Deep Work

What This Post Is About

I recently read a book called “Deep Work” by Cal Newport and it is really good. The book is relatively short (less than 200 pages) but it will have a significant positive impact on your life provided you are able to implement everything it talks about. However, if you don’t have the time to read the full book, this post will cover the ideas in the book that have benefitted me the most.

What Is Deep Work

Firstly, what is “deep work”? Simply put, deep work is when

(i) you focus

(ii) without distraction

(iii) for a significant amount of time

(iv) on a cognitively demanding task.

In the digital age, most of us don’t spend a lot of time doing deep work. Most of the work we do is shallow. We are constantly distracted, we multitask, we can’t stick with one activity for too long and most of the work we do manage to get done takes up a lot of time but requires very little mental effort.

Practical Importance Of Deep Work

Deep work is extremely valuable but very few people are good at doing it. Therefore, if you can get better at working deeply, you will have a strong competitive advantage. From a practical and economic perspective, spending less time on shallow tasks and more on deep work is a no-brainer.

Adding Deep Work To Your Schedule

The first problem you need to solve is how you’re going to add deep work to your own life. In this book, Cal offers a couple of different approaches:

First is the monastic approach which involves a total commitment to deep work. You cut yourself off from the world as much as possible and give up everything that might distract you from working deeply. For most people, this is impractical.

Second is the bimodal approach which is when you go back-and-forth between total commitment to deep work and periods of shallow work. This type of approach could potentially work for students. You can work on shallow tasks (i.e. homework and studying) when there’s school but during the vacations, you completely avoid distractions and commit yourself completely to working deeply.

Third is the rhythmic approach. This is when you have specific periods in your day for deep work. If you have to engage in shallow activities throughout the year, this is a good approach. If you are a student, you can block off certain periods before or after school specifically for deep work. Then every day, you use those specific time periods for working deeply without any distractions.

Fourth and final is the journalistic approach. This is basically for those who have unpredictable schedules. If you can’t have specific periods in your day for deep work because you don’t know how many other obligations you’ll have to deal with, this is a good approach. Using this approach, you work deeply whenever you find the time for it. This approach is not recommended for those who are not used to deep work as your mind will probably try to find excuses to avoid deep work even when you have the time.

For me, the rhythmic approach works best during the school year. I get up really early so I can fit in a small chunk of deep work before school usually filled with programming or mathematics. After school, I really don’t have the motivation to engage in mentally strenuous tasks so it helps to have a set routine that I can follow.

Deep Work Rituals

To shift into deep work from shallow work, Cal recommends implementing depth rituals. Habits that you do every time right before you go into deep work mode. Here’s an example of a depth ritual from Cal’s blog: http://calnewport.com/blog/2014/09/13/deep-habits-jumpstart-your-concentration-with-a-depth-ritual/

My own depth ritual includes the following things:

  • Organising my work space
  • Deciding how long I’ll be working for before a break
  • Defining exactly what I need to accomplish
  • Reminding myself why what I’m doing is important
  • Gathering everything I will need for my work
  • Playing instrumental music on headphones if there are noisy distractions
  • Adjusting my posture
  • Starting a timer

After going through this ritual, I am fully concentrated on my work and don’t get up until the time is over (or if there’s some emergency). This has been helpful for me so far. I recommend you make up your own depth ritual to get you in the mood for deep work.

Four Step Process

Cal talks about four disciplines of execution. These are:

  1. Focus on the wildly important. Not only do you have limited time, you also have a limited amount of energy. It makes sense to spend your time and energy on a small number of worthy pursuits rather than spreading yourself too thin.
  2. Act on the lead measures. Lag measures describe the thing you’re trying to improve. If you’re a student, your lag measures could be your grades. Lead measures, however, are behaviours that improve your lag measures. A lead measure could be how much time you spend studying or you performance in practice tests. It is better to focus on your lead measures (by spending more time studying or trying to maximise your score in practice tests) than worrying about your lag measures (your grades).
  3. Keep a compelling scoreboard. Keep track of your lead measures. For example, you could keep a tally of hours you’ve spent studying or write down how your performance in practice tests has increased over time. This will motivate you to keep working and acting on those lead measures.
  4. Create a cadence of accountability. Review your scoreboard. Make commitments. Write progress reports. You need to keep track of progress and realise when you’re falling behind.

