Learning How to Learn: Mastering the Science of Learning with Barbara Oakley

Dr Barbara Oakley is a lifelong learning enthusiast with a colourful past.

After struggling with mathematics and science at school, she joined the army, so she could get paid to learn another language.

She studied Russian for years, even working on Soviet trawlers in the Bearing Sea for months at a time.

Later, she shrugged off her struggles with the sciences at school, and retrained to become an engineer. She had such success in her new career, that she went on to become a professor of engineering, a position she now holds at Oakland University.

Fascinated by the learning process itself, Barb went on to create the most successful massive open online course (MOOC) of all time – Learning How To Learn – which has 2 million registered students.

In this conversation, we discuss Barb's time learning Russian in the military, and how we can improve our learning as adults.


A Little About Barbara Oakley

“Learning another language helps you understand how the world works” – Barbara Oakley

Barbara Oakley learn how to learn



How The “Learning How To Learn” Course Came To Be

“Do you think anyone will watch these videos?” – Barbara Oakley, before creating the world's largest online course

When Do We Begin To Take An Interest In Learning?

Do You Learn Languages The Same Way As The Sciences?

Barb's Approach To Teaching

How Barb Learnt Russian

Learning Russian In The Military

“You know too much – it's time to kill you!” – Dr. Barbara Oakley

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Barb found the 18-month programme useful for a number of reasons:

Learning activities typically involved:

What level of Russian did Barb reach in the military programme?

Beginner's Russian was a 1-year programme, followed by Intermediate Russian, which was another 6-month class

barbara oakley grammar and structure

However, most interactions in class were with other American students, some of whom were not really devoted to the language.

She got a very good foundation in Russian, but would still struggle in conversation with native speakers.

It wasn't till she went to work on Russian ships that she really began to feel a sense of domination of the Russian language.

How Can Busy Adults Learn Languages?

Barb has recently begun learning Spanish.

Here are her reflections on beginning to learn a new language at this stage of her life:

barbara oakley love the language you're learning

“What does it mean to fall in love with a language? It's the smell!” – Barbara Oakley

Barbara Oakley's New Book – Mindshift

Barb's new book is about changing your attitude towards what you can learn.

The book is for anyone who wants to learn more broadly than what they think they're capable of.

Find out more about Barbara Oakley at: www.barbaraoakley.com

There you'll find out about things such as:

What have you found out about how to learn from Barbara in this interview? How will you apply it to your own learning? Let us know in the comments!

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