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Last Updated on July 24, 2020

A Comprehensive Guide to a Smart Learning Process

A Comprehensive Guide to a Smart Learning Process

One of the most crucial aspects of our lives is the ability to learn. We often take this skill for granted since not many of us pause and think about our learning process. In fact, if we did, we would probably uncover that we engage in ineffective learning mechanisms.

Think about it. Has your learning helped you recall things you learned last month? Go back a year and ponder.

A lot of how we learn was tucked away in school. Our exposure to school learning is the basis of how we learn moving forward. However, over the past few decades, learning has evolved into different stages of learning, and that becomes the main issue.

No longer are we looking at examinations of people’s characteristics about understanding and learning. Instead, scholars have created learning processes that use materials that support our interactions with others and our goals.

As a result, we can learn new things more smartly and effectively – which will be covered as we proceed further in understanding the learning process.

The Essential Steps of the Learning Process

In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell states that the key to success is for us to practice 10,000 hours on a specific skill. It’s also worth noting that the skill needs the correct learning direction. If you’re learning how to do something the wrong way, you’ll continue to use it the wrong way.

But before understanding the learning process, we must understand the stages of learning. Written in the 1970s, Noel Burch created a model called the Four Stages of Learning. [1]

From there, we can use the stages of learning as a basis for how to learn effectively.

1. Unconscious Incompetence

Think of a skill that you are good at and that you use every single day.

Now think back to when you first developed that skill. Were you good at it? Probably not.

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You never heard of the skill or had a desire to learn of it until that point. This is the first stage: You know nothing about it.

2. Conscious Incompetence

Once you have heard of the skill, you begin to delve into it.

Driving a car is a perfect example. Before this stage, you never felt the need to learn how to drive. Nevertheless, once you became of legal age, you had to study to get your license. You likely made several mistakes on the driving test as well as during the written test.

This is the stage where you feel learning is slow, and you’re also aware of your mistakes.

3. Conscious Competence

By this stage, you know pretty much everything you need to know. At the same time, though, you are also aware that you need to focus and concentrate on what you are doing.

This stage can be that you know the rules of the road and can drive well. However, you feel you can’t talk to anyone, play any music, or look away from the road. You feel like you need total silence to focus and concentrate on driving.

At this stage, learning can be even slower than the previous stages. The learning isn’t consistent, nor is it a habit yet.

4. Unconscious Competence

By this stage, you’ve made it. You know everything in and out about the skill. It’s become a habit, and you don’t need to concentrate. You can relax and let your unconscious mind take over.

Exceeding the 4 Stages: Flow/Mastery

While Burch only covered four stages, there is another stage that exceeds it. This is the flow or mastery stage.

You may have heard of something called a flow state. [2] It’s the mental state where someone is performing an activity and is fully immersed in it. They feel energized, focused, and get a sense of joy from doing this activity.

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Flow or mastery can stem from all kinds of activities like Writing, reading, jogging, biking, figure skating, and more. It’s also characterized as complete absorption in what you’re doing, making you unaware of space and time.

Different Types of Learning Process

Another aspect of the learning process is the types of learning. While every person goes through those stages of learning, how we learn is different.

Having covered four learning styles in 4 Learning Styles to Help You Learn Faster and Smarter, I’m recapping the different types of learning in psychology.

Psychiatrists have narrowed how we learn down to seven learning styles as below:

  • Visual (spatial): Learning through pictures, graphs, charts, etc.
  • Aural (auditory-musical): Learning through sound and music.
  • Verbal (linguistic): Learning through spoken or written words.
  • Physical (kinesthetic): Learning through the body, hands, and a sense of touch.
  • Logical (mathematical): Learning through logic, systems, and reasons.
  • Social (interpersonal): Learning through groups or talking to people.
  • Solitary (intrapersonal): Learning individually through self-study or individual assignments.

