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Published on October 7, 2019

How to Create an Effective Learning Process And Learn Smart

How to Create an Effective Learning Process And Learn Smart

One of the most crucial aspects of our lives is our ability to learn. We often take this skill for granted since not many of us pause and think about how we are learning. In fact, if we did, we would probably uncover that a lot of how we learn isn’t that effective.

Think about it. Has your learning process helped you to recall things you learned last month? How about last year?

A lot of how we learn mainly was tucked away in school. Our exposure to school learning is the basis for how we learn moving forward. But the issue is that, over the past few decades, learning has evolved.

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

As a result, we can learn new things in a smarter and more effective manner. I’ll be covering the steps, as well as other types of learning.

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 to be practiced the correct way. If you’re learning how to do something the wrong way, you’ll continue to use it the wrong way.

But before delving into the learning process, it’s key to know 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 use every single day, a skill that you’re really good at.

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

In fact, 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.

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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 had a need to learn how to drive a car. But once you became legal age to drive, you had to study to get your license. You likely made several mistakes on the driving test and during the written tests.

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 you need to focus and concentrate on what you are doing.

Going back to driving, 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 in order to focus and concentrate on driving.

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

Flow or mastery can stem from all kinds of activities. 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.

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Different Types of Learning

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

I’ve covered 4 learning styles in my other article 4 Learning Styles to Help You Learn Faster and Smarter. Here I’m recapping the different types of learning in psychology.

Psychiatrists have narrowed how we learn down to seven learning styles they are described as:

  • 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. Not only that but how we recall information, and our own word choice is determined from how we learn.

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 key 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 also to retain it. If we are to learn something, we will have to learn and relearn. This means recalling and having a strong memory to retain that information.

Now how we can improve our memory can range from a variety of things. From memory palaces to practicing other memory improvement tactics.

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2. Keep Learning and Practicing New Things

Learning a new skill takes time, but there is nothing wrong with learning a few other things. In fact, one article published in Nature reported those who juggled between learning different topics increased their gray matter; and gray matter is associated with visual memory.[4]

3. Learn in Many Ways

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

It’s not going to be great at first, but by improving your skill to describe what you learned orally, you are further cementing the knowledge in your mind.

One researcher noted that the more regions we keep data stored, the more interconnection there is.[5]

4. Teaching What You Learned to Others

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

Regardless of learning styles, we retain the information we tell others more effectively than if we kept it to ourselves. Was there a random fact you told someone a few months ago? You’ll have better odds of remembering that information than others because you brought it to someone.

5. Use Relational Learning

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

A common 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”.

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.

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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 can 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 improve 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 to other tasks.

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

Bottom Line

How we choose to use 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 grow further any skill is to be continuously learning. Even in the skills we’ve mastered, there are always new developments.

You can say we ought to have a hunger for anything knowledge, and you would be right; but only for the knowledge that we are invested in.

Featured photo credit: Aliis Sinisalu via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Gordon Training International: 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

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on October 16, 2019

12 Surprising Benefits of Learning a New Language

12 Surprising Benefits of Learning a New Language

Learning a new language is a big deal.

You’re learning a completely new form of communication, and it enables you to communicate with people you never could have before.

But there’s benefits to learning a language that you might not have expected when you started the journey. I’ve personally experienced this having learned 3 languages in my life (Korean, English, and Spanish).

Think about the effect that losing weight has on someone’s life. While most people get into it for a healthier lifestyle, there can be surprising benefits like increased confidence, being more outgoing, and increased mental clarity.

The same thing can apply to language learning.

In this article, we’ll share the 12 surprising benefits you’ll experience when you learn a language.

1. Learn Anything Faster

Learning a new language is mental agility training at its best. The exercise in cognitive problem solving can without a doubt be applied to almost any problem we want to solve in other areas.

Your memory retention is also improved when learning a new language.[1] Absorbing and retaining more information can significantly shorten your learning curve, because you can spend more time learning new information instead of re-learning something you’ve already learned before.

