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Published on December 9, 2019

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

Dean writes about behavioral psychology and performance improvement.

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

Do you forget stuff every now and then? Are you trying to enhance your memory but not sure how?

All you need is the right memorization techniques to make the most of your memory.

The human brain is fascinating. More specifically, the vast interconnections within our mind. Mendel Kaelen compares the human brain to a hill covered in snow,

“Think of the brain as a hill covered in snow, and thoughts as sleds gliding down that hill. As one sled after another goes down the hill a small number of main trails will appear in the snow. And every time a new sled goes down, it will be drawn into preexisting trails, almost like a magnet. In time it becomes more and more difficulty to glide down the hill on any other path or in a different direction.”

The intent of Kaelen’s discussion is to think of new ways to temporarily flatten the snow. Kaelen remarked,

“The deeply worn trails disappear, and suddenly the sled can go in other directions, exploring new landscapes and, literally, creating new pathways.”

The idea here is to temporarily rewire your brain, or as Michael Pollan remarked in How to Change Your Mind,

“The power to shake the snow globe, disrupting unhealthy patterns of thought and creating a space of flexibility-entropy-in which more salubrious patterns and narratives have an opportunity to coalesce as the snow slowly settles.”

So, how can we rewire our brain allowing deeply worn connections to disappear and new connections to form? The answer is quite simple. We must change the way we store information in our mind.

    Let’s examine 5 specific memorization techniques that will change the way you think and remember information.

    1. Build a Memory Palace

      What is it?

      The method of loci[1] (aka memory palace) is a method of memory enhancement using visualizations with the use of spatial memory. It uses familiar information about your environment to quickly recall information. It is a method that was discussed by Cicero in an ancient dialogue called De Oratore.

      How to use it?

      Ron White discusses in How to Memorize Fast and Easily: Build a Memory Palace, that it’s essentially a room or building that you have memorized and you use locations in the room to store data. Ron informs us,

      “You memorize locations in a room and then you later go back to those locations to retrieve the data that you want to remember.”

      Example

      An easy 5-step example, in the form of a Wiki, can be found at Artofmemory.com. Let’s examine the the steps:

      • Step 1. Choose a place that you know well. For example, your house or office.
      • Step 2. Plan the route and pick specific locations in your route. For example, your front door, bathroom kitchen, etc.
      • Step 3. Decide what you want to memorize. For example, geography, list of items, answers for a test, etc.
      • Step 4. Place one or two items, with a mental image, and place them in your memory palace. Exaggerate your images. For example, use nudity or crazy images forcing it to stick in your mind.
      • Step 5. Make the image into a mnemonic.

      You can learn more about this technique here: How to Build a Memory Palace to Remember More of Everything

      2. Mnemonic

        What is it?

        A mnemonic is a memory device that aids in retention and/or retrieval of information. Mnemonic systems are techniques consciously used to improve memory by helping us use information already stored in long-term memory to make memorization easier.[2]

        How to use it?

        Mnemonics make use of retrieval cues to encode information in our brain allowing for efficient storage and retrieval of the information. The trick is to learn how to easily create mnemonics. If you find that you struggle with creating your own, try the following website: Mnemonic Generator.

        Example

        I recently came across a video using mnemonics to memorize countries. Memorizing Countries using Mnemonics is a video created as an introduction to a class for using memory techniques to learn the names of countries on maps.

        I actively search for videos that provide enormous educational value, yet receive very little exposure. At the time of this writing, this video has received less than 4k views. Let’s examine the video.

        Goal: Create a mnemonic to memorize the countries in the Caribbean (just the countries you need to learn).

        Step 1. Looking at a map – write out each country (for which five were chosen).

        Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico.

        Step 2. Write the first letter of each country vertically.

        C

        J

        H

        D

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        P

        Step 3. Create a sentence or phrase.

        Cubs

        Just

        Hate

        Doing

        Push-ups

        Cubs just hate doing push-ups. (Cuba Jamaica Haiti Dominican Republic Puerto Rico)

        3. Mnemonic Peg System

          What is it?

          According to Artofmemory.com, a mnemonic peg system is a technique for memorizing lists and it works by memorizing a list of words that are easy to associate with the numbers they represent.[3] These objects are the pegs of the system.

          How to use it?

          The trick is to create a Number Rhyme System with each number having a rhyming mnemonic keyword.

          Example

          Let’s look at an example of a Number Rhyme System:[4]

          0 = hero

          1 = gun

          2 = shoe

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          3 = tree

          4 = door

          5 = hive

          6 = sticks

          7 = heaven

          8 = gate

          9 = line

          Another technique like the Peg system is the Number Shape System.[5] Here you are assigning mnemonic images based on the shape of the number. Watch the following video for an example of this system: Number Shape System for Memorizing Numbers.

          4. Chunking

            What is it?

            Chunking is a way to remember large bits of information by chunking them into smaller pieces of information. We are more likely to then remember the information when we put the small pieces back together to see the entire picture.

            How to use it?

            In the video Chunking – A Learning Technique, we can see that there are several ways to chunk information.

            Example

            Let’s examine a simple example using a nine-digit number.

            Step 1. What is the number you are trying to remember?

            081127882

            Step 2. Cut the number into smaller pieces through chunking.

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            081 – 127 – 882

            Let’s look at one more example from the same video.

            “Piano teachers will first demonstrate an entire song to students. They will then ask their students to practice one measure at a time. Once the part has been learned and the neural connections in the brain have been built, then students go on to the next measure. After all chunks have been played separately, they are combined until the entire piece is connected.”

            5. Transfer of Learning

              What is it?

              Transfer of learning is a way to learn something in one area and apply it in another. Authors of Thinking at Every Desk, Derek and Laura Cabrera inform us about the transfer of learning,

              “If a student has a high transfer skills, she can learn one thing and then teach herself 10, 50, or 100 additional things.”

              How to use it?

              There are two specific ways to use it:

              1. Vertical Transfer (aka Far Transfer). Think of learning something in grade school and applying it another grade or later in life.
              2. Horizontal Transfer (aka Near Transfer). Think of learning a concept in history and applying it in math.

              Example

              I provide a detailed step-by-step example for this technique in this article:

              Learn How to Learn: How to Understand and Connect Difficult Ideas Easily

              The Bottom Line

              The key to using the techniques discussed here is to remember that we must actively think about information.

              We cannot simply drill information into our brain through rote memorization. We must change the way we think about memorization. We must find a way to “shake the snow-globe” in our mind or flatten the snow so that we can create new learning paths.

              Or as Derek and Laura Cabrera point out, we must insert “Thinking” into the equation,

              “Information X Thinking = Knowledge”

              More About Enhancing Memories

              Featured photo credit: Nong Vang via unsplash.com

              Reference

              [1] Remember Everything: Memory Palaces and the Method of Loci
              [2] The Learning Center Exchange: 9 Types of Mnemonics for Better Memory
              [3] Art of Memory: Mnemonic Peg System
              [4] Art of Memory: Number Rhyme System
              [5] Art of Memory: Number Shape System

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