Embrace Boredom

Constant stimulation is the reason why we have so much trouble focusing when we need to. My aversion to boredom is why I had so much trouble when starting to write this post – staring at a blank word document and writing the first sentence is a teeny bit uncomfortable while it is just so much more interesting to browse Reddit or my favourite blogs. New information is exciting. Thinking and creating something from scratch is not. Sometimes, I can’t even eat a meal or read a book mindfully without having the constant urge to check my phone or google some random question. It is clear to me that learning to embrace boredom will not only increase my capacity to focus but also improve my enjoyment of life. I’m trying to do that by checking my emails and messages during specific times only, by not multi-tasking and by practising mindfulness – focusing on just one activity and not letting my thoughts wander.

Quit Social Media

One of the boldest pieces of advice Cal always gives is to quit social media. He has given a TEDx talk on this topic as well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3E7hkPZ-HTk

There isn’t much I can add to that. What worked for me was that I just simply logged out of my social media accounts and stopped posting for a while (without writing a “I am taking a break from social media” post). I realised that I wasn’t missing out on much and that thought drastically culled my usage of social media.

Be Lazy

In the 1980s, at the height of his intellectual productivity, Stephen Hawking used to head home from his office between five and six. He rarely worked later.

Here’s how he explained his behavior to his PhD student Bruce Allen:

“Bruce, here’s some advice: The problem with physics is that most of the days we don’t make any major headway (on our projects). That’s why you should do other stuff: listen to music, meet good friends. There’s one exception to this rule: If you find a solution for a given problem, you work 24 hours a day and forget everything else. Until the problem is solved in its entirety.”

If you’re only doing shallow work, then you can probably afford to be busy all the time. However, if you want to do more deep work, then breaks and relaxation are important. You need to be able to chill outside of work so that you can give it your full attention when it actually is time to work. Also you need to not spend all your time just doing work. Otherwise, you may fall into the common trap of always being busy rather than being actually productive. This goes hand in hand with the earlier advice of focusing on the wildly important.

Bonus: Fixed Schedule Productivity

This is something that wasn’t really mentioned in much detail in the book but it is the idea that has had the greatest positive impact on my productivity. Cal wrote a blog post about it: http://calnewport.com/blog/2008/02/15/fixed-schedule-productivity-how-i-accomplish-a-large-amount-of-work-in-a-small-number-of-work-hours/. It’s a small post and you should definitely read it. Essentially, what Cal recommends is: “Fix the schedule you want. Then make everything else fit around your needs.” Don’t goof off during the times you have fixed for work in your schedule. Don’t work outside of those set times. At least for myself, if I don’t have a fixed schedule, I either find myself working all the time on unimportant tasks or slack off too much because I haven’t planned enough time for resting and recharging.

I hope this post has been helpful. Thank you for reading!

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Does Homework Help?

homework1

Homework is one of those things the validity of which rarely gets questioned. Sure, lots of people complain. Students and parents alike whine about how kids these days get too much homework but more often than not, they suck it up and learn to accept things the way they are. After all, there is probably a good reason for the existence of this inconvenience. Isn’t there? Ask anyone and they might tell you that it probably helps with learning and self-discipline. In theory, this might be true but in practice, the benefits of homework are highly questionable.

Speaking from personal experience, I believe that homework has had a net negative impact on my life. It squanders my time and prevents me from doing the things I actually want to do. Furthermore, from a young age, homework solidified in my mind the association between “learning” and “boredom”. My experience is not unique. This very night, as millions of little kids grudgingly sit down to do their homework, quite a few of them will be wondering if their time and energy could be spent on more productive endeavours. Homework takes up hundreds of hours of a student’s life and when something has such a huge cost, we really do have to consider if it has a huge reward as well or is just another waste of time.

