What is learning how to learn

What is learning how to learn? Discover the secret of effective learning.

The question, “What is learning how to learn?” has been asked by educators, students, and business people for decades. Learning how to learn means engaging in learning techniques and methods, practicing them, and applying this knowledge to improve learning performance. It is a skill that can be learned and developed over time.

Learning is not as a complex process as you could imagine. If you want to be successful in school, university, at work, or training sessions, you should consider mastering the techniques that can make learning easier and more effective. There are many different ways to memorize information and to improve your learning skills. In this article, you will be provided with some of the most common learning techniques. You will get to know: What is learning how to learn?

Focused and Diffuse modes

There are two different ways of thinking. These are Focused and Diffuse modes.  We know how to focus. It’s when you focus your attention on something you want to comprehend or learn.

In order to master a subject or make progress on a challenging project, it is necessary to switch between focused and diffuse modes. In order to do this, you must understand the difference between the two. A focus mode requires fixed awareness while a diffuse mode helps your mind wander. It is crucial to know the difference between the two modes and to be able to analyze them in order to make the most efficient use of your time.

Unfortunately, it is not common for people to think in diffuse mode. This more relaxed thought process is something we need to practice. But first, let’s understand how it works. We’re going to use the game of pinball as a way to help us understand these two types of thinking. 

Focused Thinking vs Diffuse Thinking

So, imagine that this is your brain, facing up with the pinball machine lineup. For the “focused” mode the bumpers are all very close together. You can see a red pattern at the top. It shows a common way of thinking. People might think about some sort of calculation, or they might think about how the electric motor works. Your thought is represented by a red ball on the diagram. And boom, the red ball takes off and moves quickly. This is how you can figure out what you’re trying to do or understand while it’s moving around on the bumpers. But as you can see, the pattern is limited to a few bumpers only and that represents the focus area.

What if the issue you’re trying to solve requires fresh ideas or approaches? Concepts you’ve never considered. That’s shown in the lower portion of the pinball machine location, but you can’t see any pattern there. You are not familiar with the pattern if you’ve never explored it. How will this fresh idea be developed? Any new pattern created will always be focused on a small area. It is because all the rubber bumpers that are obstructing your path in every direction you choose to travel in prevent you from going further. You need a new style of thinking in order to reach this new wider mindset.

Look at the diffuse mode visual representation. You can see how far apart the bumpers are. Look at how thought spreads out and bounces around. It may go quite a distance before being stopped by a bumper. You may look at things generally from a totally different, large picture viewpoint in this diffuse manner of thinking. You may create new brain connections as you walk along new paths.

You can’t always concentrate as intensely as you need to finish any form of problem-solving. At least you can go to the point where you can begin to narrow down the problem.

Differences between the modes can also be easily understood using light.

Focused Thinking vs Diffuse Thinking

Focused thought produces a narrow, accurate light beam. It focuses intense light on a narrow zone. That is concentrating on one specific activity.

Diffuse thinking widens and spreads the beam. The light isn’t as brilliant and you can’t see that much detail, but you can view a wider range. So effectively, you may also view the context – the larger picture that surrounds that specific issue which you are concentrating on.

Main differences
examples where used

Focused Thinking
Main differences
Narrow and targeted


Single-task concentration

Generate solutions to a specific area

examples where used
Writing an article

Practicing a specific part of the game

Resolving specific math problem

Diffuse Thinking
Main differences
Broad and conceptual


Relaxed and strategic

Uncovers new ideas and concepts

examples where used
Thinking about the topic of the article

Playing the whole game

Pondering math while taking a walk

Focused thinking benefits

To be focused, you need to sit down and concentrate on something. Focused thought activates the part of the brain, the region of the brain that governs attention, memory, decision-making, and problem-solving.

Effective mode if you’re focused on one task at a time. A single-task concentration narrows the attention of the brain, making it more capable of focusing on that one thing. If you’re attempting to perform many tasks at once, it will take you longer than if you focus on one at a time.

