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9 Efficient Learning Habits of Smart Learners

9 Efficient Learning Habits of Smart Learners

Whether you are learning a new instrument, language, or from a course, you can always learn in a better way.

With the learning community growing constantly, there is always research and studies that have talked about certain habits; specifically habits that promote a smarter and efficient learning atmosphere. In fact, the habits I’ll bring up are so effective, most schools don’t talk about them.

This post will explore why that’s the case and how you can integrate these learning habits in your life.

What Is Considered To Be Efficient Learning?

Before getting to the techniques, first it’s best to understand what efficient learning is. In short, efficient learning is a blanket term that applies to widespread techniques.

There’s no one method of learning efficiently that is above everything. It’s any technique you can think of that smoothes out the learning process and makes retaining the information easier.

For example, one technique that Inc. recommended was the idea of spreading out learning. Research uncovered that if you want the information to stick, then try out “distributed practice.”[1] The idea behind it is to study briefly, take a break, and then study again.

These intense bursts of learning over a long period of time are similar to other techniques I recommended in the past. As such, they are highly effective in any field. Some other examples can be self-directed learning, leveraging a memory palace, and more.

As you can see, these techniques make studying and learning easier than it otherwise would be. But that raises a key question I hinted at above:

If they’re so effective and highly regarded, why haven’t schools adopted these strategies?

Kent State’s John Dunlosky commented about it once and shed some light on the problem:

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“These strategies are largely overlooked in the educational psychology textbooks that beginning teachers read, so they don’t get a good introduction to them or how to use them while teaching.”

You also have regulations. In the United States, there is a Federal Curriculum (FC) that teachers must structure their courses around. As you are no doubt aware, the FC is not up to date with current learning strategies.

That being said, it doesn’t mean you can’t apply these techniques in your everyday life. Whether you are going to school or not, the methods below will help you to better grasp efficient learning and retain information better.

What Can You Do To Learn More Efficiently

There are all kinds of research studies out there talking about various methods. Below are some simple and ready to use strategies:

1. Eat and Avoid Certain Foods

Research has uncovered that there are certain foods that boost learning while others inhibit learning. The focus on these studies revolves around general brain function.

For foods to avoid, a lot of it points to food that has refined sugar or is highly processed.[2] This also includes baked goods like doughnuts and cookies. However, there are other foods you might not have expected. Examples are margarine, fruit juice, or white bread.

As for foods to actually eat, good brain food would be foods with Omega-3 fatty acids and folic acid.[3] What this means is you want to eat sardines, salmon, walnuts, broccoli, spinach, celery, avocados, and blueberries.

As the study uncovered, eating these particular foods – in their raw or cooked state depending – will help you focus and have a better memory. These foods also reduce brain injury.

All you need to do is eat the right foods around the time you are planning on studying. This also means avoiding the listed bad foods at any cost during that time, even after you finished studying.

2. Drink Water

Our brain is 73% water. So if you feel your brain isn’t working right, it’s likely you are dehydrated. Even a mild case of dehydration can inhibit your learning capabilities. One study found that when we feel thirsty, we experience a 10% decline in cognition.[4]

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This might not seem like much but 10% can be a big difference. It can be the difference between grasping and processing information properly and misinterpreting it.

So stay hydrated over the course of the day. And if you struggle remembering that, or any other information, bring a water bottle with you and sip on it during class.

There are also all kinds of helpful apps and water bottles that help you to stay hydrated during the day too.

3. Sleep

While this one seems counter-productive, it really isn’t. Harvard researchers found that dreaming may be used as a method to reactivate and reorganize material recently learned.[5] This makes sense since so many other studies have mentioned that sleep is conducive to improving brain function in general.

But don’t think that you need a long sleep in order for this to work. One German study also found that even a 6-minute nap can help improve memory too.[6]

4. Collaborative Learning

Teamwork provides all kinds of benefits. When you are in the right kind of group, studying and learning together can provide ample benefits. One study from Science Direct found that through this, students:[7]

  • Improves both collaboration and communication skills;
  • Were more engaged with other students and the topic;
  • Had a deeper understanding of the subject;
  • And had long-term retention benefits.

Of course, this technique can be hit or miss with some people. Some people don’t always have the luxury of studying in a group. Some may prefer studying by themselves naturally. And there are benefits to studying alone. Take self-directed learning which is focused more on independent learning.

That being said, studying in a group does have those benefits amongst finding motivation, and learning new perspectives. Who knows, you may be one conversation away from solving a problem that you’ve struggled with.

5. Remove Stress

No matter who you are, stress can be a massive impairment to learning and even recalling information. Most people have experienced the feeling during test time where they blank on an answer. That’s likely due to stress at that moment.

But even stress outside of testing situations is bad. One study looked at short term stress and how it would associate with brain-cell communication.[8] It impaired it so much that individuals experienced those blank moments. What’s worse is those stressful events occurred a few hours before tests or presentations.

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Because you want to avoid stress, you want to practice all kinds of techniques to reduce stress. Physical activity, breathing exercises, and meditating are all techniques that calm us and remove stress. Try these 7 Stress Management Techniques to Get Back on Track.

