Skip to content

Study productivity and diffuse learning [technique]

    Do you know that diffuse learning is important to increasing study productivity.

    How many times have you been working on some thing but not really concentrating?

    After spending 3 hours for example and coming out of it like nothing is done.

    Those 3 hours may probably have been constant with distraction from the notification alerts from your smartphone.

    I want to help you drastically improve your study productivity.

    But in order to do that, let’s talk about the brain behavior first.

    YouTube video

    Why your brain wants you to procrastinate

    For a lot of students, studying is joyless.

    I don’t blame you, because many schools and teachers take the joy out of education.

    Then couple that to doing something fun like checking the phone during study time.

    The brain begin sending out dopamine. The pleasure neurotransmitter. Or the neurotransmitter of ADDICTION.

    It becomes a positive feedback. And you want to check your phone more and more.

    That brewing right there is procrastination.

    Studying is joyless and the procrastination feels awesome. So, it is no wonder the brain will choose the latter every time.

    Unfortunately, for a student that is disastrous making studying unproductive.

    How to improve studying productivity

    Instead of focusing on pain, make the brain’s attention go somewhere else!

    And this is the most important reason why the Pomodoro study technique works.

    The technique diverts the brain to thinking about time avoiding thoughts about pain.

    In doing so, helps the student steer away from finding something else more fun. This also means switching off the phone notifications during the period.

    Below is a great summary of the technique.

    diffuse learning pomodoro

    After implementing this for my students, many comment about how productive they become.

    To sustain it, I tell them to keep focusing on the positive thoughts.This is because it will help them achieve more sessions.

    In the other hand, it is also important to keep negative thoughts out during the 25 minutes.

    Consequently, I tell my students to NOT focus on the items they need to complete. And to trust that increasing productivity will lead to completion.

    This way, my students find even more success with the study technique.

    What do I do in the 5 minutes? Diffuse learning!

    In the 5 minutes of break, DON’T study.

    The idea behind the break is that it gives time to the brain to rest after an intensive period. As well as getting you ready for the next 25 minutes.

    This can be a short walk, nap, shower, stretch, drink. Anything except what you have been doing in the 25 minutes previously.

    Do anything to take your mind off the 5 minutes.

    Most importantly, during this period of time, your brain is doing another form of learning.

    It’s diffuse learning.

    What is diffuse learning?

    Remember the time when you just cannot find a solution to a problem and went go to bed instead? Then the next day miraculously have a solution? That is diffuse learning in action.

    This is a pattern many educators are beginning to see of utmost importance to learning and successful exam-taking.

    Let’s start by talking a bit more about the Singapore-Cambridge A level exams first.

    The exam is hard.

    So how do the examiners make it hard? By introducing new scenarios students are unlikely to encounter in school.

    Despite that, they are frequently solvable using basic concepts that one learns from the classes.

    The problem is that many educators do not teach the application skills and scold students for not applying.

    This eventually results in frustration at both sides.

    Unfortunately, studying harder will not result in any improvement. And Babara Oakley, a professor from Oakland University explains this very clearly.

    Focus and diffuse learning

    There are actually 2 different types of learning taking place.

    Focus mode of learning happens during learning of facts. And subsequently neural connections establishes in a part of the brain that helps to transfer this to memory.

    When a student encounters an exam question that is a direct recall of the very same facts, an area lights up. And an answer comes to the student.

    This is in essence focus learning/exam-taking in action.

    When the student is given an unfamiliar scenario in A level exams on the other hand, the same area doesn’t light up.

    When students stare at the question therefore, nothing will come up.

    The very act of ditching everything and going to bed, is an example of diffuse learning. The other way that we learn.

    Students have to move away from focusing to anything else. This allows the brain to survey the landscape of what concepts it can harvest information from so as to answer the question given.

    This in essence is the solution for students who want to problem solve during exams. Or during study periods when they are trying to figure out the difficult concepts.

    Let me repeat this again. If students want to solve problems they have to NOT focus on it!

    This can occur during the 5 minutes in the Pomodoro technique mentioned earlier.

    Unfortunately teachers who are not aware of the modes of learning continue to drone on the importance of focus learning.

    Instead of helping students develop the diffuse learning, they start to teach more.

    Expanding their coverage every year to include the new scenario that appears in the exams. Overwhelming students and creating immense stress.

    Focus and diffuse learning: what I do

    I am from the camp of teaching the man how to fish rather than giving him fish.

    So part of my curriculum is to focus on helping my students get into diffuse mode of learning. As I try edge my students towards successful exam performance.

    One of the things I do is to give lists to my students and ask them to write poems from it. Something that is corroborated by Prof V.S. Ramachandran towards the end of the interview here.

    This is a very fun thing for me to do. Reading my students submissions even though they complain about it.

    In fact many of them are very poignant. And I feel all their emotions. Their angst.

    And so I am presenting one of them here.

    The list assigned was connect 1 thing the students know to be true and 1 concept in A level biology. Tip of my hat to my student Ryan Tan Tze Wang and also for graciously allowing me to post this original work.

    Diffuse learning in exercise

    Survival of the Fittest
    Our basest of desires was once merely the passing of our genes,
    but since we passed the caveman years,
    there’s another primal dream.

    “Buy a bungalow! Make more money! Secure a spouse before thirty!
    You don’t want to reach that dreaded menopause too early!”

    And to that I say “Pah!
    Achieving material gain is fine,
    but even the most gorgeous Ferrari will not survive the test of time.”

    Like the lytic cycle,
    reproduction is effective, yet primitive and bland:
    degrade the host DNA, synthesis viral proteins,
    and then I’ll lyse the host when I can!

    So friends and countrymen!
    Lend me your ears!
    We shouldn’t aim to live on through the next generation.
    Instead, be remembered through our words, our thoughts, our actions
    that surpass the realm of procreation.

    Curie, Lincoln, Luther King- are all names you know!
    Remembering their deeds as if they didn’t live hundreds of years ago.

    Like the lysogenic cycle, they bide their time,
    letting their influence permeate,
    until the annals of history sing their praises,
    which out-live any offspring they create.

    But you retort “Ensuring legacy is your opinion,
    hardly a proven fact!
    You hammer us across the head with the concept,
    without any tact!”

    Of course! Continue on your merry way
    after all, you reap what you sow.
    But when my poem joins the ranks of Frost, Angelou, and Shakespeare,
    then I’ll let you know!

    Diffuse learning: bottomline

    I hope you enjoyed it as much as I do.
    The stories I weave as I tell my students what to do.

    Hoping that next year they come back to me triumphant and proud.
    With the A level cert in hand crying out loud.

    That all the effort was worth it getting to this point.
    And nothing can erase the memories of how we all engrossed with the ‘checkpoint’.

    Read my other posts