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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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Last Updated on November 6, 2020

How Motor Learning Can Help You Learn Effectively

How Motor Learning Can Help You Learn Effectively

Practice makes perfect. It’s a cliché saying that gets pulled out time and time again. For many, they loath to hear it, but that saying has some truth to it. After all, this saying pops up the most when we are in the midst of motor learning.

While this saying is off, as perfection is impossible, the practice side of it is the only way for us to get closer to that level. And the only way a motor skill can get to that level is through motor learning. It’s through this concept where we can grow the various skills in our lives, but also to learn effectively by learning the right way.

What Is Motor Learning?

To present an example, it’s best to explain what the theory of motor learning is. For starters, it’s been described as such:[1]

“A set of internal processes associated with practice or experience leading to relatively permanent changes in the capability for skilled behavior.”

Our brain responds to sensory information to either practice or experience a certain skill that allows for growth of a motor task or the ability to produce a new motor skill. This happens because our central nervous system changes to allow this to happen in the first place.To see this at work, consider one of the first skills we learned as a human being: walking. While some think toddlers get up and start trying to walk, there are many complex processes at work.

The reason people started to learn to walk was because of motor learning.

At the base stage, we started to walk because months before even trying to take our first steps, we saw how important it was. We witnessed several people walking and understood how helpful it is to walk on two feet.

The 3 Stages of Motor Learning

There is more to motor learning than you might think. Over the years, the learning community has uncovered that there are three stages of motor learning:

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  • Cognitive
  • Associative
  • Autonomous

Each stage has its own requirements for further development and what each stage brings to the learning experience[2].

Motor learning for performance

    Cognitive Stage

    This base stage is where a lot of learning and context happens. At this stage, we’re not overly concerned about how to actually do the skill properly. Instead, we’re more concerned about why we should bother learning the skill.

    Once we’ve got a grasp of that, this stage also starts the trial and error process. You can call it practice, but at this stage, the idea is to at least try it out rather than nail it.

    This is also the stage where we are heavily reliant on guidance. We can have a coach or a teacher there, and their role is to provide a good learning environment. This means removing distractions and using visuals, as well as encouraging those trials and errors to guide the learning process.

    One example of this goes back to the walking example, but other instances are things like driving a car or riding a bike. Even when we are older, you can see this form of learning working.

    Associative Stage

    The second stage is where we’ve got some practice under our belt, and we have a good grasp of general concepts. We know what to do in order to perform this particular skill. The only problem is that we might not be able to do that skill all that well when compared to others.

    Indeed, we know what to do, but not “how to do it well.” It’s at this stage where the saying “Practice makes perfect” rings true. The more that we practice, the more we can refine and tighten the loose ends of that skill.

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    An example of this motor learning at work is seen in sports. Generally speaking, people can perform better the more that they practice. That’s because the more we practice something, the more we understand what input does to our bodies as well as where our current limits lie.

    Autonomous Stage

    At this stage, everything is more or less automatic and will stick in the long term. We can still improve, but you don’t need to tell yourself to go and do a certain task or assignment constantly. Your body has become adjusted to the idea of doing this.

    .

    An example of this learning is the skills that you use at work. When you get to work, you need very little persuasion to actually do your work. Whether that’s writing, lifting, operating a machine, or performing, there are a set of skills that we don’t think about and merely do.

    The Principles of Motor Learning

    The principles of motor learning are few and far between. Generally speaking, there is a consensus that the key to production of a new motor skill isn’t so much on the amount of time spent practicing, but the way that we practice.

    This idea was brought up in a 2016 study published on Science Alert, where scientists uncovered that making changes in your training can enhance your learning experience.[3]

    With this in mind, the core principles focus on the methodology of learning. Not only that, but ensuring they follow through the stages that I mentioned above, which are simple in concept.

    The core principle of this learning is to reinforce a skill so much that our execution of that skill is nothing but mindless consistency.

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    The study that I brought up is a new addition to that principle, as we now know that making alterations during our practice can cause new aspects of learning to grow and enrich our learning and mastery of a skill.

    How to Use Motor Learning Theory For Effective Learning

    The theory as we know it is to practice movement patterns until they become second nature and to experiment and make small changes in order to improve performance of a skill.

    How does all of that help with us being better at something? That study found something called memory reconsolidation.[4] One of the senior study author’s, Pablo A. Celnik, M.D. stated that:

    “What we found is if you practice a slightly modified version of a task you want to master, you actually learn more and faster than if you just keep practicing the exact same thing multiple times in a row.”

    Motor learning through memory reconsolidation

      Celnik also stressed why this is such a big deal:

      “Our results are important because little was known before about how reconsolidation works in relation to motor skill development. This shows how simple manipulations during training can lead to more rapid and larger motor skill gains because of reconsolidation.”

      In other words, by using memory reconsolidation, we can learn faster and ultimately gain the ability to perform a skill faster than by practicing something for several hours without making changes[5].

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      Why does this variation enhance practice? Because the act of recalling our memories isn’t a passive process.[6]

      Whether you are learning a new skill or recalling an event, the sheer act of recalling changes the memory itself. In essence, our memories become highly unreliable as we focus and subtly alter those memories in light of recent events.

      This is because our brain is more interested in the most useful version of the world and disregards useless details.

      Bottom Line

      In order to incorporate motor learning into your life, it’s a matter of mixing up your practice session slightly. Whatever skill it is you are trying to do, urge yourself to make subtle changes to how you perform.

      If you’re writing, try applying a new word you never used previously that you picked up.

      Are you practicing an instrument or playing a sport? Try to use a different muscle or a new movement to achieve the same sound. This can be something as simple as posture or body position.

      The idea with motor learning is to keep practicing, even if you are at the stage where your movements are automatic. This variation can very well bring you to the next level of that skill.

      More About Learning Faster

      Featured photo credit: Jordan Whitfield via unsplash.com

      Reference

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