You know this: continuous learning and improvement are essential to our work and life. But your time is limited and there is only so much you can absorb at a given period. How does one learn faster and more effectively?
If knowledge is power, knowing how to learn effectively is the superpower.
Being able to learn effectively means you can remember the information better and utilize it when you need to. Sounds awesome? Clearly, it doesn’t happen overnight.
However, here are 7 techniques to help you get closer to the superpower you ever wanted. Use them to absorb more information in a short time, understand concepts at a deeper level, and implement what you’ve learned effectively to accomplish success in your own terms.
1. Increase Desirable Difficulty
Like building muscles, the harder you train, the stronger you get. The same goes for learning. The harder your brain has to work to recall a memory, the greater the increase in learning.
This is what separates studying with practicing and testing. Practicing and testing do not equal to studying. They are greater than studying because it requires work to dig out the memory of what you’ve studied and learned.
To learn more effectively, stop avoiding challenges and difficulties. Instead, increase the desirable difficulties so you learn and retain the knowledge better over the long run.
Embrace the fear of failure to take every opportunity in gaining practical experiences and testing yourself regularly.
2. Stop Multitasking
Most people define professional capability with the ability to multitask. The same goes for learning. People think if they can learn multiple things at the same time, they can learn faster.
Truth is, multitasking is an illusion. We think we’re handling many tasks at the same time, but what we are doing is switching from one task to another.
Instead of multitasking, pick one single topic to learn and practice in a set period of time with focus and intensity.
3. Learn to Forget
The conventional learning method taught us to study and learn everything at one-go and blame us when we’re being forgetful.
According to the Forgetting Curve, we forget up to 75% of what we learned in 24 hours and 90% in 30 days without any revision. It’s obvious that the conventional learning method is not the w ay to go.
Fortunately, we can improve retention by a huge degree by revision. And the more we revisit a same material, the more we memorize, the less we forget after a long period of time. So instead of studying everything in one-go, use what known as mental spacing to learn as revise in intervals.
What’s the optimal frequency? It depends on how large and complex the material is and how focus you are during the study. A rule of thumb is to revise a material at least 4 times to retain 90% of it.
4. Improve Your Sleep and Take Naps
Sleep plays an essential role in our cognitive development, which includes learning. While your brain sleeps, the flow of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain increases and clears out harmful toxins built up during your waking hours.
To improve your learning ability, make sure you get enough high-quality sleep every day. Here are 3 quick tips:
- Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per day
- Optimize your room to be dark, quiet, and cool
- Sleep and wake up at the same time every day including weekends.
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If you have the time flexibility, try taking 30 to 60 minutes nap after lunch. Naps are sleeping too.
5. Make Use of the Environment
Our environment shapes our behavior more than we think or like to admit. The same goes for learning, the environment plays an important role. You can use this in two ways.
First, the environment we study and practice becomes the trigger when we’re performing. If you’re practicing for a performance, for example giving a speech, practice it in the same environment where you’re going to perform. Doing this makes practicing easier as it goes and it translates into the actual performance as well.
You can also use the environment to exposes yourself to multiple contexts when you’re learning a new concept or practicing a new skill. This helps your brain to make more connections and expand the range of mental triggers for that particular concept or skill.
6. Simplify and Teach What You Learn
Learning is not all about memorizing. Often, the best way to learn a complicated concept or subject is to simplify it. If you can’t simplify it, you don’t understand it.
Richard Feynman is a Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist and known as “The Great Explainer” for his ability to relay complex ideas to others in simple, intuitive ways. Most of us may not be a scientist, but his technique, known as the Feynman Technique, in doing so is useful and applicable in anything we want to learn.
First, choose a concept and study it. Then try to teach it, not to an expert, but to a toddler. This eases off the pressure to get everything right and helps you to revise the concept you just learned in your own words.
By this time, you’ve revised what you have already known and the process helped reveal and pinpoint the areas that you don’t fully understand. Now, fill the gaps by reviewing the materials again. Repeat this process until you can explain the chosen concept in your own simple vocabularies.
7. Get Away from an Unsolved Problem
When you’re stuck with an unsolved problem, instead of working harder, try to leave it alone and go do something else.
Getting away from an unsolved problem doesn’t mean to give up. Instead, you’re giving the brain space it needs to tap into the incubation mode to solve the problem. In the incubation mode, your subconscious mind solves the problem by picking up clues from the environment (that you missed) and breaking fixed assumptions.
Start diving into a big project head first and stop when you get stuck. You’re not quitting, but to let your powerful mind to do its work — learning about the problem from new angles and generating a solution with the newfound insights.
There are endless ways to improve the meta-skill of knowing how to learn effectively. However, there is one mindset you need to embed into your mind before all of that:
Avoid being the smartest person in the room.
I’m not asking you to hang around with only smart people. Instead, I’m asking you to not fall prey into the Dunning-Kruger Effect and consider yourself seen all and known all.
Stay open-minded, stay curious, and try the 7 learning techniques by yourself today.