6. Listen To Music

In studying situations, you’d think you want a nice quiet area to curl up and study. In school, that’s typically the library. However, there’s been research that shows that a quiet place may not be the most ideal spot.

In fact, one study from Stanford found listening to certain music to improve studying.[9] The study uncovered that music activated certain areas in the brain associated with making predictions and paying attention. It also made students more receptive to information.[10]

Unfortunately, these studies do have a bit of a flaw. They used classical music. So it’s hard to say what other types of music would be conducive for studying.

Regardless, there are all kinds of calming and soothing music online. And there’re also music for productivity: Productivity Music for Focus (Recommended Playlists).

You’re always just one search away from various music that’s meant to help you learn. Try it out!

7. Avoid Multitasking

Over the years, we’ve grown used to doing multiple things at once. Texting, reading, and streaming media all at once for example. However, in a studying atmosphere that won’t work.

Trying to do multitasking is merely a distraction. It reduces our brain’s ability to store new information and to properly process it.[11] After all, we are forcing our brain to jump from one task to a completely different one.

To help with avoiding multitasking, find yourself a learning environment to help you not get distracted. A library, a café, or a room in your house or apartment that’s away from other noise.

And if you absolutely need your laptop, perhaps getting apps like ColdTurkey or Anti Social to block out pesky distractions.

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8. Teach Someone Else (Or Think About It)

As one of the many old sayings go:

“While we teach, we learn.”

That saying is true thanks in part to a study that was published in Memory and Cognition. The study found that students who taught – or even thought they had to teach – the material were efficient learning.

The study found that those students spent more time thinking about how they would explain topics or concepts. This, in turn, improved their overall understanding and grasp of topics and theories.

Even if you don’t end up teaching someone, the mere thought you have to can help you to solidify topics.

9. Try Various Learning Techniques

The last efficient learning technique I’d suggest is to learn using various strategies. Not necessarily these techniques but other forms of learning.

Are you someone who learns from a book or needs visual aids? Try learning by listening to speeches, or podcasts.

Do you study alone most times? Consider forming a study group and collaborating with people.

Each study method is good in its own way. But the thing with these study methods is they activate certain parts of your brain. They also store that information in those particular parts. So by having information spread out throughout various sections of your brain, the more interconnected the information is.

Bottom Line

At the core, efficient learning is a matter of retaining, recalling, and understanding a topic. Each person has their own tricks and tips that work for them and its a reason to explore. To explore new study methods.

Who knows, maybe you’ll find a better system to help you grasp topics like never before. That’s the beauty of learning! There are no right or wrong answers for what method is best for you.

More About Learning

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Published on March 1, 2021

What Is Double Loop Learning And How Is It Valuable?

What Is Double Loop Learning And How Is It Valuable?

As someone on the Millennial/Generation X cusp, one of my first memories of a news story was the devastating crash of the Challenger space shuttle. I couldn’t process the severity or the specifics of the event at the time, but looking back, the Challenger explosion represents a heartbreaking example of what can happen when systems fail.

A part of the shuttle known as the O-ring was faulty. People from NASA knew about it well before the disaster, but NASA employees either ignored the problem—writing it off as not that bad—or were ignored when they tried to alert higher-ups about the issue.[1] This is a tragic example of single-loop learning where organizations focus on what they’re doing without reflecting on how or why they’re doing it, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Single and Double-Loop Learning

Chris Argyris describes the difference between single and double-loop learning with a metaphor. A thermostat that turns on and off when it senses a pre-set temperature is akin to single-loop learning. The thermostat being able to reflect on whether or not it should be set to that temperature in the first place would be more like double-loop learning.[2]

Imagine the difference if NASA would have encouraged and addressed employees’ questions about how they were doing, what they were doing, and whether or not they should be doing it at all—you’ll start to see how an extra layer of questioning and critical thought can help organizations thrive.

Single Loop Learning

Single-loop learning is when planning leads to action, which leads to reflection on those actions and then back to planning, action, and more reflection. Now, you might think that because reflection is involved, single-loop learning would be an effective organizational model. However, because there isn’t room for critical questions that ask why actions are being taken, problems begin to bubble up.

The Double Bind

When organizations are operating in single-loop learning, they get stuck in what Argyris calls the Double Bind. Because there’s no value placed on questioning why the team is doing something, team members are either punished for speaking up or punished for not speaking up if something goes wrong down the line.

Primary Inhibiting Loop

When an organization is stuck in single-loop learning, the double bind leads to what Argyris calls the primary inhibiting loop. Real learning and growth are inhibited because team members withhold information from each other. This withholding leads to distrust and is difficult to remedy because even if employees attempt to become more forthcoming, lack of trust sours interactions.

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Secondary Inhibiting Loop

Because information is being withheld, team members play unconscious games (not the fun kind) to protect each other’s feelings. For example, I might try to distract my colleagues from worrying about a problem in our plan by shifting the focus to another project we’re working on that’s going better.

When you’re stuck in single-loop learning, the organization does whatever it can to continue taking action after action instead of stopping to truly reassess the bigger picture. This leads team members to hide information from each other, which causes distrust and behaviors that try to mask flaws in the organization’s structures and systems.

