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Last Updated on February 25, 2018

Re-learn How to Learn in the Information Age

Re-learn How to Learn in the Information Age

When you scroll through Facebook, you can see posts about simple stretches to relieve back pain, how to make a s’mores, and how to be single and happy. Or if you go on Youtube, you can find gurus talk about makeup tips, or Youtubers teach playing guitar.

But those stretching exercises, the way to make a s’mores, how to be happy being single, how to do a good makeup, and how to play guitar better are things that most people never master doing at the end.

Technology has brought a surplus of information to the world, but it hasn’t made people smarter. The mere exposure to data doesn’t make people better thinkers and learners.

The fact is, most people have never learned how to learn properly.

On average, people spend 50 minutes per day on Facebook alone.[1] Being exposed to information is not the same as internalizing and adapting the knowledge. Even during formal education, students acquire knowledge quickly to write papers and take exams; turning what they learn into wisdom that they can apply throughout their lives is uncommon.

The conventional systems of knowledge acquisition fail to make use of the brain’s potential.[2] Unless we use that information, we’re bound to forget it.

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Taking in Knowledge— Then and Now

How to apply knowledge is different today because it’s easy to expose to a lot of information every day. Traditional learning styles often involved apprenticeship or immediate active application of skills.[3]

If you were trying to learn to ski before the Information Age, you’d likely start by finding an instructor. The experienced skier would help you understand the equipment and act as a guide while you learned the mechanics of the activity. You’d constantly work to apply what you learned by practicing on your own time, the bulk of your learning was done on the slopes. Eventually, you wouldn’t need your instructor, and you’d consider yourself a competent and confident skier.

Today, when you decide that you want to learn to ski, you spend hours perusing the internet for every blog post and article about skiing. You watch videos of people skiing, research the best gear, and join a Facebook group for winter sports enthusiasts.You may feel like an expert in all things ski-related after you dig into these resources, but have you actually learned to ski? There’s a big difference between reading about putting on skis and actually hitting the slopes.

Today, the quality of the knowledge is sacrificed for quantity.

There’s an imbalance between the knowledge we take in and the information that we use.[4] Human brain is working as quickly as it can to send data from the working memory to the long-term memory, but it can’t retain everything.[5]

The chase for more information is thrilling too. The desire to keep up sends most people scrolling through Facebook on a frequent basis. People are plagued by the fear of missing out (FOMO) to the detriment of authentic learning.[6] Most are up to date on sensational stories, and are sharing like mad on Facebook and WhatsApp, but convenient access to knowledge is no replacement for deep learning through effort and concentration. Only very little of the easily-accessed information have people really applied in their lives.

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How to Realistically Absorb and Apply Information

While it’d be perfect to absorb and apply 100% of the information, it’s not quite possible. Perhaps there are a few hyper-productive individuals who can achieve this level of success. But most of us aren’t Albert Einstein, and we’re pressed for time. We have to be pragmatic about how we approach information if we want it to stick.

If you want to hang onto information for the long-haul, you’ll need to be selective about what you choose to absorb. Without a plan, getting information from the internet is like trying to eat the entire buffet in one sitting. Break the overabundance of resources into easily digestible pieces so that you can give the information time to become meaningful to you.

1. Get a brain filter — filter out information that won’t improve you.

Scrolling through the internet is a passive form of knowledge acquisition. The amount of information that we can access is always going to be more than we can process. To filter the information you take in, focus on what you need to improve. What must you learn to be successful? Taking this simple step enables you to pass over unrelated and tangentially-related information.

As you continue to grow your knowledge and skills, you can update the parameters of your filter.

If you return to the skiing example, you establish your filter by deciding what you need to learn about skiing right now. Are you trying to figure out how to put on the skis properly? Do you know how to stop when you’re heading down a slope? If you are working on the fundamentals, it won’t be valuable to spend time learning about advanced tricks. After you’re proficient in the basics, modify your filter so that you continue to grow your skills.

2. Take information into the real world — do what you’ve read to confirm your learning.

Knowledge isn’t useful until you can apply it. If you are trying to learn a new skill, you’ll have to do the things that you’ve read about in your research. Until you’ve made multiple attempts to master the ski-trick you saw on Youtube, you haven’t internalized it. When you can land the trick without thinking or recall information without struggling, it is yours.

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It isn’t always easy to take information from the computer screen into the real world. There’s a fair chance that you are going to fail the first time you attempt something.

When you are learning to ski, you are going to fall. You’ll probably fail to execute a smooth turn, and even when you do succeed, you’ll undoubtedly compare yourself to all the other skiers on the slope that day. Giving up when you fall or allowing your brain to spin a self-defeating narrative keeps you from learning. Making mistakes is a potent part of the learning process.[7]

Practice, get feedback; and practice, and get feedback.

Getting into the habit of applying what you’ve learned is excellent, but there is only so much that you can do on your own. You need the input of others to take your skills to the next level.

You can initiate a feedback loop by performing a self-assessment to take stock of where you are in the learning process, but if you want to make more growth, seek feedback from others.[8]

It is easy to stop at the self-assessment stage and convince yourself that you are doing everything well, but you don’t know what you don’t know. Insights from others can help you determine where you should focus your learning efforts next so that you are always improving.

When you start to build new skills, you may be able to process instructions in the moment, but if you don’t continue to practice, you won’t internalize the knowledge. You’ll have to repeat your actions or process until it becomes second-nature.

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For example, when you learn a new word, you have to go through the slow process of looking it up, repeating the definition, and using it in a sentence several times. If you don’t use the word, you will forget it, but if you use it enough, it comes to mind with ease.

3. Stay alert to what to learn next — avoid wasting time on unnecessary information.

When you target your searches as opposed to mindlessly scrolling, you’ll retain more information.

Take opportunities to reflect on what you have learned along the way. You’ll not only feel better about your progress, but be able to make use of what you already know when you take on a different challenge.

To refer to our skiing example for a final time, imagine that you’ve mastered the basics of movement. You can turn smoothly and stop when you need to. What do you need to learn next? How will the things that you already know about skiing impact the way that you approach new techniques and challenges?

Knowledge Is Not Meant to Be Known, but to Be Applied

To know something deeply, you’ll have to engage with it on a consistent basis while giving yourself plenty of opportunities for self-reflection and objective feedback. Knowledge is cumulative. The greatest minds and most skilled athletes of our time didn’t become that way by scouring social media or reading books — they put in the time to make meaning of their the data that was relevant to their studies.

True learning is not always easy. You’ll experience struggles as you tackle new challenges and wade through the ephemera of the Digital Age. If you can focus your efforts and make deliberate choices about your learning, you can navigate the abundance of resources to make meaningful gains in your life.

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

When you train your brain, you will:

  • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
  • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
  • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

1. Work your memory

Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

For example, say you just met someone new:

“Hi, my name is George”

Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

Got it? Good.

2. Do something different repeatedly

By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

But how does this apply to your life right now?

Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

3. Learn something new

It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

4. Follow a brain training program

The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

5. Work your body

You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

6. Spend time with your loved ones

If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

7. Avoid crossword puzzles

Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

The bottom line

Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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