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Book Review – The Science of Self-Learning

Last updated on maart 25, 2020

Time to read 3 minutes

In my journey to discover more and more about productivity, I found myself looking at this book, The Science of Self-Learning, by Peter Hollins. It’s a little book which aims at guiding you on your way into effectively learning. By yourself. Be your own teacher, if you will.

It’s an easy read if you just look at the cover and feel the book in your hand. Merely 184 pages in length and with quite the large font – would there be any useful information in it? I wonder.

You CAN learn, you know

So, author Pete promises to show us the way to self-learning. The back reads “You will learn to deconstruct a topic and then construct your own syllabus and plan.” Sounds rather do-able, don’t you think? Yet, according to Hollins, that is what most people don’t say often enough. That one CAN learn something.

We tend to start where the learning process kind of ends: obtaining info. Which is discouraging at the best of times, because the goals you have for yourself are usually set too high. In reading books and guides and through my own experiences, I realise that aiming too high is what we humans are good at. Which throws the other – next to having the confidence – important ‘learning ability’ in the mix: a bit of self-discipline.

Really interact with information

Know your pitfalls, Hollins says. Don’t expect everything to go right the first learning quest. But, please, go out and learn something, because it’s more rewarding than going to school. Set out with a plan, he writes. And baby-steps. We’re not all Stephen Hawkings.

Hollins then wastes no time – 184 pages, remember? – to dive into the heart of the matter: what actually is information? How do I deal with it? The man draws up with some techniques to get everything out of anything you see, hear or read. I found this part of the book especially interesting, as I learned a few new tricks (see below).

Become a speed-reader

Then Hollins ventures to explain some simple speed-reading tactics. It sounds so simple to not vocalize words when reading. I’ve come to find it’s actually quite hard! The only thing Hollins says about it is: do it and keep doing it. Expect no in depth speed reading training here. However, just enough to interest me for wanting to explore the subject.

Go, plan and prosper

The fourth and last chapter of the book is about making plans and about getting your habits right to make self-learning worthwile. The trick to having a succesful experience is to set some goals. I want to know all about quantum physics is not the way to go. Set challenging, but realistic goals. Hollins doesn’t give the reader many tips upon getting such goals.

Once you have a goal set, create a plan. He makes note of Benjamin Franklin and how he used to have a plan for each day, which I found fun and useful. In sticking with the plan, habits come into play (and therefore: self-discipline). Hollins warns the reader: self-learning is not always fun. Nor is it easy, because you are your own teacher. Sometimes you will feel discouraged or anxious – perfectly normal, he says. You better embrace it, he states. With that, he concludes his little, however interesting, book on self-learning.


Although the book stays on the surface of self-learning, I found quite a few new tricks that I’m eager to try:

The SQ3R methoddeveloped by American educator Francis Robinson, is a set of five actions to really comprehend texts. Don’t just read, but Survey, Question, Read, Recite and Review the material.

Surprisingly unfamiliar to me, was the technique developed by teacher Walter Pauk in the 1940’s, Cornell Notes  It looks like it’s a very simple way of note-taking.

Peter Hollins stresses: don’t just read. He shares 4 levels of reading, once brought into the world by philosopher Mortimer Adler, which I found informative.

  • elementary (what you learn in school),
  • inspectional (what am I reading exactly?),
  • analytical (the phase where you really read and mark stuff down),
  • syntopical (where one looks for other books and tries to grasp the subject)

When ‘going syntopical’, one should ask questions while dealing with information at hand. Why was this so important when it happened? Why did it happen? Who didn’t agree with it? The notion to search actively for not so common thoughts about the subject is something we do very little of, when learning ‘old-school’ – in school.

Published inFocus and Habits

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