How we Learn – Stanislas Dehaene

Book Review, to purchase the book click here
Book notes: How we learn by Stanislas Dehaeane

The book is very well written and informational and is divided into equal parts theory and practice. 


Algorithms of learning, brain anatomy involved with learning and applications of neuroscience for artificial intelligence development. I found the science covered in the theoretical part of the book interesting but heavy. Most of my notes and the insights I share here were found in the practical part of the book.


How different factors impact learning in people of all ages, how we can optimize the learning of our youth and how we can use what we know about the brain to create artificial intelligence. The knowledge provided about how we learn and how it relates to artificial intelligence in this part was very interesting. Furthermore, the information is very applicable to how we can learn and teach children more effectively. 


It is obvious from reading this book that we need to reorganize our schools and pay special attention to the progress that students are making. Rather than simply pushing children along as they age; they should advance based on the rate at which they are learning. Some people learn faster, while others learn slower, but all are capable of learning the same material as long as they are properly engaged. 

I was a fast learner when it came to mathematics and science at a young age but very slow when it came to learning languages. This does not mean I am incapable of learning languages. It just means that I was being taught at an inappropriate level. 

I transferred from a French school to an English one in grade 7. This shift caused me to be frustrated in English class because it was too difficult and bored in French class because it was too easy. My grades suffered as a result. 

Lower grades also lowered my self-esteem and made me feel that I was simply “bad at English”. The author illustrates quite well that no one is “bad at English”, or math, or whatever the subject at hand might be. 

He does say, however, that some people that are slower at learning certain things and faster at learning others. I am one of those people and I imagine we all are in some respects. Moderating the rate of learning at a student level could drastically improve their performance.

Why grades are bad and tests are good.

The author makes very good points explaining this contradiction. Grades tend to be given periodically and have little impact on the path the student will take. The feedback that they provide is essentially useless because by the time report cards are handed out, it is already too late to change anything. 

Tests and quizzes on the other hand are a very valuable means of engaging students and assessing their progress. They provide immediate feedback as to the student’s knowledge while forcing them to engage with the information they have learned. 


Implementing the knowledge to be obtained from this book, in particular for teachers or parents of young children could vastly increase their ability to learn. It is also relevant to anyone interested in learning new things.

The most important thing when learning something new is: you must learn at a rate that is somewhat challenging. Too easy is boring while too hard is frustrating. Finding the Goldilock zone of learning will optimize learning by keeping students engaged. 

Learning research has evolved significantly since the beginning of the industrial revolution. It is time that educational systems all over the world do the same. For now, all we can do is hope that teachers gain access to books like this one and integrate the information into their lessons.

I foresee a future where digital technologies will have an ever-growing role in the education of children. It is important that this technology be implemented to optimize students’ ability to learn, rather than hinder it. The technology could be used so that every student is learning at their optimal rate maximizing their engagement, therefore, optimizing their learning.

Listening to the book

I listened to the book as an audiobook. The information is valuable and not dependent on the format in which it is delivered. While it can be a bit hard to focus on the heavy science aspects of the book; the general message is clear. One benefit of a physical book would be that it would have been more suitable for the taking of notes.


I have here provided my opinion on the insights I gained from listening to this book. It is by no means a complete list of those insights. I would strongly suggest to anyone interested in the science of learning that they pick up a copy of this book and give it a read or a listen, whichever you prefer.

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