With appropriate attention to the task, you will produce higher quality with fewer mistakes.

Tasks that you need to be focused on are becoming easy and later are made by your subconscious. Think about learning to ride a bike. When you start you need to be focused on every move you are doing to keep the balance and stay on track. Once learned, your subconscious is doing the work for you.

Being focused will help you in achieving your professional goals. Remember to avoid any distractions and try to be focused on one task at a time. This approach will let you produce the best results possible.

Diffuse thinking benefits

The use of diffuse thinking methods has many benefits, including the ability to access pathways of thought that are not easily accessed by focused modes of thinking.

Diffuse thinking considers the larger picture. In contrast to focused thinking, is all about interruptions. When you allow your thoughts to roam naturally, you’re engaging in diffuse thinking.  The diffuse way of thinking occurs across the brain, not just in one region. That is, in fact, the beauty of diffuse mode. It allows your brain to make the connection in a wider range. The outcome of this process results in more innovative and creative solutions. 

Developing the ability to think in a diffuse mode is a powerful skill and one of the most powerful tools for solving problems. Diffuse thinking is the best way to develop creative ideas, as your mind wanders freely and links neural processes. This way of thinking is very similar to what happens when you are using a phone with background apps. While they are not the center of attention, they are still doing their work. The diffuse mode is a great way to develop new ideas and connections.

The diffuse mode is a relaxed state of thinking. It’s ideal for thinking about abstract concepts and connecting the understanding of different disciplines. It’s not associated with any particular part of the brain but is connected to all areas of the brain. Thomas Edison, a famous inventor, used a ball bearing to wake him up when he’d been dozing off.

The Diffuse method of working is best used before going to bed. The process of forming new ideas in the Diffuse mode can help you avoid the negative effects of the Einstellung Effect. If you use the Diffuse mode before bed, you can easily make your mind go into a deep, relaxed state.

Diffuse thinking is a form of higher-level thinking where your thoughts are dispersed in various directions. It is a more efficient way of approaching problems because you can use a wider view.

Learning how to learn diffuse thinking is an effective tool for creative problem-solving. You’ll be able to connect ideas from different directions, even if you have no idea how to think differently.

How to access Diffuse Mode?

Unlock your Diffuse Mode

Diffuse thinking usually occurs when you are doing something else. It can be activated in situations that do not require explicit concentration. As a result, having gone for a run or taking a shower might lead to a significant discovery. One important condition needs to be met. Your mind needs to be relaxed. Then, your brain may develop an innovative workable solution or finally connect concepts that have been escaping you.

Specifically, when you’re going to sleep, you’re in this mode. It can be helpful for people stuck on a problem. If you can think about a solution before you go to sleep, you’ll highly likely be able to solve it the next day. Additionally, during the night, your mind stores information more effectively, so you’ll be able to apply it better the next day.

Effective use of focused and diffuse modes

These two approaches may seem to be mutually exclusive, yet they are necessary if you want to master a subject or make significant progress on a challenging task. After all, when you’re trying to learn anything you need to know how to use both of them. As a result, focused and diffuse modes are key elements of the learning process how to learn.

The greatest method to learn a topic or tackle a challenging issue is to alternate between focused and diffuse mode.

We can begin by focusing our attention on the fundamentals of a subject without allowing ourselves to get distracted. Afterward, we utilize diffuse thinking to gradually absorb what we’ve learned and relate it to other information we already have in our heads. Re-entering focused mode thereafter, we prioritize the connections we created to the most beneficial ones.

You can also start with diffuse mode. So, you’re thinking about a new idea or strategical solution, but without deep dive into the details. After you have a good concept in your head because of diffuse thinking, you can switch into focused mode. You will then start thinking about more specific items that need to happen to get your strategic plan working.

It is important to leverage the balance between focused on diffuse modes. Too much-focused thinking may lead to being stuck with a topic. Step back, relax and let diffuse mode run. On the other hand, too much diffuse thinking will prevent you from figuring out the details of your new idea or solution.

