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7 Best Ways of Learning Effectively

7 Best Ways of Learning Effectively

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.[1]

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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.[2] 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.

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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.

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.

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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.[3]

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.

The secret:

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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.

Final Thoughts

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.[4]

Stay open-minded, stay curious, and try the 7 learning techniques by yourself today.

More on Effective Learning

Featured photo credit: Nick Hillier via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dean Yeong

Self-improvement writer and performance coach

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Published on April 20, 2021

How To Ask the Right Questions For Effective Learning

How To Ask the Right Questions For Effective Learning

Asking the right questions is basically the magic key to any kind of personal or professional development. Sounds pretty awesome, huh? Unfortunately, many people are afraid to ask questions at all. They often think that they look stupid if they ask too many questions.

Well, funny enough, it’s impossible to move forward without asking questions. How are you supposed to learn anything new if you’re never wondering, “how can I do that?” or “what is required to achieve my desired result?”

But it’s not only about asking others. You must also master the art of asking yourself the right questions. Yes, you read that right. The kind of questions you ask yourself can have a huge impact on your results. And they can, in fact, make the difference between hitting your goals and not moving forward at all.

Alright, so in this article, I’ll cover the question (you see what I mean?): how do I ask the right questions for effective learning?

Why Is Asking the Right Questions Important for Effective Learning?

Before we look at the “how,” let’s first talk about why it’s so important to ask the right questions for effective learning.

1. Questions Lead to Answers

As mentioned before, you can’t learn or move forward without asking questions. Just imagine if you start a new job and you never asked anything at all. Would you ever be able to do a good job?

Sure, you might be lucky and get all your instructions delivered on a silver platter. But even if that’s the case, what will you do with very specific situations that weren’t covered in the instructions? Or what will you do with constructive criticism from your boss?

If you just take that and then only do exactly what your boss said without ever questioning what they really meant, will you really be able to improve your work?

Okay, I think you get the point. You need answers for effective learning and improvement. And the only way to get them is through asking questions.

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2. Asking the Right Questions Will Help You Be Successful

Asking the right questions will also significantly improve your chances of being successful.

Let’s take another example. Let’s say you want to build your own business. How do you start? That’s right—that’s the first good question to ask yourself. After that, a lot of your success depends on what you’re asking yourself and others.

Now, let’s compare two kinds of questions. Let’s say you get stuck in your business building process. You could ask yourself: “why doesn’t this work for me?” Or you could ask yourself “how can I make this work for me?”

Do you see the difference? The second question is an empowering one that will guide you to success. Of course, you need to be relentless and motivated to actually find a solution. But simply asking yourself this kind of question will significantly improve your chances for success.

The first question, on the other hand, is a rather disempowering one. It puts you in a victim role where you feel sorry for yourself rather than in a position to look for a solution. And have you ever seen someone who’s victimizing themself be successful? I sure haven’t!

3. Communication Is Key for Improvement

Now, let’s quickly look at another important aspect regarding questions addressed to other people.

Good communication is essential for improvement, good relationships, and success. And that can literally be applied to any kind of situation. Be it your job, your business, your marriage, or with your friends, good communication is the foundation for healthy relationships.

Effective communication requires active listening more than anything else. But what does that mean?

It means to ask questions and then actually listen to what the other person has to say. This will not only help you improve your relationship with other people—and, therefore, help you move forward in your professional and personal life—but it will also help you gain a lot of knowledge, which is undoubtedly the most effective kind of learning.

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People love to talk about themselves. So, you only need to find people who have the answers to your questions and then listen in an active way. And boom, you probably just shortened your learning curve by 50%.

What Is Effective Learning?

Okay, I’d like to quickly touch on one more important thing before we talk about how you can ask the right questions. And that is, “what is effective learning?”

Contrary to common belief, we don’t stop learning after college. In school, we’re basically forced to learn certain topics. But it’s actually after this period that the really interesting learning period starts. Once you’re out of school, you can completely choose what things you want to learn yourself, and this is where effective learning really starts

The best example is laid out in Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. In his book, he explains that the only way you can move forward in today’s economy is to learn hard things at a fast pace. He specifically talks about today’s economy because things are changing faster than ever. You can’t stay stuck with 10-year old technology or you’ll soon be left behind in our fast-paced world.