Scientific studies in this area tend to show that the benefits of homework, while existent, are highly overrated. For instance, research reveals the fact that homework has no significant effect on academic achievement of elementary school students. Can you see what a huge problem this is? See, when I was younger I was told that if I didn’t do my homework I was being unproductive and would never be able to reach my full potential. Now as it turns out, I might as well have spent that time sleeping or watching television and it wouldn’t have made a damned difference. I do not like that my time and autonomy was in the end sacrificed for nothing.

What happens if we simply ban giving homework to primary school students? As Finland has shown us, the world will not burn down because of a lack of homework. In Finland, students rarely get homework or tests until about the time they become teenagers. Yet, Finnish students outperform most of their peers in other countries who receive hours of homework and outside help in international tests. Apart from absolutely crushing it at tests, Finland is also one of the happiest countries in the world. On average, Finnish students end up doing three hours of homework per week and it doesn’t seem to have a negative effect on their academic performance at all.

While studies show that homework given to primary school students is nothing but a huge waste of time, its effects on students in higher grades are slightly more ambiguous. It seems that homework does have a positive impact on high school students. Students who do more homework generally get slightly better scores in standardised tests. However, these positive effects are less significant than most people expect.

The more homework you do, the lesser the impact of the additional homework. If you do much more than two hours of homework a night then that will have a similar effect as doing less than two hours of homework a night. A common guideline when assigning homework is that students should get no more than 10 minutes of homework for each grade level. So for example, a ninth grade should get a maximum of 90 minutes of homework a day while a twelfth grade can get as much as two hours’ worth of homework a night.

So homework does not help younger students. For older students, it slightly improves standardised test scores. However since standardised tests are not a perfect way to measure learning, it is unclear whether homework actually facilitates learning at all. And aren’t there better ways for a child or teenager to spend their time? Can you imagine if Bill Gates spent all his time after school doing homework assignments instead of what he loved the most: programming? We would never have ended up Microsoft! It is important to consider how many innovative ideas go unnoticed and the great number of unique talents that remain undeveloped because the person who has them was busy doing something that would only have a mild impact on their standardised test scores.

Despite my strong stance against it, I don’t think all homework is bad. I have no trouble at all accepting that some homework assignments have actually ended up helping me. These assignments have shared a couple of key characteristics. Firstly, they were open-ended; there was no fixed end product and every student ended up creating something unique. Secondly, they took into account the oft-ignored fact that all young minds are different. I will have wildly different interests and talents than you and that’s inevitable. Why then should every student have to do the same homework as everyone else? Thirdly, they were not boring. They were challenging and fun and also reflected the way people actually work in the twenty-first century.

A homework assignment in which students have to copy notes and diagrams or answer boring academic style questions is not a good one. An assignment in which they can create something unique to explain the topic at hand in their own way on the other hand is a great one. Students should not be bored by homework, they should take pride in it. This article only exists because it was given as a homework assignment and while I found it challenging, it never felt boring. And I am proud of how it has ended up.

So yes, some homework can be beneficial but that shouldn’t be taken as a given. We should examine homework through a lens of skepticism, rejecting anything for which the advantages don’t unambiguously outweigh the disadvantages. The burden of proof should lie on people who choose to give homework and they should actually have to prove that it is worth students’ time. And we should all recognize that while academic achievement is important, it should not cause us to sacrifice our family life, our mental health or our freedom. Because in the end, those are the things that truly matter.

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Studying Tips Supported By Science

Of the many inconsequential things I learned in my science courses, a lesson on how to study efficiently was not one of them. Because most of us do not actually get formally educated about how we learn best and instead have to figure it out on our own through trial and error, it comes as no surprise that the way the average student studies is not the most optimised for exam success.

So throw out that highlighter (it doesn’t really work), stop rereading your textbook (you’re just wasting your time) and read on if you want to learn how to learn better.

Tip #1: Set up a schedule for learning.

Cramming doesn’t work. You need to distribute your study sessions over a longer period of time with at least a 24 hour interval before you restudy the material.

Tip #2: Test yourself on the material.

Now that you have a schedule for learning, what activity do you fill up your study sessions with? Research has shown that testing yourself on the material is the best way to retain all that information. So try answering some textbook exercises, look up some questions on the internet or make yourself a practice test to know how well you’re doing.