Double Loop Learning in Organizations

A common misconception is that the opposite of single-loop learning involves focusing primarily on people’s feelings and allowing employees to manage themselves. However, the solution for single-loop learning is not about doing the opposite. It’s about adding an extra later of critical analysis—double-loop learning.

With double-loop learning, questioning why the organization is doing what it’s doing is an organizational value. Instead of moving from planning to action to reflection and back to planning, in double-loop learning, people are encouraged to reflect on why they’re doing what they’re doing. This can help the organization take a step back and reconsider what’s best for all stakeholders instead of being stuck acting and reacting.

Ultimately, double-loop learning gives team members the time, space, and systems to ask tough questions and have them addressed in meaningful ways.

Let’s think back to the Challenger disaster. If NASA had created an organization that uses double-loop learning, employees wouldn’t have felt compelled to stay silent, and the employees who did speak up would have influenced the process enough to reconsider the timeline and develop a solution for the O-ring problem.

Single-loop learning is like a train with no breaks. Double-loop learning provides the extra layer of critical thought that allows the organization to stop and pivot when that’s what’s required.

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Think back to Argyris’ thermostat metaphor. Instead of just reacting—turning on and off when it detects a certain temperature—double-loop learning invites the thermostat to reconsider why it’s doing what it’s doing and how it might do it better.

How to Shift to Double Loop Learning

So, how can organizations shift from single to double-loop learning?

1. Stakeholders Must Level With Each Other

The first step to shifting from single to double-loop learning is for all stakeholders to sit down and talk openly about their expectations, values, and goals. These sessions should be led by organizational experts to ensure that old single-loop learning habits of distrust, withholding, and game-playing don’t keep people stuck in single-loop learning.

One of the keys to team members leveling with each other is listening. Focus on creating an environment where everyone can speak up without fear of judgment or punishment.

2. Create Benchmarks for Lasting Growth and Change

Old habits die hard, and single-loop learning is no different. If systems, check-ins, benchmarks, and periodic times to reflect and reset aren’t put into place, old habits of withholding and mistrust will likely creep back in. You can guard against this by making it a norm to measure, assess, and improve how new double-loop learning systems are being implemented over time.

3. Reward Risk-Taking and Critical Feedback

Double-loop learning requires squeaky wheels. You have to create a culture that rewards criticism, risk-taking, and reflecting on the system as a whole and the reasons the organization does what it does. Think big picture stuff.

This is about walking the walk. It’s one thing to tell employees to speak up and give their feedback, it’s another thing entirely to have systems in place that make employees feel safe enough to do so.

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Kimberly Scott’s Radical Candor comes to mind as one way to start shifting to a more open and critical environment. Radical Candor is a system that incentivizes employees and managers to start speaking up about things they used to sweep under the rug. It’s a roadmap and a way to assess and improve open and reflective feedback between all stakeholders.

Double Loop Learning for Individuals

Double-loop learning isn’t only for organizations. You can also apply Argyris’ ideas to your learning.[3]

Here’s how that might look:

1. Level With Yourself and Seek Accountability

Instead of being stuck in a single-loop learning cycle, break out by adding another layer of critical reflection. Why are you learning what you’re learning? Is it important? Is there another way? Think big picture again.

Become clear on what you want to learn and how you’re currently trying to learn it. Then, open yourself up to others to keep yourself accountable. Leave the door open to completely shift major details about your learning goals.

2. Create Benchmarks and Don’t Put Your Head in the Sand

Just as with organizations, individuals also need to create goals and continuously reflect on whether or not they’re moving toward double-loop learning. Schedule times to meet with the people keeping you accountable for your learning plan. Then, ask yourself whether or not your learning goals still make sense.

Ask big picture questions. Are you in the right environment to learn? Is your learning plan working? Do you need to change course altogether or shift your goals entirely? If it’s double-loop learning, you can’t be afraid to ask questions about why you’re doing what you’re doing and change course when the need arises.

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3. Value Risk-Taking and Accept Criticism

You’re also going to need to shift your mindset from simply learning and reflecting to accepting criticism, being critical of yourself as a learner, and taking risks and experiencing discomfort as you ask big questions and make drastic alterations to your learning plan over time.

Instead of concerning yourself with grades and GPAs, double-loop learning would mean you’re allowing yourself time to step back and analyze why you’re learning what you’re learning, if there’s a better way, and even whether or not you should be on that learning trajectory in the first place.

Final Thoughts

Think back to the thermostat example. Doing homework, handing it in, and then receiving a grade is single-loop learning. Thinking about why you’re doing any of that and making appropriate changes that align with your learning goals shifts you into double-loop learning, and that’s a great way to see the bigger picture and get the best results.

Learning and reflection are two of the most important things when it comes to organizational or personal development. This is why double-loop learning is key if you want yourself or your organization to succeed.

More Tips on Effective Learning

Featured photo credit: Cherrydeck via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] NPR: Challenger: What Went Wrong
[2] Harvard Business Review: Double Loop Learning in Organizations
[3] Journal of Advanced Learning: The role of reflection in single and double-loop learning

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