Famous people who used Diffuse thinking

Learning how to learn is not something new. Famous inventors have learned and put into practice some of the most effective learning methods.

People say Edison used to sit in his chair and hold ball bearings in his hand. He would let his mind run wild, but it would often drift back to what he was thinking about before in a far more relaxed manner. When Edison fell asleep, the ball bearings would fall creating a noise. This would wake Edison up, and he’d go off with his new ideas. These new concepts were from the diffuse mode, ready to move them into the focused mode. In there he got them fine-tuned and used to put his ideas into reality. 

What is Chunking?

Chunking is a popular technique for enhancing short-term memory. In short-term memory, the typical human can only manage seven bits of information at a time.

This strategy involves breaking a component down into smaller “chunks” of related information. This technique also helps people learn faster and retain the information they have been learning.

When a long, continuous session is split up into smaller, more manageable chunks, students retain more information. If you’re technical, you may think of chunking as a compression mechanism on your computer that enables huge picture or video files to take up less memory on your device.

You may divide a large diagram into several smaller diagrams or show one graphic at a time rather than putting several graphics in the same diagram. This is breaking a complicated presentation into simple chunks that the learner can absorb the information quicker with less effort. 

Imagine a phone number you need to remember. Would you learn it in one sequence or as chunks of information?


In bite-sized bits, rather than learning as a continuous lecture, the important data is much less likely to be overwhelmed the learner’s working memory. 

You can make chunks by practicing, making solid memory traces, and so on. The path to becoming an expert is built step by step. Small chunks can grow into bigger ones, and all of the knowledge you gain helps you think more creatively as you become an expert on the subject. Before we go on, we should say that practice and repetition in developing chunks isn’t enough to be a real expert on the topic you are learning. But no doubt, you can make your brain work more efficiently by cutting things up into smaller chunks.

Path of effective learning

Learning path

Learning how to learn is a process. So, let’s put theory into practice. We’ll use online learning as an example due to its worldwide popularity among students. The objective of this simple but effective path is to:

  • Stay on track with learning progress
  • Absorb the necessaary knowledge with understanding
  • Pass the certification exams
  • Utilize the learned skills at work

1. If you’re not yet decided on your learning direction, use diffuse thinking to help you decide on your strategic career planning. Relax, and uncover your desires, new ideas, and concepts for your future career. What career direction would you like to take. What are you good at? Think broad with no limits. Put your ideas into the structured career development plan.

2. Look for classes that use effective and simple teaching methods. Learning material should be designed in easy-to-absorb chunks of knowledge. If you’re interested in Hi-Tech subjects you can consider the following e-Learning platforms:


3. Choose between scheduled live online sessions and self-paced classes based on your preferences and time availability.

4. Learn How To Succeed with Online Classes?

5. On your learning journey, use focused and diffuse modes and alternate between them.

  • During the training session focus your attention on the subjects without distractions. Make notes. Actively participate in workshops. If you have the possibility, ask the questions.
  • After the training session, alternate to diffuse mode. Take a walk or seat on the sofa, relax and gradually absorb what you’ve learned. Consolidate all the chunks in one diffuse mode. Think about the practical use of the gained knowledge at the workplace. Consider all potential gaps you’d like to clarify, try to get new ideas to cover these gaps.
  • In self-paced training sessions, you can change to diffuse mode at any time you need to think in a larger perspective. You just pause the session, relax and meditate about what you have just learned.
  • Later you discuss your new ideas, concepts, or unsolved doubts with the instructor on the next day of the training or using discussion forums


In this article, we’ve been trying to explain what is learning how to learn. To deliver the best learning experience in the easiest possible way, we have presented proven methods of focused and diffuse modes supported with chunking. These techniques can be used effectively by both young students and busy adults. The only limitation is your willingness to learn and your perseverance to achieve your goal. Simply, make it possible.

Make it possible

Learning is the key to success. Don’t waste your time. Never stop learning.

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