Tip #3: Explain the concepts to yourself.

So you’ve done a few practice tests to figure out what areas you need more help with? Great! Now it’s time to improve at those areas. Take out a piece of paper (or a whiteboard) and a pen, then explain out loud whatever you’re having difficulty with to yourself as if you were describing it to a friend. If you struggle at any point with the explanation, then that means that you don’t understand it well enough yourself. At this point, you’re allowed to take a peek at your notes or textbook and figure out the exact point you’re having difficulty with. Then go back to explaining it to yourself. You’ll know you have understood the material properly when you stop having problems explaining it to yourself.

Tip #4: Take better notes.

When you’re listening to a lecture or reading a textbook, it is important to note down the information being presented to you without copying it verbatim. One of the best note-taking methods out there for students is The Cornell Note-taking System. It involves a note-taking column where you take down notes in the form of points and a smaller cue-column where you write down questions based on your notes. It also has you leave some blank space at the bottom to write a summary of your notes after class. This method works better than others because a) you can use the questions you have jotted down to test yourself after class and b) it forces you to actually think about your notes after class as you write your summary.

Tip #5: Use flashcards.

Memorising facts, terms and equations is a chore. Thankfully, there’s Anki to help you remember stuff more efficiently. When you make flashcards in Anki, you can access them anywhere on your computer, smartphone or through the web. Moreover, it has a fantastic algorithm that makes you practice the material you are most likely to forget. It’s also completely customisable.

Tip #6: Move around.

Learning the same stuff in a different place makes you less likely to forget it. So don’t just sit in one place while you revise. Move to library, then to the coffeeshop, then outdoors. Switching up your location means you’ll become less bored with studying and thus get more done without procrastinating.  

Tip #7: Listen to the right type of music.

Classical music has been shown to help you learn things better. So play some Mozart or Chopin pieces while you’re studying for a better experience.

 

Why Following Your Passion Is Bad Advice

Almost every student has struggled with figuring out what they want to do in life. The fact that the work landscape is shifting fast and that you are no longer limited to a normal 9 to 5 job has made it a lot more difficult to pick a career. There are a lot of people out there who proclaim that you should just “follow your passion” as if that is just a simple thing to do and that nothing else matters for a fulfilling career except your “passion”.

There are several reasons why following your passion is bad advice.

Just because you enjoy doing something doesn’t always mean you can get paid for it. Most college students who say they have a passion have it in something related to sports, music or the arts. Unfortunately, those fields provide only a small fraction of the total jobs out there. If everyone followed their “passion”, society would collapse.

Passion isn’t the only thing you need for an enjoyable job. Even if you really enjoy doing something for fun as a hobby, the reality of what it is like to do that particular thing as a job is probably quite different. You like developing video games? Cool. If you want to do it as a job, I assume you also like being overworked, underpaid and working on some game feature you don’t actually care about because someone who isn’t that knowledgeable about video games (i.e. your boss) told you to do it.

You don’t just stumble onto a passion and you aren’t born with one. You usually have to try a lot of things before you find something you like. And then you need to actually become good at that thing and develop your skills until you stop being awful at it and start truly enjoying it. Simply trusting your intuition to tell you what you will enjoy doing in the future is a bad strategy.

It’s okay to have more than one passion. It just means you like a lot of things and you’ll have to decide between them. You can do this by using a rational approach to figure out which career will be the most fulfilling for you instead of relying on your instincts.

What do you actually need for a fulfilling career?

So what is this rational approach that will help you find the most fulfilling career? It’s simple. You just have to take into account the ingredients that make a dream job which according to the research done by 80,000 Hours are:

Work you’re good at. When you do something you’re skilled at, you’ll not only be happier with your life, you will also be able to negotiate higher pay and get more fulfilling projects at work. This doesn’t mean that you should only pursue something you’re currently good at but it does mean you should pick a career where you have a decent chance of improving and becoming really great at what you do.

