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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.

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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 March 31, 2020

How to Know Which Types of Learning Styles Work for You?

How to Know Which Types of Learning Styles Work for You?

One of the biggest realizations I had as a kid is that teaching in school could be hit or miss for students. We all have our own different types of learning styles. Even when I was in study groups, we all had our own ways of uncovering solutions to questions.

It wasn’t only until later in my life did I realize how important it is to know your own learning style. As soon as you know how you learn and the best way to learn, you can better retain information. This information could be crucial to your job, future promotions, and overall excelling in life.

Best of all about this information is that, it’s not hard to figure out what works best for you. There are broad categories of learning styles, so it’s a matter of finding which one we gravitate towards most.

What Are the Types of Learning Styles?

Before we get into the types of learning styles, there’s one thing to know:

We all learn through repetition.

No matter how old you are, studies show that repetition allows us to retain and learn new information.[1] The big question now is what kind of repetition is needed. After all, we all learn and process information differently.

This is where the types of learning styles come in. There are eight in total and there is one or two that we prefer over others. This is important because when reading these learning styles, you’ll feel like you’d prefer a mixture of these styles.

That’s because we do prefer a combination. Though there will be one style that will be more predominate over the others. The key is finding which one it is.

Visual Learning

A visual learner (also known as the spatial learner) excels at deciphering anything visual – typically maps and graphs.

If you are this type of learner, you likely excelled at geometry in math class but struggled with arithmetic and numbers. To this day, you might also struggle with reading and writing to a degree.

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While visual learners are described as “late bloomers,” they are highly imaginative. They also process what they see much faster than what they hear.

Verbal Learning

Verbal learning, on the other hand, is learning through what’s spoken. Verbal learners excel in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Because of that, they are likely the ones to find thrills in tongue twists, word games, and puns.

They also thoroughly enjoy drama, writing, and speech classes. But give them maps, or challenge them to think outside of the box and they’ll struggle a bit.

Logical Learning

Not to be confused with visual learners, these learners are good at math and logic puzzles. Anything involving numbers or other abstract visual information is where they excel.

They can also analyze cause and effect relationships quite well. Part of that is due to their thinking process being linear.

Another big difference is their need to quantify everything. These people love grouping information, creating specific lists, agendas or itineraries.

They also have a love for strategy games and making calculations in their heads.

Auditory Learning

Similar to verbal learning, this type of learning style focuses on sounds on a deeper level. These people think chronologically and excel more in the step-by-step methods. These are likely the people who will watch Youtube videos to learn or do something the most.

These learners also have a great memory of conversations and love debates and discussions. Chances are likely these people excel at anything oral.

Also as the name suggests, these individuals have great musical talents. They can decern notes, instruments, rhythms and tones. That being said, they will have a tough time interpreting body language, expressions and gestures. This also applies to charts, maps and graphs.

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Social Learning

Otherwise known as the interpersonal learner, their skills are really unique. They don’t particularly excel in classrooms but rather through talking to other people.

These are the people who are excited for group conversations or group projects. Mainly because they are gifted with coming up with ideas and discussing them.

They also have a good understanding of people’s emotions, facial expressions, and relationship dynamics. They are also likely the first people to point out the root causes of communication issues.

Intrapersonal Learning

The reverse of interpersonal learning, these people prefer learning alone. These are the people who love self-study and working alone. Typically, intrapersonal learners are deeply in tune with themselves meaning they know who they are, their feelings, and their own capabilities.

This type of learning style means you love learning something on your own and typically every day. You also have innate skills in managing yourself and indulging in self-reflection.

Physical Learning

Also known as kinesthetic learning, these people love doing things with their hands. These are people who loved pottery or shop class. If you’re a physical learner, you’ll find you have a huge preference in using your body in order to learn.

This means not just pottery or shop class you enjoyed. You may also have loved sports or any other art medium like painting or woodwork. Anything that involved you learning through physical manipulation you enjoyed and excelled at.

