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Last Updated on September 2, 2019

7 Most Important Cognitive Skills for Fast and Successful Learning

7 Most Important Cognitive Skills for Fast and Successful Learning

One of the biggest problems with the traditional education model is it works on the premise that one size fits all. As we now know, a one size fits all does not work well in a universal education system.[1] Everybody learns differently.

At the basic level, there are 4 learning types: visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinaesthetic and each of us are dominant in one or more of these types.

  • Visual learners learn better in an environment where there are a lot of visual stimuli. These people often have what is commonly called “photographic memories” where they see an image or a page of text and from the visual cues memorise whatever it is they see.
  • Auditory learners learn best when they can hear and listen to the subject they are learning. These people thrive in lecture halls, using podcasts and audiobooks.
  • Reading/writing learners find reading and writing out what they learn a better way to learn.
  • Kinaesthetic learners need to be doing. Tell teaching or textbooks do not stimulate their brain’s learning centres, instead, they need to be doing whatever they are learning. These people do well in school science labs or in the art or woodwork rooms. Here they can practice what they learn in real time.

However, on top of these basic learning types, there are also cognitive skills which are related to the way our brain processes information. There are 5 primary cognitive skills: reading, learning, remembering, logical reasoning, and paying attention. Each of these can be utilized in a way that helps us become better at learning new skills and developing ourselves.

Understanding where we are strong and where we are weak helps us improve what we learn and how we learn. For example, most people find that when they learn something new at a workshop and don’t apply that learning to a real situation soon after the workshop, whatever they learned is soon forgotten. This is part of the cognitive skill of remembering and being able to translate what you learned to a practical situation (logical reasoning).

One of the advantages we have over our ancestors is the almost limitless access we have to free education. Websites such as ted.com, YouTube and millions of web pages on Google give us limitless possibilities. You can learn anything from how to polish shoes and tidy your house to quantum physics, and applied mathematics.

No matter what it is you want to learn, you can learn it. However, with those almost limitless possibilities, you will not learn anything effectively unless you know and understand what kind of learner you are.

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So, to help you become more effective at learning, here are 5 ways you can use your natural learning type with cognitive skills:

1. Discover Your Dominant Learning Style

This will appear obvious once you start to think about the way you naturally learn.

For example, whenever I want to learn something new, I will begin on YouTube. I am a very visual person and I need to see how to do something.

Recently, I have been learning how to fold clothes the Marie Kondo way. I regularly have an item of clothing on the table and Marie Kondo on YouTube ‘showing’ me how to fold. What I am doing is taking my naturally dominant visual and kinaesthetic learning style and applying the cognitive skill of logical reasoning to learn the best method for folding clothes.

A two-minute video of Marie Condo folding a tee-shirt while I am following the instructions ensures I am internalizing and applying the correct method to fold a tee-shirt.

2. Experiment with Different Channels of Learning

If you are not sure what kind of learner you are, then experiment.

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Take a subject you want to learn and start off by reading around the subject. Then watch a video or lecture on the subject. After that, apply the knowledge you have learned.

For example, if you were to improve your presentation skills, you could do a simple Google search for an article about the top ten ways to improve your presentation skills, read that, and then do a similar search on YouTube. After you have read the article and watched the video, apply your new knowledge to your next presentation. That way you reinforce the knowledge you learned and internalise your new skill and you also discover which learning points you remembered more readily.

3. Practice Focused Work

One of the weakest cognitive skills for most people is the ability to pay attention. In a world where we are being distracted and interrupted multiple times a day, it is very difficult to stay focused on what we need to stay focused on. Teaching ourselves to be comfortable with our phones turned off and all the notification on our computers off is one of the best ways to strengthen your attention skills.

You do not have to go all day with your phone and notifications off. All you need do is turn everything off for set periods of time each day. Likewise, if you are in a meeting or training course, turn off your phone completely while you are in a session. These days, facilitators understand the need for people to be in contact with the outside world so there are regular breaks for you to catch up with messages and important emails.

Learn more about practicing focused work in this article:

17 Ways Deep Work Will Help Wipe Out Modern Distractions and Refocus

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4. Seek as Many Different Ways You Can to Take Advantage of Your Preferred Learning Style

To help reinforce your new knowledge, do not rely on just one way to practice your new skill.

For example, if you have spent some time learning how to write better emails, then apply your new learning by writing a journal, or writing a blog. Both a journal and a blog do not have to be published, you can keep them private. What you are doing is applying your new writing skills in a variety of different ways which strengthens your brain’s capacity for flexibility and allows for a larger scope where your new skills can be applied.

5. Reinforce Your Knowledge by Reviewing What You Learned in Your Less Dominant Learning Style

While we all have a preferred learning style, it is wise to review your new skills in a different way. If you are a visual person and you have devoured every chart, image and infographic you can about your new skill, then find a written article or book on the subject and read that.