Work that helps others. In other words, if you do something that you believe is meaningful, you will be more satisfied with your job. Helping others is a key ingredient for life satisfaction as well as a key ingredient for being a good human being.

Work that is engaging. Engaging work is usually work where you have more freedom to decide how to do your work, when the tasks you have to do are clearly defined, there is variety in the types of tasks you do and you get plenty of direct, regular feedback on how you’re doing. Hopefully, all of us have been in situations when we were doing something so engaging that we totally lost ourselves in the activity and lost track of our time and our surroundings as we did the one thing that mattered. This mental state is known as “flow” and has often been called the secret to happiness. A fulfilling job is one in which you can achieve this state often.

Work with supportive colleagues. A job where you hate your boss and the people you work with is bad for your mental health. So when selecting a job, make sure that you’re working with people who you’ll get along with and that the workplace makes it easy for you to get help and support when you need.

Work that meets your basic needs. Even if you have a job with all of the above factors, if you have to face a long commute, long work hours, not getting paid what you think you deserve or job insecurity, your work life is going to be very unpleasant. You can keep this in mind when you’re deciding on a major. Yes, you shouldn’t only make your pick based on how much you’re going to earn in the future but a little consideration of how easy it will be to find a good job with your major will certainly be helpful.

“But passion is important!!!”

It is true that most successful people are truly passionate about what they do. However, their passion evolved because of them becoming good at what they do and doing something meaningful for the world.

A lot of advocates for the “follow your passion” advice bring up Steve Jobs. However, Steve Jobs’ early passions were in zen buddhism, western history and dance. His first brushes with technology were because he wanted to make some extra money. His passion grew because of his success and not the other way around. So if you pick a career based on what helps others and what you are good at, you are also likely to become passionate about what you do.

Further Reading

There are several things you can read to learn more about this topic. One resource is the aforementioned 80,000 Hours website that actually has a lot of good and sensible career advice for people at various points in their career: 80,000 Website

Another is the book So Good They Can’t Ignore you by Cal Newport which I highly recommend for people making career decisions. Here’s the link to Cal’s website: http://calnewport.com/books/so-good/.

Both resources are based on a lot of factual research and were highly influential in writing this post. I hope you’ll have a look at them.

“Self education will make you a fortune” – my TEDxYouth speech

Note: TEDSummit 2016 took place last week. To honour the event, I thought I’d post the transcript of a talk I gave at a local TEDxYouth event. Enjoy!

The turn of the millennium saw a drastic change in education systems around the world. Schools during the industrial revolution were modelled after the factories of that same era. Uniformity and obedience were valued more than creativity and independent thinking. Students were told to memorise their textbooks and answer boring questions on it. They were also told not to question the system and to keep on doing what was already being done; in other words, to not be curious.

But all of that has changed now. The information age rewards people’s inventiveness and initiative. Schools have taken greater care to encourage creativity and curiosity in the classrooms. True to its name, the information age is all about knowledge and learning. That’s exactly what we’re doing at this event after all. So why do humans take pleasure in learning? It is because we are naturally curious beings. It is through curiosity, a desire to find out something, that life promotes itself, keeps itself alive, reproduces itself, and gathers resources more effectively. A lack of curiosity can lead to a lack of life. Johannes Kepler said it best about human curiosity to know about the skies but his sentiments apply to our desire to learn about all other aspects of the universe too:

“We do not ask for what useful purpose the birds do sing, for song is their pleasure since they were created for singing. Similarly, we ought not to ask why the human mind troubles to fathom the secrets of the heavens….The diversity of the phenomena of Nature is so great, and the treasures hidden in the heavens so rich, precisely in order that the human mind shall never be lacking in fresh nourishment.”

And there is one focus of my talk today. Something all of you love, I’m sure. And it is this: the internet. More than just being an outlet for mindless media consumption, the internet actually allows anyone to pursue their curiosity and learn more about any aspect of the world.

Anywhere. Anyone. It is one of the most liberating and useful inventions created by human beings. Going forward, it will have the greatest impact on education: both in schools and privately through the self education of individuals.

