Ultralearning: Takeaways

Scott Young describes in Ultralearning the strategy behind his own learning challenges, like “MIT Challenge in 1 year” and “A year without English.” Let’s learn what Ultralearning is all about. These are my takeaways.

Ultralearning is a self-directed and intense strategy to learn any subject. Ultralearning projects help to advance careers or excel at a particular subject. Ultralearning is a perfect alternative to traditional learning methods.

1. Before starting

Before starting an ultralearning project, answer why, what, and how you are going to ultralearn.


First, identify why you’re learning a subject and the effect you want to achieve. Are you learning the subject to get a specific result? Are you driven only by curiosity?

For example, are you learning to code to get a promotion? Or do you want to learn a new language to go on a trip? Those are two different motivations.


Next, determine the concepts, facts, and procedures you need to learn.

For example, learning vocabulary and expressions are facts when learning a foreign language. But pronunciation is procedural.


After answering Why and What, select your resources. Spend about 10% of your learning time doing research. Use this research time to find how people are learning that subject.

Look for syllabi of courses, textbooks, boot camps, and experts in that field. Filter what won’t help you to achieve your goal.

Library collection
Find how people are learning your study subject. Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

2. During

Learn in context

Learning should be in the context where those skills will be applied. It’s doing the thing you want to get good at where most of the learning happens. For example, solve problem sets instead of watching lectures and learn a language through conversations instead of vocabulary lists.

Try project-based learning and immerse learning. For example, learn how to create a website in a month or go on a trip to learn a new language.

Prefer short study sessions

Spread shorter study sessions over a long period. Find a balance between long study sessions on a single topic and shorter sessions on different subjects. It’s better to have shorter sessions, between 15 minutes and an hour.

If you find yourself procrastinating, follow the 5-minute rule: start and sustain for 5 minutes. Also, you can try the Pomodoro technique: spread 25-minute practice sessions between 5-minute breaks.

Time Timer Watch
Photo by Ralph Hutter on Unsplash

Identify bottlenecks

Identify the bottleneck components in your learning. Separate your skill into sub-skills. And practice each sub-skill. Imagine a musician who practices tricky parts of a piece in isolation and then practices everything.

Recall instead of concept mapping

Recalling is better than concept maps and passive note reviewing. Recall concepts and facts. Your memory is a leaky bucket. Try space-repetition software or flashcards. After watching a lecture, write all you can remember. When practicing, avoid using your resources.

Voilà! Those are my takeaways from the Ultralearning book. It changed how I approach learning. Instead of overloading my brain with information, I start by creating a plan and list of learning resources.

For more learning content, check my takeaways from Pragmatic Thinking and Learning, one of my favorite books on the subject, and my advice on starting an Ultralearning project to become a Software Engineer.

Happy ultralearning!