Though this doesn’t just apply to direct physical activities. A physical learner may also find that they learn well when both reading on any subject and pacing or bouncing your leg at the same time.

Naturalistic Learning

The final learning style is naturalistic. These are people who process information through patterns in nature. They also apply scientific reasoning in order to understand living creatures.

Not many people may be connected to this one out of the types of learning styles primarily because of those facts. Furthermore, those who excel in this learning end up being farmers, naturalists or scientists.

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These are the people who love everything with nature. They appreciate plants, animals, and rural settings deeply compared to others.

How to Know Which One(s) Suit You Better?

So now that you have an idea of all the types of learning styles we have another question:

Which one(s) are best for you?

As a reminder, all of us learn through a combination of these learning styles. This makes pinpointing these styles difficult since our learning is likely a fusion of two or more of those styles.

Fortunately, there are all kinds of methods to narrow down which learner you are. Let’s explore the most popular one: the VARK model.

VARK Model

Developed by Neil Fleming and David Baume, the VARK model is basically a conversation starter for teachers and learners.[2] It takes the eight types of learning styles above and condenses them into four categories:

  • Visual – those who learn from sight.
  • Auditory – those who learn from hearing.
  • Reading/writing – those who learn from reading and writing.
  • Kinesthetic – those who learn from doing and moving.

As you can probably tell, VARK comes from the first letter of each style.

But why use this particular model?

This model was created not only for discussion purposes but for learners to know a few key things — namely understanding how they learn.

Because our school system is focusing on a one-size-fits-all model, there are many of us who struggle learning in school. While we may no longer go to school, these behaviors persisted into our adult lives regardless. While we aren’t learning about algebra or science, we may be learning new things about our job or industry. Knowing how to best retain that information for the future helps in so many ways.

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As such, it can be frustrating when we’re in a classroom setting and aren’t understanding anything. That or maybe we’re listening to a speech or reading a book and have no clue what’s going on.

This is where VARK comes back in. To quote Fleming and Baume:

“VARK above all is designed to be a starting place for a conversation among teachers and learners about learning. It can also be a catalyst for staff development- thinking about strategies for teaching different groups can lead to more, and appropriate, variety of learning and teaching.”

Getting into the specifics, this is what’s known as metacognition.[3] It helps you to understand how you learn and who you are. Think of it as a higher order of thinking that takes control over how you learn. It’s impossible to not use this while learning.

But because of that metacognition, we can pinpoint the different types of learning styles that we use. More importantly, what style we prefer over others.

Ask These Questions

One other method that I’ll mention is the research that’s done at the University of Waterloo.[4] If you don’t want to be using a lot of brainpower to pinpoint, consider this method.

The idea with this method is to answer a few questions. Since our learning is a combination of styles, you’ll find yourself leaning to one side over the other with these questions:

  • The active/reflective scale: How do you prefer to process information?
  • The sensing/intuitive scale: How do you prefer to take in information?
  • The visual/verbal scale: How do you prefer information to be presented?
  • The sequential/global scale: How do you prefer to organize information?

This can narrow down how you learn and provide some other practical tips for enhancing your learning experience.

Final Thoughts

Even though we have a preferred style of learning and knowing what that is is beneficial, learning isn’t about restriction. Our learning style shouldn’t be the sole learning style we rely on all the time.

Our brain is made of various parts and whatever style we learn activates certain parts of the brain. Because of this fact, it would be wise to consider other methods of learning and to give them a try.

Each method I mentioned has its merits and there’s not one dominate or superior method. What method we like is entirely up to our preferences. So be flexible with those preferences and uncover what style works best for you.

More About Learning

Featured photo credit: Anna Earl via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] BrainScape: Repetition is the mother of all learning
[2] Neil Fleming and David Baume: VARKing Up the Right Tree
[3] ERIC: Metacognition: An Overview
[4] University of Waterloo: Understanding Your Learning Style

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