You may be asking why all of this matters and actually how we learn plays a significant role. How we internally represent experiences stems from how we learn. What we learn not only establishes how we recall information but also impacts our own word choice.

It also influences which part of our brain we use for learning. Researchers uncovered this through various experiments.[3]

For example, say you’re driving to a place you’ve never gone before. How you learn will determine which method of learning you’ll use. Some will ask people for directions, while others will pull up Google maps. Some will write the directions out, while some won’t and merely follow street signs.

Knowing how to learn to this depth is vital because once you know what style you use, you can then develop a learning process to be a more effective learner.

How To Become an Effective Learner?

The learning process varies from person to person. Generally speaking, though, consider the following steps and considerations:

1. Improve Your Memory

Learning doesn’t only require that we learn information, but to retain it. If we are to learn something, we will have to learn and relearn. This means recalling and having a sharp memory to keep that information.

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Improving our memory can range from a variety of things. From memory palaces to practicing other memory improvement tactics.

2. Keep Learning and Practicing New Things

Learning a new skill takes time, but there is nothing wrong with learning a few other things. International Journal of Science – Nature: Changes in grey matter induced by training[4] reported that those who juggled between learning different topics increase their gray matter which is associated with visual memory

3. Learn in Many Ways

While we have our own go-to style, delving into other types and stages of learning can be useful. If you learn by listening to podcasts, why not try rehearsing information verbally or visually?

It will not start great, but by improving your skill to describe what you learned orally, you are further cementing the knowledge in your mind.

Judy Willis MD, M.Ed in her publication on Review of Research: Brain-Based Teaching Strategies for Improving Students’ Memory, Learning, and Test-Taking Success[5] states how the more regions we keep data stored, the more interconnection there is in the collection information that we later process.

4. Teaching What You Learned to Others

It doesn’t have to be in a tutoring situation, but this method is still a reliable way for two people to grow.

Regardless of learning styles, we retain the information we tell others more effectively than if we keep it to ourselves. Was there a random fact you told someone a few months ago? You are more likely to remember that information because you brought it up to someone.

5. Use Relational Learning

Relational learning is relating new information to things you already know.

A typical example of this is remembering someone’s name. You can better recall that person’s name if you associate that name to something or someone familiar.

6. Gaining Practical Experience

Nothing beats learning than trying it for yourself. Sure, seeing information does have its strong points -and most learning styles benefit from exposed information – there is something to be said about getting your “hands dirty.”

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7. Refer Back to past Info If Need Be

The learning process is not perfect. We’ll forget at certain points. If you ever struggle to remember something, make a point of going back to your notes.

This is key because if we try recalling, we risk ourselves learning or relearning the wrong answer. And again, there is a difference between learning the right way and the wrong way.

8. Test Yourself

While this step may seem odd, there are benefits to testing yourself. Even if you think you know everything about the topic, going back and testing yourself can always help.

Not only does testing improve our recall, but we may realize that we learned a concept or task incorrectly. That knowledge can enhance our effectiveness in the future.

9. Stop Multitasking

While we should be learning new things all the time, we shouldn’t be trying to do several tasks at once. We ought to focus on one activity at a time before moving onto other tasks.

By trying to multitask, we are learning less effectively and are only hindering ourselves. Check out how multitasking is merely another way of distracting ourselves.

Bottom Line

Psychologists define learning as the process of a permanent change in a person’s behavior resulting from experience. The understanding of the learning process is up to us, but do consider the bigger picture. Be aware of what style works best for you, and work to improve it while enhancing other learning styles. The only way we can advance a skill is to learn continuously. Even in the skills you have mastered, there are always new developments.

You can learn more about how you can cultivate lifelong learning and attain an edge in every niche that you get associated with today!