Before I continue, I’d like to talk about some of my own online learning adventures. I taught myself programming through free online resources. Through online courses, I befriended other people from around the world who were learning the same things I was. [some outdated information about my life I had to retract]

Now on to current events. Just last month, I completed a course on classical mechanics at MIT opencourseware. Now I’m also doing a course on single variable Calculus. Why? Because robots. To make artificially intelligent computers, you need to learn a lot of maths. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do. If you’re curious, there’s a course on artificial intelligence available online. So the question is how did I start my string of adventures with online learning?

A few years ago, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed clearly bored out of my mind and looking for something to do. I saw a very curious link to a webpage for a MOOC (meaning a Massive Open Online Course) that promised an understanding of programming in the most fun way possible. And at that time, that was mind-boggling. I didn’t need to be enrolled anywhere. I didn’t need to buy anything. I could start anytime and anywhere I wanted. It was like getting a letter from Hogwarts.

A whole new world had opened up. I could learn to create video games. I could learn more advanced mathematics. I could learn about all these cool new subjects like nanophysics, graphic design and artificial intelligence right from the comfort of my home.

I didn’t need to wait till I was older or in university to create and learn cool things. And when I talk about MOOCs, I’d like to stress that they are far more than just a series of educational videos. Most online courses have short bite-sized instructional videos as well as quizzes and assignments and most importantly discussion forums with other students to provide a complete learning experience for the users.

From computer science courses offered by Harvard to the hottest offerings at MIT, you have access to the best instructors in the world and the most useful and comprehensive course material. So why wait? Why not start satisfying your curiosity and start changing the world now? Why wait till you’re all grown-up to learn the things you need to help advance your goals?

So if you’re wondering how you’ll make time for online learning when you’ve got school, a social life and everything else to do. And my number one tip is, surprisingly, that you can quit anytime. A majority of online course takers quit during the course. And that’s not a bad thing. It allows students to learn only the things they consider most useful and to skip the rest. So take that chance. Life is too short to waste doing something boring and impractical. If the course material is both fun and useful, you’ll make time for it. If you want to learn faster and better, there’s even a course on Learning How To Learn available online. In fact, there’s probably a free online course for any topic you can imagine.

I keep a personal blog about online learning and learning in general. And today I hope to introduce other people to this amazing world of mine. I want to work with other high school students on some interesting new courses. I promise you that it will be fun. Just imagine: you’ll have all the benefits of learning without all the pressure.

So there you have it! To change the world, you need to be good at what you do. And to be good at it, you need to start learning early. Bill Gates started programming when he was 13 and sold his first software when he was 17. Albert Einstein had been thinking about relativity since he was 16. And today you have access to even more information than they ever did. You have the collective human knowledge at your fingertips ready for you to apply to real world problems. So go ahead and start learning, start thinking differently about what you’re learning and then apply it in a way no one has done before. The world won’t wait for you to be educated. You have to educate yourself and get ahead through self education. Jim Rohn said that “Formal education will make you a living, but self education will make you a fortune”. Seek that fortune. Embrace your curious side. Become the wizard you’ve always wanted to be. Keep learning and the world will be yours.

How To Learn To Code

Here are five of the best resources you can use to learn how to program. Read the descriptions of each and by the end of this article, you will hopefully have made a choice about which of these paths to take in order to teach yourself to code.

Introduction to Computer Science by HarvardX (edX CS50X)
https://www.edx.org/course/introduction-computer-science-harvardx-cs50x
This course covers the most important concepts of computer science. You’ll learn how to think algorithmically to devise solutions to problems. This one is more academic in nature than the other courses but it will help you think like a programmer as you get experience with the programming language C.

Free Code Camp
http://www.freecodecamp.com
If you want to learn the most in demand skills when it comes to web development, have a look at free code camp. Along the way you’ll also get real world experience working on writing code for non-profits. You learning to code will literally make the world a better place!

Codecademy (multiple tracks available)
https://www.codecademy.com
If you want to get a crash course in programming without having to know any of the behind-the-scenes concepts, this is the website for you. Using codecademy, you’ll be able to learn HTML & CSS, JavaScript, Python or Ruby from the around dozen tracks available.

