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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?

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Carl Pullein

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

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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

12 Reasons Why Rote Learning Isn’t Effective in Learning

12 Reasons Why Rote Learning Isn’t Effective in Learning

Rote learning is learning by memorizing rather than thinking and reasoning. While handy in some situations, rote learning isn’t the most effective way of learning.

Most of us have been exposed to rote learning early in our life when we memorized the alphabet, numbers, times tables and formulae. This habit can unfortunately carry on till much later when we are so used to being given information and simply using it, we don’t think about the logic behind the information itself.

In today’s world, there needs to be a conscious shift of processes so we reduce our dependency on memorizing and move towards learning based on understanding. While there are proponents of rote learning who present solid arguments in favor of the method, meaningful learning discourages it as it presents no opportunity to think and reason.

Rote learning is acceptable for memorizing dates, names, numbers and other information that has no meaning but is still important. It is when this carries forward to learning that should be approached meaningfully that problems arise.

Reasons rote learning is not the most effective way to learn for a number are many and varied and all are valid. However, when arguing the merits of rote learning over meaningful thinking, one needs to keep the following points against rote learning in mind:[1]

1. Promote Convergent Thinking

Rote learning trains a mind to solve problems with a single answer which is right, as opposed to meaningful thinking which allows the mind to reach different solutions.

When presented with a simple multiplication problem, a rote learner will always jump to the answer by recall while a person using divergent thinking will arrive at the same answer through different methods.

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2. Deny Exploring Different Options

A teacher presenting information to students in a manner that doesn’t allow or encourage questioning and divergent thinking is encouraging rote learning.

When learning by rote, learners are given the answer to a question and that’s the only answer they know.

Unless the question is a mathematical one, there may be more than one answer which is correct, but the rote learner will never develop the ability to explore the options that lead to the different answer.

3. Make People Passive Learners

Rote learners never learn to question and explore. Their minds are trained to receive information and recall it at the right time.

These people develop their listening and writing skills but not their thinking and questioning skills. Taken out of their comfort zone, passive learners will be quiet and disinterested in the proceedings around them.

4. Make People Followers, Not Leaders

Because rote learning is the drilling of specific information, people exposed to this system are used to following instructions without having the freedom to think for themselves and reach the same conclusion a different way or even a different solution altogether.

When put in management positions, rote learners may not be able to display leadership skills which almost always require thinking outside the box and coming up with innovative solutions.

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5. Not Allowing Connections to Form

Since rote learning teaches just one answer, people who learn like this cannot make mental connections between the knowledge they already have, and reaching a solution to the problem they are working on.

A lot of times, rote learners can reach the same conclusion through different means or make mental connections to reach a whole new answer that may still be correct. However, since they’re not exposed to the alternate methods, they fail to recognize the opportunity and think only of the solution they have been taught.

Another way to phrase this could be “learning from experience.” A student who understands history will know why the world is the way it is and, based on past events can guess what will happen in the future. However, one who has only learned dates and events cannot do the same.

6. It Is Short-Term

Rote learning promotes short-term memory. Apart from certain exceptions like the times tables and period table values, most rote learning is for those who want the knowledge for a certain purpose.

For example, a student might learn the Pythagoras Theorem for an exam but will almost immediately forget the instances in which the theorem might be used.

7. Not Promoting Understanding

Rote can be considered a “quick-fix” solution to gaining knowledge.

It is the lazy person’s answer to teaching and learning. The teacher will inform the students of the answer to a particular problem without really explaining how the answer was reached or encouraging the students to find the answer for themselves.

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The students, on the other hand, will accept the teacher’s version of the answer without questioning the method. And if presented the same question in a different manner, they will not be able to solve it even though they “know” the answer.

The grasp a student has on the subject is limited to how detailed the answer is and in most cases, it is not very much.

If a particular question might require solution from a different angle, the student will never be able to answer it because she has not been taught to.

8. It Is Geared Towards Scoring

Learning should be something that promotes understanding and bases knowledge gained on how problems are approached and solved.

In the rote learning method, the emphasis is on getting a higher score. Exams are marked on a student’s answer to a question, not his understanding of it. This means a student may have aced a certain subject without having full understanding of it.

9. It Is Repetitive

Since rote learning is nothing but memorizing information, it relies heavily on repetition of said information.

The learner needs to constantly reinforce a certain knowledge bite and this repetition stifles thought exploration and creativity when finding answers to a problem.

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10. Not Challening the Brain

Rote learning presents an answer to the learner and expects them to learn it and reproduce it as required; whereas meaningful thinking challenges the learner to “prove it.”

In meaningful thinking, the burden of proving the answer lies firmly on the learners, and they need to come up with a plausible explanation for the conclusion they reached.

On the other hand, in rote learning, there is nothing for the learner to prove. They have been provided the answer and know it’s right, so they are well within their comfort zone when presenting a solution.

12. Discourage Social Skills

Group studies, research and other factors that make up meaningful learning encourage socialization and learning from peers.

Rote learning has the opposite effect because information has already been transferred by a single source, and it is the only one which is acceptable. This discourages discussions and further learning from social interactions.

Bottom Line

At the end, what I would like to clarify is that rote learning and meaningful learning are two sides of the same coin. They bridge the learning gap.

There are some instances when rote learning is the only way to learn, whether it is because of nature of the topic taught or because it is the only way a student can learn.

However, it is very important to recognize that rote learning is not the most effective way to learn most things. Meaningful learning, where the learner is taught to question, think and arrive at a solution from a different angle is how true learning takes place.

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Featured photo credit: Siora Photography via unsplash.com

Reference

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