So, this is basically what effective learning means—learning hard and relevant things at a fast pace.

How to Ask the Right Questions for Effective Learning

Alright, so now that you understand the importance of asking the right questions and what effective learning means, let’s put it all together.

So, here’s how to ask the right questions for effective learning.

1. Start by Asking Yourself

As mentioned before, the most important aspect is to actually start by asking yourself the right kind of questions. Pay attention to always ask empowering questions—meaning, questions that are solution-oriented.

These are often “how” questions. For instance:

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  • “How can I achieve my goal?”
  • “How can I make a better job?”
  • “How can I best use this resource?”

Avoid disempowering, victimizing questions. It’s sometimes hard to even detect those because we’re often asking ourselves these kinds of questions without even noticing.

This usually happens when we’re frustrated with a situation. These kinds of questions focus on why you’re in such a bad situation and absolutely ignore the possibility of a solution. These are often “why” questions. Here are a few examples:

  • “Why did this happen to me?”
  • “Why is everyone else successful except me?”
  • “Why can’t I be lucky for once?”

2. Ask the Right People

Once you’ve managed to ask yourself the right questions, it’s time to focus on what to ask other people. But it’s not only about what to ask. It’s also about whom to address it to.

To promote effective learning, you need to ask the right people. These are people who have gone before you and who have achieved what you want to achieve. It doesn’t even need to be in person. Reading their books and wondering “what made them successful?” is a great way to start. If you can, totally opt in for asking those people in person, though. These can become your mentors or role models who will make effective learning significantly easier.

To find the right people to ask, first determine your goal for this conversation. What do you want to learn? What do you want to achieve with that knowledge? Then, find people who have already achieved that.

3. Ask Open-Ended Questions

Once you have found the right people, it’s important to also phrase your questions the right way. That means asking open-ended questions.

As mentioned before, people love talking about themselves and their achievements. And by asking open-ended questions, you allow them to share as much as possible. This is especially great to start a conversation as it will get you a lot of information right from the get-go. Later down the road, you can ask more specific questions to get the amount of detail you need.

Great open-ended questions are: “how did you achieve (a milestone)?”; “what are the best tools to be successful?” “what helped you be so successful?”

Make sure to enter your specific goal or their success in those questions. For instance, you could ask your boss, “what helped you get promoted after only working for the company for a year?”

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4. Practice Active Listening

Active listening is an insanely powerful skill. You can “extract” all of a person’s knowledge simply by listening and asking more open-ended questions that allow them to share even more of their experience and knowledge.

Practice it with your friends or spouse. Set an intention of just listening for 10 minutes. During this time, only ask questions that allow them to talk about themselves. Don’t interrupt them and only ask deeper questions after they finished answering.

After that, think about how much you just learned about the other person. Plus, you probably made the other person feel really good and flattered. This in turn will make it easier to get even more answers from them in the future.

Once you feel comfortable, try this with one of your mentors. Believe me, they’ll love you for it, and you’ll get your answers much faster that way.

5. Focus on the Solution

One last point: always focus on the solution when asking any kind of question. This goes for asking yourself but also when asking other people.

Your subconscious will automatically guide you towards what you’re focusing on.[1] If you’re focusing on the risks or on what could go wrong, guess where you’ll end up? Right there!

If you focus on solutions and see struggles as opportunities to learn more, you’ll always end up finding solutions for any kind of problem or issue. So, asking the right questions is all about being solution-oriented and focusing on the opportunities rather than the risks.

Conclusion

Asking the right questions is not only essential for effective learning—aka learning hard things at a fast pace—but it’s also key to improving in any personal or professional area of your life.

There are two important aspects of asking the right questions. The first is about what kind of questions you ask yourself. Make sure to keep them empowering and solution-oriented. This will help guide you to success instead of keeping you stuck with a problem.

The second aspect is to ask the right kind of people to get answers that will help you achieve your goals. Make sure to find people who have gone before you. Then, ask them open-ended questions and practice active listening to learn as much as possible from them.

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Featured photo credit: Product School via unsplash.com

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