in Engineering New Faculty Fellow Award. Oakley is an elected Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.

About TEDx, x = independently organized event In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)


  1. You know what? You are my hero, because you flunked all your math and science subjects since 3rd garde but you turned out to be an engineering professor! No one is more encouraging than your story! I am definitely a slow learner, i got frustrated all the time, spinning my wheels, but i have a dream to learn the most profound laws of the universe – string theory, that’s my dream, although i got bad grades from almost all of the courses, some even failed but i still working on it. Yes you are right, i should regard myself as a hiker, and i should believe on myself that one day i could success. On the other hand, yes you are right, i should broaden my passions too, my life could be enriched beyond measure, i take that idea and i will change my life.

  2. Why didn't I have professors like her during all of my student days… Never to late though. Loved this TedTalk

  3. Thanks. Before anything else, its true, we must start learning how to learn, first.

    God bless, Proverbs 31

  4. I have one simple question , why would that camera man or that person who was present not film what was projected on the wall , rather than filming her face, we could have understood much better … anwyays good video.

  5. Dr. Oakley and her colleague conducted an online course on Coursera that is based on the main ideas in this talk. This talk for me is the whole course in a nut shell but still I guess very beneficial to view. Great talk!

  6. came here after reading her book.Why? Read it and you will figure it out

  7. Her voice really calms my mind!

  8. Thank you so much! God bless you more!

  9. Three things to take away from this video:

    4:20 – Two modes of thinking: Focused, and Diffused.
    9:45 – The Pomodoro technique (A solution to procrastination).
    12:20 – Illusions of competence in learning and the power of recall.

  10. Alternate thinking between focus and diffuse mode of thinking
    Procrastination…. use pomodoro
    Illusions of competence
    Highlighting is not a good strategy
    Rereading doesn't help
    Use recall
    Spaced repetition
    All at once is nota good idea
    Sleep is ultimate diffuser
    Use analogy
    Take test
    Understanding alone is not enough
    Practice so that problem becomes like a song

  11. thanks to Barbara i have had difficulties with learning after my school days, i tend ti try to memorize word for word move onto another topic forget what i learned and go back to memorise what i learned previously hopefully i have found a solution from this Tedx.


  13. It seems like she solved my every problem now I am feeling very confident

  14. Edison had geniuses to make his ideas happen. And he was ruthless in his campaign against any competitor

  15. This was meant for me. Thank you so much. I have a test for teaching next week. I am so ill over test anxiety. I know what I need to teach though, as I have 38 years of personal experience.

  16. My word, her early life is mine. I went to 13 different schools, 3 in 3rd grade, 3 in 9th, even moving states.

  17. This is a miracle. Thank u so much!!!

  18. I am a slower thinker but at that time when I understand it then I understand it way better then the others, but I need some time at the beginning.

  19. I read your book i love it!

  20. The focus+defuse method makes sense. However the look-look away method that she advocates towards the end is cramming pure and simple nothing new there.

  21. This is great material
    Thank you !

  22. Walking to learn how to walk….

  23. Reading a page than looking away and reflecting must be the reason why I can remember details from so many old books. I want to improve the way I learn.

  24. Why is this not taught to college students!? I didnt realize I was already kinda doing the pomodoro effect. I use baoding meditation balls while studying and working on math problems because I fidget a lot and take short breaks which consist of either hiting my punching bag or practicing my nunchucks. Im going to try the 25 minute timer as well to help focus.

  25. took me 90 minutes to watch this (hundred tabs open) until i heard about procrastination and understanding….tuned in and realized…..hold on ..i got a phone call….

    Great video…putting down the phone is key to achieving the goal

  26. I think engineering is boring.. give me headaches

  27. 4:48 2 Type 1 Focus 2 Relax, 7:02 * When learning, 11:52 relaxation is also an important part of the learning process

  28. We hive the greadhes to lord learnt bat troghes hise server forg forgent do climate al talking bouth bords taking hess

  29. Before 'how to learn' there is the question of 'what to learn'.
    Education syatem is the target now. 😁
    Objective oriented programming is the solution.

  30. Ironically, I am avoiding work to watch YouTube to learn that avoiding work to watch YouTube is a bad idea…

  31. This talk was excellent. I didn't disagree with one thing she said and based on my life experiences with doing exactly what she shared, her techniques really do work.

  32. This is a profound addition. Thank you, Barbara, for such an amazing talk and boosting the self-esteem of myself and all our brothers. You are so sweet and also sounds like that yellow little bird from Tom and Jerry.

  33. Please Hindi me video bhejo

  34. loool so funny i started the course years ago never finished i'm gonna resume it

  35. This is exactly what I needed to hear.

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