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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 January 14, 2020

15 Effortless Memorization Tricks To Remember Anything

15 Effortless Memorization Tricks To Remember Anything

The struggle is real!

With so much happening in life, it’s hard to remember the details. In particular, names, due dates, requirements and locations slip from the mind every so often. But the memorization tricks outlined in this article should ensure that you never forget stuff that matters.

I used to have a problem with remembering names and faces.

You see, I meet new people every day from around the globe and it’s just too many new names and faces for my mind to register.

But I’ll tell you this:

It’s certainly quite embarrassing to have coffee with somebody and not recognize them the next day.

The problem is that forgetting is such a passive action that you often have no control over it.

Let me explain:

When you forget something, it’s not like you’re actively trying to. It just… happens and that makes it hard to inhibit your forgetfulness.

I mean, how do you stop doing something that you’re not really doing?

So, I just accepted that this is how it is and I’m going to have to live with it.

But several embarrassing encounters later, I’ve consolidated a list of memorizing tips that worked like magic for me.

I’ve used them to overcome my problem of remembering people and their names which has helped me immensely in improving communication and collaboration within and outside of my company.

Now before we dive into the memorization tricks that I wanted to discuss with you, let’s first take a look at how and why we forget.

The Science of Forgetting

In 1885, Hermann Ebbinghaus put forth his theory that outlined the “Forgetting Curve”.[1] This curve shows how much information we retain after a certain amount of time has passed since initially memorizing it.

You might be a bit concerned about how valid this theory is, given that it was initially presented in the 19th century.

But in a 2015 analysis, scientists found that the Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve was completely accurate.[2]

Fascinatingly, the Forgetting Curve shows that just after a day of memorizing something, we remember about 30% of it.

Before we jump into the memorization tricks in this article, I’d first like to explain to you why you forget in the first place. Knowing the root cause of forgetfulness will help you apply the information that you gather.

When you initially learn something, your mind transfers it into the hypothetical short-term memory chamber.

Your brain doesn’t know which piece of information is important and which needs to be discarded. So, it waits for a signal that helps it recognize important pieces of information that it can then shift into the hypothetical long-term memory chamber.

One of the more obvious of such signals is repetition. As shown in the forgetting figure below, repetition can change the shape of the forgetting curve.

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    All the memorization tricks and tips in this article revolve around signaling the importance of memories to your mind so it can move that piece of information from the short-term memory chamber to the long-term one.

    15 Memorization Tricks That Work

    Enough of science; let’s get into the business end of this article. Here are 15 memorization tricks that work:

    1. Say it 3 Times

    This is one of the simplest learning methods that I’ve been using and it seems to yield some great results.

    Make a habit of saying something 3 times as soon as you hear it. This will help you retain that information longer in your brain. In my case, when someone would tell me their name, I’d say it thrice under my breath. This signaled to my brain that this piece of information is important and I’d like to remember it.

    2. Link it to an Established Long-Term Memory

    What if you already have something in your long-term memory that you can link your new piece of information to?

    Imagine this:

    There’s a piece of information that resides deep in your hypothetical long-term memory chamber. Once you claim a new memory, you stick it to the old one.

    What do you think will happen?

    Of course, the new memory will retain better because of the strong memory that you linked it to.

    For instance, people set their 4-digit pin codes for their birthdates (or their spouse’s) all the time. It’s easier to remember because they have an already established link in their mind that’s probably never going to break.

    3. Type Away

    Writing something down is a common memorizing trick that works for many.

    The problem?

    You almost never have a pen and paper close at hand when you need it.

    So here, I decided to go a bit unconventional and use technology to my advantage.

    I started typing notes on my phone that I’d revisit before sleeping.

    A lot of times, I wouldn’t even have to revisit my notes because the mere act of typing them would help me retain that memory.

    But if typing it out doesn’t help, rereading it at night surely will.

    4. Spaced Repetition

    As mentioned above, further research on the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve showed that it’s best to revise a piece of information after a certain amount of time as it helps your mind retain it better.

    Now, what a lot of people do is that they try to repeat or revise a memory as soon as they attain it.

    But research shows that it’s useless to adopt that strategy. The goal isn’t to avoid forgetting that memory; it’s to forget it so you can relearn and solidify its roots in your brain.

    The same research suggested 4 repetitions; around 20 mins, 50 mins, 9 hours and 5 days after memorizing something.[3]

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    But it might not be practical to revisit a memory in that fashion. So, as we recommend in our article on Spaced Repetition, just revise an important memory 24-36 hours after initially learning it and you should see 90% above retention rates.

    5. Grasp the Concept

    Back in college, rote learning never seemed to work for me.

    No matter how many times I’d repeat a phrase and try to learn it by heart, I’d have completely forgotten it by the next day.

    So I tried to memorize the concept, not the words.

    This worked great for me back then and still works well when I’m trying to understand the mechanics of a company or a business.

    6. Interleaved Practice

    If you mix it up, you’ll see better results in memorization.

