How to Learn About Meta-Learning: My Resource List

Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime. - Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie

I’ve quoted different sources in my articles. My understanding of various topics is partial at best, downright wrong at worst. A lot could go wrong: I misunderstood the source or you misunderstood my words. Trusting credible sources like books and research papers is always better than trusting some stranger on the Internet. At the very least, I’d like to think that I’ve read and researched enough to separate the wheat from the chaff such that this list is useful. Regardless, if you want a more complete and deeper understanding about meta-learning, here’s my reading list.

All items are in descending order of importance and all are non-affiliate links.

Research Paper

1. Improving Students' Learning With Effective Learning Techniques

I consider this the most fundamental research paper if you’re interested in what the science says about effective and efficient learning. I’ve cited its content a lot. If you’re reading it from a SRS (Spaced Repetition Software) perspective, you’ll get a glimpse of why it’s so effective at promoting learning.

General Books

1. Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning

I couldn’t recommend this book more. The content is totally relevant; stories are engaging; explanations are plain and easy to understand. I got started into this whole meta-learning journey largely due to this book.

2. Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career

The author Scott Young is the guy who finished the “MIT Challenge” (without going to college by studying on his own). The content is accessible and insight valuable. In my mind, his definition of “ultra-learning” is broader than meta-learning, so you may consider meta-learning being a part of “ultra-learning”. And probably because of this, it’s not as directly relevant as “Make It Stick”: its focus is more on the “hard side” of meta-learning: retrieval practice, distributed practice, interleaved practice, whereas “Ultra-Learning” also includes the “soft side”: your learning system, productivity and mentality.

3. A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science

This is the book from the “How to Learn” Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). I read this book before the course existed. Although I’ve not taken the course, if you want to take the course instead of reading the book, my guess is that they’re pretty similar in terms of content.

4. How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens

This is like another version of “Make It Stick” but from different perspectives.

5. Why Don’t Students Like School?

Same as above. I was actually put off by the title because I thought it was a rant about the education system; but it turned out it was about how to learn as well. Here’s a great review of this book from Scott Young: Seven Principles of Learning Better From Cognitive Science

6. Understanding How We Learn: A Visual Guide

The book is full of infographs and easy-to-digest content. I’ve yet to finish it.

7. Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything

If you want a book on memory, this is it. By memory I mean the typical notions of and subjects about memory like “how to remember faces and random strings of digits, memory systems like the PEG system or PAO system, memory palace” but not necessarily about promoting understaning or comprehension. In other words, it’s about “raw memory” like memorizing a whole German dictionary without (necessarily) knowing German. Highly engaging stories and provide a good background of “memory history” like the story of S and the origin story of memory palace.

8. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise

This book is brought to you by the researcher who coined the term “deliberate practice”. In terms of relevancy of “what to do with the textbook in front of me”, not really. It’s geared towards mastery of physical skills like sports or musical instruments, not not to become fluid in Spanish or how to learn history. There are relevant aspects to them but not as direct as the above books. To me it’s more about learning the mindset towards learning, to develop a “meta-learning mindset”.

9. Powerful Teaching: You don’t need to be a teacher or educator to benefit from this book (I’m not). Teaching is very closely related to learning. Teachers play the role of guidance like a lighthouse; if you don’t have the luxury of a proper guidance on learning how to learn (most don’t), then you can Do-It-Yourself one and learn to be your own guide. This book shows you the thought-process to do so properly.

Technical Books

PS: I’ve only finished the first one. I’m still Incrementally Reading the others.

1. Learning as a Generative Activity: Eight Learning Strategies that Promote Understanding

The technical equivalence of “Make It Stick”. First recommendation in this category. I consider this a much deeper dive into the above research paper.

2. Applying the Science of Learning

A short technical book by the same author from “The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning”. Short and sweet. The target audience is educators but content is still relevant for self-learners.

3. Successful Remembering and Successful Forgetting

Largely a collection from Robert A. Bjork, the father of “retrieval strength” and “storage strength”.

4. The Oxford Handbook of Metamemory

One of the editors, John Dunlosky, is one of the authors of the research paper I mentioned above. This tome is over 500 pages long. Very technical and theory-oriented.


1. Okay this one is biased.

2. Gwern’s Spaced Repetition for Efficient Learning

Where Do I Begin?

Suggestion: the first item from each list

Make It Stick –> Improving Students' Learning With Effective Learning Techniques –> Learning As A Generative Activity

80/20 principle: If you’ve read Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques and Make It Stick, you’ve gained the hypothetical 80% (because one can never finish learning how to learn).

If you only have time for one resource, it’s Make It Stick. Hands down, no question. There are people who would give out a specific book for free because it’s changed his or her life so much. If I do the same it’d be this book. Reading this book will give you 80% of all the knowledge you need on how to learn and study effectively and efficiently. This book accumulates decades' worth of research on cognitive psychology and also is the follow-up of the paper Improving Students' Learning With Effective Learning Techniques.

Let me know if you have any other favorite learning resources. I might add it to the list!