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Ultralearning by Scott H. Young

Ultralearning by Scott H. Young

Are you a life-long learner, or rather someone who’s thankful the school years are over? I’m a proud member of the first group, always looking for new skills to acquire, knowledge to gain, and projects to tackle. And not only that, I try to find ways to learn better, to put what I learned to practice and to retain the gain skills and knowledge.

I think that’s why I was so intrigued by the book Ultralearning by Scott H. Young which has a very promising subtitle – master hard skills, outsmart the competition and accelerate your career. Who wouldn’t want that, right?.

As much as the book cover catches the attention, the foreword inspires and each chapter motivates. All throughout the book I took notes and listed all the skills to acquire and projects to complete. The book got me so motivated I even listed my goals for the new year.

What’s the Book About

The book is about mastering hard skills through intense projects, outsmarting competition by learning skills you can apply from day one, and accelerating your career by being an effective life-long learner.

In Ultralearning, Young shares stories of ultralearners, people who can acquire new skills quickly and seemingly effortlessly. But the truth behind the ultralearning is, it requires time, focus, self-motivation, and devotion. It requires not only to learn and practice, but also to improve and work on preserving the skills.

What is Ultralearning?

As defined in the book, ultralearning is:

“A strategy for acquiring skills and knowledge that is both self-directed and intense.”

9 Principles of Ultralearning

Young shares 9 principles of ultralearning which he observed in his own ultralearning projects as well as in projects of others. All of those principles are important but they are not prescriptive and restrictive. The goal is to use and apply them through the course of a project. But it’s not a map or ordered list of steps, but rather a blueprint of an iterative learning approach.

The 9 principles are:

  • Metalearning – knowing why, what, and how to learn
  • Focus – starting the task and continuing with the hard work
  • Directness – learning skills and processes you can use in practice
  • Drill – improving one single aspect instead of all of them at once
  • Retrieval – recalling the knowledge from memory
  • Feedback – learning what you are doing wrong and how to fix it
  • Retention – keeping the knowledge and skills you learn
  • Intuition – building a deep understanding of a subject
  • Experimentation – finding your own style

My Favorite Thoughts & Ideas

There were many ideas I liked in the book. The stories of other ultralearners were inspiring and the 9 principles and how to apply them were well explained. I also highlighted these passages in the book:

“The simple truth is, most people will never intensely study your area of interest.”

“…there are three main cases in which this strategy [ultralearning] for quickly acquiring hard skills can apply: accelerating the career you have, transitioning to a new career, and cultivating a hidden advantage in a competitive world.”

“Being able to see how a subject works, what kind of skills and information must be mastered, and what methods are available to do so more effectively is at the heart of success of all ultralearning projects.”

“The act of trying to summon up knowledge, from memory is a powerful learning tool on its own, beyond its connection to direct practice or feedback.”

“… retrieval practice is a much better form of studying than the once most students apply.”

“… the research on feedback shows that more isn’t always better.”

“… feedback often backfires when it is aimed at a person’s ego.”

“Ultralearners acquire skills quickly because they seek aggressive feedback when others opt for practice that includes weaker forms of feedback or no feedback at all.”

“The goal of ultralearning is to expand the opportunities available to you, not narrow them.”

Who is Scott H. Young

Scott H. Young is an author, programmer, and entrepreneur, who likes to regularly challenge himself to learn new skills in intense study periods.

He finished a 4-year undergraduate computer science program at MIT in 12 months. The next year, he spoke no English for 12 months to intensify his immersion in new languages, and by the end of the year, he lived in 4 countries and learned Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, and Korean. Since then, he had done several more ultralearning projects which he documents on his blog as well as in the Ultralearning book.