    Most people, when they’re trying to memorize or learn something, keep working at it until it’s all done or perfect.

    It doesn’t make much sense if you leave a memorization task in the middle right? Wrong!

    Research shows that if you learn two different things at once, you’ll learn them better. This is called interleaved practice.

    Now that are 2 reasons why interleaved practice shows spectacular resuLts:

    Similar memories get mixed up in the brain

    Interleaved practice makes it harder to recall a memory. And the harder the practice session, the better your results!

    7. Use Storytelling

    Without a doubt, storytelling is one of the most powerful skills that one can master.

    And the reason is simple:

    Stories captivate us like nothing else.

    Look at all the forms of entertainment that we have nowadays and you’ll see storytelling in each one of them; movies, songs, music videos, video games, vlogs… the list goes on.

    The reason is simple:

    Our brain is obsessed with stories.

    So the next time you’re trying to memorize something, try creating a story in your head that would help you remember it.

    8. Record Your Audio

    Here’s another fantastic memorizing trick that puts technology to great use.

    When you’re trying to memorize something, just audio record yourself on the phone and listen to it on repeat.

    You don’t need to do this for long. In fact, about 15-20 minutes of listening to yourself should be more than enough.

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    This is especially useful for auditory learners.

    9. Create Parts

    What if I tell you to memorize this number in 20 seconds:

    583957304

    I’m sure that sounds like a daunting task.

    But what about:

    583-957-304

    This looks easier although both numbers are essentially the same.

    The only difference in both numbers is that the second one has two dashes. Now, the dashes themselves aren’t significant. What’s significant is the fact that the dashes break the number into 3 parts.

    When you break the number, it becomes easier to remember. Your brain can then focus on individual parts and consolidate them in the end.

    In fact, this memorization technique is pretty much a setup to trick your mind into thinking the task is easier than it actually is.

    So, the next time you’re learning something extensive, create parts out of it and focus on each part individually.

    10. Focus on Keywords

    I like to use this method in conjunction with “Grasping the Concept”.

    You see, there are just some things that require word-for-word learning.

    And if you’re not good at it, then learning keywords becomes your last option.

    It’s likely that you’ve used this technique if you buy the groceries. All you do is memorize keywords like “6 eggs” but never “buy half a dozen eggs” because the rest of all the words contribute nothing (or very little) to the message.

    11. Say it out Aloud

    Here’s another learning trick for auditory learners:

    Say your words out aloud.

    I’m a firm believer that the more senses you stimulate while learning, the better you’ll learn.

    This means that reading alone (using your visual sense only) is not nearly as effective as speaking your words while you read them because it stimulates your sense of hearing as well.

    Ideally, you’d want to use this technique with writing or typing.

    12. Retain While You Sleep

    Did you know that sleeping could help improve your memory?

    Well, researchers from Matthew P. Walker and Robert Stickgold sure think so. In their research, “Sleep, Memory and Plasticity”, they maintain that sleep has a major role in “memory consolidation” and “memory reconsolidation”.[4].

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    Another research published in Current Opinion in Neurology shows that,[5]

    “Sleep is important for optimal learning.”

    By that logic, memorizing just before you go to sleep is a nice way of strengthening that memory. While you sleep, your brain should work on that memory’s consolidation and reconsolidation.

    Also, it’s important to get a good amount of sleep in for improving memory in general.

    13. Challenge Yourself

    Most people think that memorizing is all about reading and speaking.

    And that’s partly why they aren’t particularly good at it.

    Most of the time, we’re trying to memorize something all day but when the right time comes, our memory fails to support us.

    A good way to eliminate that problem is to test yourself in the middle of the day.

    Challenge yourself in the middle of the day to recall what you’re trying to learn. It doesn’t necessarily need to be in a learning environment. In fact, you could try recalling while you’re in the elevator, having lunch or walking to your office.

    14. Mnemonics

    Mnemonics have been for ages to learn a list of words in order.

    And the only reason why they’ve stood the test of time is that they work.

    In this method, you list out the first letter of each word and then try creating a sentence/phrase out of them that can be memorized.

    A common example is the “Roy G. Biv” mnemonic that’s used to memorize the colors of the rainbow (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet).

    Although recent research on effective learning techniques ranked mnemonics as a low utility learning method, the only reason for that was that mnemonics don’t have a wide variety of applications in general learning.[6]

    However, they work like magic if you’re trying to learn a foreign language or increase vocabulary.

    15. Use a To-Do List App

    The last memorizing trick on our list is to use a To-Do List app.

    A lot of these apps come with the added functionality of displaying your notes on the home screen of your phone.

    A lot of others come with a sticky notification of that note that appears 24/7 on your phone.

    By typing what you want to memorize in that note, you can then read it again every time you use your phone.

    And if you’re anything like the common man, this memorization trick should give you the opportunity to review your memory multiple times in the day.

    If you tend to forget easily, start trying these memorizing tricks. They’ve changed my life and will change yours too!

    More to Boost Your Memory

    Featured photo credit: Sincerely Media via unsplash.com

    Reference

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