Udacity: Intro to Computer Science (CS101)
https://www.udacity.com/course/intro-to-computer-science–cs101
This was actually the first programming course I ever took. It focuses more on programming than computer science but will prepare you for tackling challenging problems. By following the lessons, you’ll be able to build your very own search engine. How cool is that?

Udacity: Android Development for Beginners
https://www.udacity.com/course/android-development-for-beginners–ud837
If you want to learn programming so that you can build mobile applications, this is the perfect course. The course will help you make simple but useful Android apps without bombarding you with information that you don’t need to know when you’re just starting out. After taking this course, you’ll gain the confidence to work on new and interesting projects.

Which course should you take?
If you still don’t know what’s the right path for you, you can use the chart below to make your decision.

CodingDecisions

What is MIT OpenCourseWare and How To Take Advantage of It

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is one of the top universities in the world. It maintains a very high level of research activity and as of the writing of this post, 85 Nobel laureates have been affiliated with the university. Its prestigious undergraduate program is known for the rigorous course load and the notoriously selective admissions process.

With that, I’d like you to think about the possibility of all of that knowledge that is taught on MIT’s private grounds being available to the public for absolutely no cost at all. And that is exactly the scenario that MIT’s OpenCourseWare initiative seeks to create. You don’t need to be one of the lucky ones to attend MIT in order to enjoy and learn from its highly qualified faculty and superb course materials. How cool is that?!

MIT OCW gives users access to materials from 2260 undergraduate and graduate subjects with more than 100 of the most popular courses containing audio or video lectures. The website garners 175 million visits by students, self learners and educators from around the world. So quite a few people are taking advantage of it already and today I’d like to introduce to you its great potential.

Since it caters to a wide variety of users, the course materials afford great flexibility in how they’re used. You don’t have to register to have access to the resources. MIT OCW’s Creative Commons license gives you free rein to adapt and share the material provided yyou give appropriate attribution and use it for non-commercial purposes only.

One of the best bloggers in the field of learning and productivity undertook a project in which he learned the entire 4-year MIT curriculum in just 12 months using MIT OCW. You can read more about it here: http://www.scotthyoung.com/blog/myprojects/mit-challenge-2/.

That is one way to use this platform. You can create your own personalised curriculum incorporating the hundreds of free course materials available.

Another way to make use of OpenCourseWare is to supplement your own education. Whether you are in high school or college and beyond, MIT’s fantastic resources will help you make progress with your own studies.

Of course, not everyone who uses online resources has a fully formed plan in mind. Some of us just want to learn because we find the subject interesting.  Since most of the courses are about science and technology, if you’re a science nerd you’ll fall in love with the website.

You can view the computer science related courses from Scott’s blog. Webpage above.

In time, I will publish a post with the sequence of mathematics courses from MIT OCW.

For now, here are several interesting courses to satisfy your curiosity

Introduction to Bioengineering

Fundamentals of Biology

Introduction to Biology

Introduction to Psychology

Principles of Chemical Science

Comparative Media Studies

Principles of Microeconomics

Quantum Physics I

Energy Decisions, Markets and Policies

Exploring Black Holes and General Relativity

There are hundreds of courses available but not all of them have video lectures of assignment solutions. However all available courses have two components: instructional material such as audio / video lectures or lecture notes and some type of learning activity such as problem sets or exams.

For me, I’ve settled on a ‘best way’ to learn these challenging subjects. I go through the instructional material really quick to get an overview of sorts. And then I try to walk through the assignments. I get most of the questions wrong on first try but the solutions are enlightening as to what concepts I need to work on. Then I try explaining the concepts to myself taking the help of the course material or a textbook and I do that until I’ve mastered the concept.

Sure that’s not how most people use it but this method works for me. It just goes to show the great flexibility afforded by OCW.

Searching for useful courses on the MIT OpenCourseWare website is a piece of cake. You can search for courses by topic and by the available course features (video lectures, assessments, textbook etc) through this webpage: http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/find-by-topic/

Clicking on a course name, you can check out the syllabus which will tell you about the material covered and any prerequisites for the course. Good luck on your self learning adventures!