The more ways you study your new skill, the faster you internalize the skill itself. Doing this helps your brain to ‘fill in the missing gaps’ of what you have learned and strengthens your knowledge.

While our dominant learning style will always be the best way to learn, we still need our less dominant way of learning to help with the retention and deeper learning required to really master a skill.

6. Apply Your New Knowledge in a Practical Way

This works on the principle that if you don’t use it, you lose it.

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Think back to your foreign language classes at school. Most people very quickly forget the new language if they do not use it consistently after they have learnt it. Even with your native language, you might learn a new word or phrase, but if you never find a need to use that word, you soon find you cannot remember it.

Our brain’s neurones need regular exercise. Without it, like a muscle, they shrivel and die.

7. Use Your New Skill as Quickly as Possible

Imagine you were to attend a sales training workshop. On day one, you learn about meet and greet and asking questions. At the end of that first day, practice what you learned. On the way home, start a conversation with a stranger on the bus or train. Alternatively, if you call at the supermarket on your way home, talk to the cashier and practice asking them questions.

The important part of doing this is you are strengthening the learning process. What your brain has now done is taken something you learned in theory and applied that to a real situation in a practical way. You can adjust the theory to fit better with your personality and very quickly asking questions becomes almost natural.

This strategy works with almost any new skill you learn. When I learned to drive a car, my instructor taught me to hold the steering wheel at the ten minutes to two position. I found that position uncomfortable and after passing the test, I found myself more comfortable holding the steering wheel at fifteen minutes to three. Much more comfortable for me. Changing the way I hold the steering wheel does not prevent me from driving in the correct, but it just works better for me.

The Bottom Line

When you apply the science of learning to the skills you want to learn, you increase the chances of succeeding at learning. It also speeds up the learning process as you are naturally developing the parts of your brain that learn the fastest.

Over time as your skills grow, you can deepen the learning by reviewing different ways of developing the skill.

More Resources About Effective Learning

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity?

More by this author

Carl Pullein

Dedicated to helping people to achieve their maximum potential through better time management and productivity.

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Published on November 18, 2019

7 Simple Note Taking Techniques for Efficient Learning

7 Simple Note Taking Techniques for Efficient Learning

Whether you are going back to college or have decided to take learning into your own hands, note-taking is a skill that is truly unique.

On the surface, it can seem like jotting down the important points or stating everything word for word. But delving into the world of note-taking begins a realization that there is more to it than that.

So if you feel like your note skills are rusty, or if you didn’t care much about note-taking, here are some strategies to help you prepare and succeed in this area.

What to Do Before Note Taking

There are all kinds of strategies and systems in place to be taking notes. Some are more formal methods for taking notes while others are strategies that have helped others in the past. But before jumping into note-taking techniques, there are some things to consider prior to learning:

Adopt a Note Taking Mindset

Even our attitude and behavior plays a factor in our ability to take notes. For example, snacks with high sugar or high salt will impact our ability to pay attention to. This also applies to coffee which – if not consumed in moderation – can impact sleep and your ability to pay attention and focus as well.

In this regard, we can see already how mood can impact our ability to take notes. If we’re not focused or easily distracted, we will have a tougher time putting together accurate notes. But that is a more extreme case.

If you’re someone who doesn’t drink coffee or has a snack before class, attitude can still play a significant role. Think back to classes that you weren’t that excited for or that you were bad at. The only reason those topics are not your strong suit can be chalked up to your attitude.

Think about it:

The topics you excelled at made you feel good and you had a vested interest in. This is no different from other pursuits in your life. Compared to things you lack interest in, it’s clear that you would make no effort to learn about something that you don’t want.

So attitude makes a difference and this logic can be applied to even topics you’re not big on. All you need to do is have a positive attitude, pay attention, and study with a classmate or two.

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Preparing Before Class

First, if you are taking a formal course, it pays to be prepared. One study by Spies and Wilkin[1] found that law students who read a legal case before getting to class displayed deeper understanding of the material compared to others.

This doesn’t apply to courses where you are assigned reading but in all manner of courses. With plenty of information made available at our fingertips, there is a lot of opportunities for us to learn about the subject before a course or a training session.

This will pay off for you as you’ll spend more time focusing on understanding the tougher aspects of a topic rather than absorbing the information as is.

7 Note Taking Techniques for Effective Learning

In Miami University’s public database, there is a course outlining note-taking and active listening [2]. These particular methods are some of the more popular methods for taking notes.

1. The Outline Method

This method is used for simplicity and is one of the easiest methods of taking notes. Anyone can pick up this method and use it with no issues.

When using this method, the idea is to select four or five key points that are going to be covered in a specific lesson. Under those key points, you write more in-depth sub-points based on what is being discussed on those topics.