But it doesn’t stop there. Once you learn a new language, not only are you able to learn other languages faster (simply due to understanding the process), but you’ve already retained key skills for learning several other languages without even knowing it.

For example, if you recently learned how to speak Spanish, you’ve automatically entered the world of languages from the latin root, such as Portuguese, Italian, French, and Romanian. In fact, between these languages there are over a thousand words that are exactly the same, if not very similar to each other.

Screen-Shot-2016-03-07-at-8.00.09-AM

    Notice the similarity of the words between these languages.

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    2. Improve Your Math Skills

    For those of us who didn’t grow up with natural talents in mathematics, no need to fear.

    A study was done at Massachusetts in 2007, where The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages stated that:[2]

    “Children who study a foreign language, even when this second language study takes time away from the study of mathematics, outperform students who do not study a foreign language and have more mathematical instruction during the school day.”

    In another study published in the University of Michigan’s Language Learning journal (Armstrong and Rogers, 1997), students who studied just one semester of a foreign language for just 90 minutes per week scored significantly higher in maths and language arts.

    If you think about it, it makes sense. Learning a language involves a structural and logical process, which is the same type of thinking that makes you thrive in mathematics.

    3. Become a Better Listener

    This is a skillset that comes in handy for any situation throughout our lives.

    If you’re trying to build a real connection with anyone, there’s nothing better than intentional listening without interruption. This is one of the key elements taught in Dale Carnegie’s, How to Win Friends and Influence People.

    When learning a language, there’s no choice but to train yourself to listen carefully, because you’re trying to make out every accent, pronunciation, and tone used by the other person. And if you’re just starting out, you’re forced to listen because you can’t speak the language!

    Most importantly, learning a new language helps you step into the shoes of people different to yourself and see the world in a completely different way— therefore developing empathy for others.

    4. Enhances Your Focus

    In a study, published online in the journal, Brain and Language, individuals who spoke more than one language were observed through an fMRI, while performing word comprehension tasks.[3] This is a far more powerful than the best drugs which only delay the symptoms by 6–12 months.[4]

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    The American Academy of Neurology has performed studies showing that speaking more than one language increases the amount of neural pathways in the brain, allowing information to be processed through a greater variety of channels.

    7. Improve Your Native Language

    We discussed how learning one language can help you pick up not only other languages, but familiarize yourself with languages originating from the same root.

    What most people don’t mention enough, is that it can also help you improve your native language.

    According to an Impact of the Second Language Education study, studying a second language alone will significantly improve your first language skills in areas relating to grammar, reading, vocabulary, and speaking skills.[5]

    This makes sense because learning a new language allows you to understand the structures and breakdown of a language, whereas this is something you likely intuitively picked up when you learned your native language.

    8. Increase Your Creativity

    Language learning is a lot like putting together the pieces of a new puzzle.

    You understand several, but not all of the words that are thrown at you, so you have to force yourself to be creative and fill the missing gaps on your own.

    creative-brain2

      This research concludes that bilingual individuals have a more “out of the box” thinking approach than monolingual individuals.[6]

      While most creativity training occurs in waves (meaning on and off), there’s no taking breaks when you’re having a conversation with someone. You either have to force yourself to become creative in your interpretation and speaking skills, or you’ll need to face up to the awkward silence that follows.

      9. Culturally Knowledgeable

      Language learning is not only about communicating in a foreign language, but it’s about experiencing a new culture.

      The first reason is that meeting foreign people is embedded in the core of language learning. In order to practice and improve your new language, you’ll need to work with a language teacher, use conversation exchanges, or attend language meetups. This is similar to how you need to just ride the bicycle instead of watching videos about it: it’s just part of the process.

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      The majority of conflicts between people in the world come from a lack of understanding of the other side. Studying a new language not only helps you understand where the other person is coming from, but the cultural knowledge you gain can help others feel more connected to you.

      10. Open up New Career Opportunities

      In the past decade, we’ve experienced a rapidly growing trend of globalization. With the Internet era, there is no such thing as doing local business. Nearly every business that opens up today is an online business, and has the ability to reach a global market in seconds.