Featured photo credit: Aliis Sinisalu via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Gordon Training International: The Four Stages of Competence
[2] Habits for Wellbeing: Flow: the Secret to Happiness: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
[3] Training Industry: How the Brain Learns
[4] International Journal of Science – Nature: Changes in grey matter induced by training
[5] Judy Willis MD, M.Ed: Review of Research: Brain-Based Teaching Strategies for Improving Students’ Memory, Learning, and Test-Taking Success

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on January 18, 2021

7 Science-Backed Learning Hacks to Help You Learn Anything Faster

7 Science-Backed Learning Hacks to Help You Learn Anything Faster

Are you learning a new skill? Whether you’re learning a language, instrument, or sport, there’s science-backed learning hacks you can systematically follow to learn it faster.

With technology, communication tools, and access to information, there’s no limit to what you can learn today. We’ve curated our top 7 learning hacks that you can use for your benefit.

1. Set the right goals from the start

Having the right goals in place is the first step in learning anything. It’s the foundation that will set you up for either success or failure. Most people set vague goals that doesn’t help them in the long term.

For example, let’s say you want to learn how to speak Spanish in order to travel to South America.

A bad goal would be: “I want to learn Spanish so I can go to South America.” Why? Because it’s too general.

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A great goal must include the following factors:

  • Visualization
  • Measurable
  • Deadline

An example goal of a better goal would be: “I want to be able to hold a 30-minute conversation in Spanish with a native speaker from Buenos Aires by July 2017.”

Notice the difference in specificity, visualization, and timeline to learn. Keep these factors in mind the next time you set a goal.

2. Schedule it in

What doesn’t get scheduled in the calendar, doesn’t get done. All of us love to complain about one thing, lack of time. But learning a new skill doesn’t have to take up a large portion of your day. In fact, in as little as 30 minutes per day, you can learn something new.

While it may not be a game changing learning session, these small lessons will quickly accumulate over time.

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3. Deconstruct the skills

Next is to deconstruct and breakdown the individual components you need to learn. Let’s take learning Spanish to continue our example. You could break the skill down to writing, reading, conversation, and listening.

In his popular book, The Four-Hour Chef, Tim Ferriss recommends asking the following question: “What are the minimum learnable units, the LEGO blocks, I should be starting with?” This will help you analyze what are the starting points that you should cover.

4. Focus on the 20% vital learnings

Most of the time, resources, and money we spend are not as impactful towards our end goal as we think. An Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto came up with a law called the Pareto’s Principle. It explains that 20% of tasks, activities, and time will often provide 80% of our desired results.

For example, if you want to learn a language, the 20% could be focusing on learning how to hold a conversation in your target language instead of focusing on reading, writing, etc.

5. Have a stake

Willpower is largely overestimated in our society. Humans, as much as we have progressed, need to be incentivized in one way or another. This could be a reward that we receive for doing something, or it could be a punishment that we get for not doing something.

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I recommend checking out StickK, which is a free goal-setting platform created by behavioral economists that put real money on the line if you fail to meet your goals. The more that’s on the line, the more committed you’ll be.

6. Learn from a professional teacher

If there’s any shortcut in life, it’s to learn from someone who’s done it and trained to teach you. Sure, you can try to do it all on your own, but that’ll take significantly longer in terms of time, sometimes years.

This is why having a personal trainer to help you get in shape has shown to provide individuals the fastest and most effective results. Or why the best performers in business have business coaches and mentors by their side at all times.

7. Take care of yourself

There’s no question that health is one of the most important things we should prioritize to learn anything faster. If done well, it will trickle down to help us pick up knowledge faster and remember more information.

This boils down to not just more, but better sleep and exercise. Exercise improves learning on three levels. It optimizes your mindset, by improving alertness, attention, and motivation. It prepares and encourages nerve cells to intersect, preparing our brain to acquire new information. And it spurs the development of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus, an area of the brain related to memory and learning.

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Here’s a visual representation of how our brain is affected by sitting versus taking a quick 20-minute walk.

    In conclusion, these simple learning hacks can help anyone of us fill the skill gaps we need to thrive in our professional career and personal lives. Sometimes, just working harder is not the solution. It’s working smarter.

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