The idea with this form of note taking is so it doesn’t overwhelm you. But you’ll pay attention in a different manner. In the case of this approach, if you know what’s being discussed, you’ll focus on the important aspects of that topic rather than wonder what’s coming up next.

Use this method in cases where:

  • You want your notes to be organized from the start.
  • To see the relationships between both topics and subtopics.
  • You want to convert the points into questions to quiz yourself on later.

2. The Cornell Method

Developed in the 1950s by Cornell University, this is the most common note taking method around. In fact, the outline method is likely inspired by this method as there are similarities to it.

In this method, you are still using key points, but this method goes deeper into the organizing method. For one, the page is broken into three sections:

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  • a narrow column called the “cue”
  • a wider column for your actual notes
  • a summary at the bottom

The cue section is the section where you fill out main points, people, potential test questions and more. This section is devoted to helping you recall larger topics and ideas.

The note section is devoted to expanding and explaining those cue points. You still want to summarize them to an extent using headings. When getting into specifics, you want to indent them and use a numbering system, either roman numerals, numbers, or letters.

The summary section is the section you write up at the end summarizing all of the information in a clear sentence or two. You want both the summary and the cue to be simple seeing as your notes are where you want all of the details.

Here’s an example illustrated by Comprehension Hart:[3]

    This method is great if you:

    • Want notes to be organized even further and easier to review.
    • Want to pull out major ideas and concepts quickly.

    3. Mind Mapping Method

    Mind mapping is a method that works for subjects that have interlocking topics or complex and abstract ideas. Chemistry, history, and philosophy are examples where this method shines.

    The use of the map is to serve as a visual aid for how every topic is related to one another. It also allows you to go into detail on particular ideas or topics. An example of this at work is looking at the French Revolution.

    First, you’d start with that concept at the center and then begin branching off that led to events, and people that sparked the French Revolution.

    You can start off with broad general ideas and during the course or when you are reviewing, you can add in sub-concepts to those branches. Things like dates, support facts, concepts that you see between people and events.

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    That being said, this method doesn’t apply to  only those kinds of topics. Any kind of topic that you can break into various points can also help as well. Another example can be talking about different forms of learning and using the nodes to discuss each method and what each one is like.

    Learn more about this method here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    This type of method for note taking is great for:

    • Visual learners who struggle with studying via notes.
    • For people who need to remember and connect relationships, and events with topics.

    4. Flow Notes Method

    Discussed in a post in College Info Geek,[4] this method is for those who want to maximize active learning in the classroom and save time in reviewing.

    The idea of flow notes is to treat yourself as a student rather than transcribing word for word. In this method, you’ll jot down topics, then start drawing arrows, make doodles, diagrams and graphs to get a general idea out there.

    This method also helps in drawing other bridges and form connections in various fields or within the subject. If some information reminds you of another piece of information or technique, make a note and jot it down.

    Take a look at this video to learn a bit more about this method:

    The only catch with this method is that while it’s great for learning at that moment, you may have a tough time reviewing them later. You may want to pair this method with another method mentioned above.

    5. The Sentence Method

    Another simple method and is a lesser version of flow notes. The idea with this is a simple note-taking. You’re jotting down everything that’s being said to the best of your ability. It’s genuine transcription at it’s finest.

    The problem with this method is that it can be tough to keep up with everything else that’s happening. If you’re writing notes by hand, you will definitely be missing key points and ideas. On a computer, you may be able to keep up, however, you may face challenges still.

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    Despite those problems, there are still advantages to this method. Compared to every other method, this provides the most details and information for review:

    • You can still be brief by covering the main points.
    • Your notes are already simplified for you to study and review them immediately.

    6. Charting Method

    Charting notes take the Cornell method and divide a sheet into three columns. Similar to the mind mapping method, this helps you in connecting relationships and facts together between topics.

    This method is a lazier method than the other ones mentioned above but works for the people who want to highlight key pieces of information on various topics and want to organize facts for easy review.

    7. Writing on Slides

    The final method is another strategy for people who can’t be bothered to take extensive notes. This method works well particularly in classes where the instructor provides slides that they’re using for their lectures.

    Whether it’s a handout or you can download them online, all you need to do is print them off and start writing away on them.

    This method is great because it removes a lot of the worry of taking general notes. Since ideas and concepts are already discussed, it’s a matter of expanding those notes already.

    What Note Taking Techniques Are the Best?

    As you may have noticed, each method is good in its own situation. Depending on what you’re learning – and your own preferences – each method has advantages.

    It’s also worth noting that every person learns and studies in a different manner. With this in mind, consider how you study and figure out the method that best compliments it.

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    Featured photo credit: JESHOOTS.COM via unsplash.com

    Reference

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