      Big corporations are working fast to expand internationally to Asia, Europe, and South America, and understanding a foreign language will in the future likely become as standard as knowing Microsoft Word.

      Irene Missen, a language specialist at a top recruitment agency, Euro London, says that languages can open doors for you, and estimates a language can add between 10% and 15% to your wage.[7]

      When it comes to advancing your career, it’s critical to leave no doors closed. Learning a new language takes time, and it’s far better to learn it before you need it than to be unprepared at your next job interview.

      11. Experience a New Way of Traveling

      This is a big one, and often one that’s hard to understand unless you know another language.

      For example, learning how to speak Spanish before you visit Spain for the first time, will give you an entirely different travel experience versus not knowing the language.

      When you can speak the language of the place you’re traveling to, you’re no longer dependent on the typical tourism tips that you’ll get from Tripadvisor. You can build relationships with the locals, and discover restaurants, hot spots, and excursions that tourism websites will never be able to share with you.

      You get to experience the new culture from the eyes of a local, instead of a tourist.

      12. Deepen Your Relationships

      Almost everyone who comes from a different cultural background can probably empathize with this point. With my limited ability to speak Korean, I struggled growing up with Korean family members.

      Luckily, I was able to improve my skills over time (surprisingly, from learning Spanish). But I constantly see people who struggle to have that connection with their family members, friends, or even life partner, because of this language barrier.

      As we shared in this post, the majority of the world’s problem comes down to communication problems. And there’s no bigger barrier to communication than the languages we are able to speak with each other!

      Featured photo credit: Dan Gold via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Science Direct: Working memory development in monolingual and bilingual children
      [2] Daily News Minder: The benefits of learning a foreign language
      [3] AAAS: Bilingual brains better equipped to process information))

      Results showed that multi-lingual individuals were better at filtering out competing words than one-language speaking individuals. This ability to tune out competing words benefits in blocking out distractions to focus on the task at hand.

      As your listening skill improves, it only makes sense that it enhances your focus as well. Just like learning any new skill, learning a language requires your full, undivided attention. One slight distraction can mean the difference between one meaning and a completely different one.

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      Over time, your brain will be trained to maintain this level of focus.

      5. Boost Your Confidence

      When we set out to achieve something and find success, it boosts our confidence levels — no matter how small the progress.

      Even being able to carry a 30-second conversation with a native speaker can make you more confident, because you know it’s something you wouldn’t have been able to do before.

      “Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” — E.E. Cummings

      I still remember the “aha moment” I experienced when I was living in Medellin, Colombia. I was living with a roommate who couldn’t speak a word of English when I first moved in. After a few months of using an online app to learn Spanish, I was able to get to a conversation level of fluency. It amazed me how I was suddenly able to speak to someone that I couldn’t have fathomed speaking to before.

      Needlessly to say, as the language barrier disappeared, our positive perception of each other increased dramatically, and so did our friendship.

      This confidence boost only pushed me to learn more, engage with more native speakers, and it translated into more confidence in every aspect of my life.

      Author of Lean Forward, Eric Holtzclaw, states that it is powerful how even a tiny change in perspective can pull you out of a funk and give “you the boost you need to take on that next challenge.”

      6. Prevent Potential Brain Diseases

      Improving our health is something that should be a priority for every one of us, no matter how old we are. Most of us consider improving our health in a few major areas, like our physical appearance. But we tend to miss out on the most important part that runs our entire body — the brain.

      We are nothing without the vital functions of our brain, and we need to prioritize its health like we would with any other vital organ in our body.

      brain-languagemap

        When it comes to the brain, learning a new language can prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease and dementia by 4.5 years.((Neurology: Bilingualism delays age at onset of dementia, independent of education and immigration status

        [4] Alzheimer’s Association: Medications for Memory
        [5] Rype: 8 Science-Backed Benefits of Learning a New Language
        [6] Cerebrum Dana Foundation: The Cognitive Benefits of Being Bilingual
        [7] Guardian: Learning a foreign language: Now you’re talking

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