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Published on October 22, 2019

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 January 21, 2020

5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

Do you forget stuff every now and then? Are you trying to enhance your memory but not sure how?

All you need is the right memorization techniques to make the most of your memory.

The human brain is fascinating. More specifically, the vast interconnections within our mind. Mendel Kaelen compares the human brain to a hill covered in snow,

“Think of the brain as a hill covered in snow, and thoughts as sleds gliding down that hill. As one sled after another goes down the hill a small number of main trails will appear in the snow. And every time a new sled goes down, it will be drawn into preexisting trails, almost like a magnet. In time it becomes more and more difficulty to glide down the hill on any other path or in a different direction.”

The intent of Kaelen’s discussion is to think of new ways to temporarily flatten the snow. Kaelen remarked,

“The deeply worn trails disappear, and suddenly the sled can go in other directions, exploring new landscapes and, literally, creating new pathways.”

The idea here is to temporarily rewire your brain, or as Michael Pollan remarked in How to Change Your Mind,

“The power to shake the snow globe, disrupting unhealthy patterns of thought and creating a space of flexibility-entropy-in which more salubrious patterns and narratives have an opportunity to coalesce as the snow slowly settles.”

So, how can we rewire our brain allowing deeply worn connections to disappear and new connections to form? The answer is quite simple. We must change the way we store information in our mind.

    Let’s examine 5 specific memorization techniques that will change the way you think and remember information.

    1. Build a Memory Palace

      What is it?

      The method of loci[1] (aka memory palace) is a method of memory enhancement using visualizations with the use of spatial memory. It uses familiar information about your environment to quickly recall information. It is a method that was discussed by Cicero in an ancient dialogue called De Oratore.

      How to use it?

      Ron White discusses in How to Memorize Fast and Easily: Build a Memory Palace, that it’s essentially a room or building that you have memorized and you use locations in the room to store data. Ron informs us,

      “You memorize locations in a room and then you later go back to those locations to retrieve the data that you want to remember.”

      Example

      An easy 5-step example, in the form of a Wiki, can be found at Artofmemory.com. Let’s examine the the steps:

      • Step 1. Choose a place that you know well. For example, your house or office.
      • Step 2. Plan the route and pick specific locations in your route. For example, your front door, bathroom kitchen, etc.
      • Step 3. Decide what you want to memorize. For example, geography, list of items, answers for a test, etc.
      • Step 4. Place one or two items, with a mental image, and place them in your memory palace. Exaggerate your images. For example, use nudity or crazy images forcing it to stick in your mind.
      • Step 5. Make the image into a mnemonic.

      You can learn more about this technique here: How to Build a Memory Palace to Remember More of Everything

      2. Mnemonic

        What is it?

        A mnemonic is a memory device that aids in retention and/or retrieval of information. Mnemonic systems are techniques consciously used to improve memory by helping us use information already stored in long-term memory to make memorization easier.[2]

        How to use it?

        Mnemonics make use of retrieval cues to encode information in our brain allowing for efficient storage and retrieval of the information. The trick is to learn how to easily create mnemonics. If you find that you struggle with creating your own, try the following website: Mnemonic Generator.

        Example

        I recently came across a video using mnemonics to memorize countries. Memorizing Countries using Mnemonics is a video created as an introduction to a class for using memory techniques to learn the names of countries on maps.

        I actively search for videos that provide enormous educational value, yet receive very little exposure. At the time of this writing, this video has received less than 4k views. Let’s examine the video.

        Goal: Create a mnemonic to memorize the countries in the Caribbean (just the countries you need to learn).

        Step 1. Looking at a map – write out each country (for which five were chosen).

        Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico.

        Step 2. Write the first letter of each country vertically.

        C

        J

        H

        D

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        P

        Step 3. Create a sentence or phrase.

        Cubs

        Just

        Hate

        Doing

        Push-ups

        Cubs just hate doing push-ups. (Cuba Jamaica Haiti Dominican Republic Puerto Rico)

        3. Mnemonic Peg System

          What is it?

          According to Artofmemory.com, a mnemonic peg system is a technique for memorizing lists and it works by memorizing a list of words that are easy to associate with the numbers they represent.[3] These objects are the pegs of the system.

          How to use it?

          The trick is to create a Number Rhyme System with each number having a rhyming mnemonic keyword.

          Example

          Let’s look at an example of a Number Rhyme System:[4]

          0 = hero

          1 = gun

          2 = shoe

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          3 = tree

          4 = door

          5 = hive

          6 = sticks

          7 = heaven

          8 = gate

          9 = line

          Another technique like the Peg system is the Number Shape System.[5] Here you are assigning mnemonic images based on the shape of the number. Watch the following video for an example of this system: Number Shape System for Memorizing Numbers.

          4. Chunking

            What is it?

            Chunking is a way to remember large bits of information by chunking them into smaller pieces of information. We are more likely to then remember the information when we put the small pieces back together to see the entire picture.

            How to use it?

            In the video Chunking – A Learning Technique, we can see that there are several ways to chunk information.

            Example

            Let’s examine a simple example using a nine-digit number.

            Step 1. What is the number you are trying to remember?

            081127882

            Step 2. Cut the number into smaller pieces through chunking.

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            081 – 127 – 882

            Let’s look at one more example from the same video.

            “Piano teachers will first demonstrate an entire song to students. They will then ask their students to practice one measure at a time. Once the part has been learned and the neural connections in the brain have been built, then students go on to the next measure. After all chunks have been played separately, they are combined until the entire piece is connected.”

            5. Transfer of Learning

              What is it?

              Transfer of learning is a way to learn something in one area and apply it in another. Authors of Thinking at Every Desk, Derek and Laura Cabrera inform us about the transfer of learning,

              “If a student has a high transfer skills, she can learn one thing and then teach herself 10, 50, or 100 additional things.”

              How to use it?

              There are two specific ways to use it:

              1. Vertical Transfer (aka Far Transfer). Think of learning something in grade school and applying it another grade or later in life.
              2. Horizontal Transfer (aka Near Transfer). Think of learning a concept in history and applying it in math.

              Example

              I provide a detailed step-by-step example for this technique in this article:

              Learn How to Learn: How to Understand and Connect Difficult Ideas Easily

              The Bottom Line

              The key to using the techniques discussed here is to remember that we must actively think about information.

              We cannot simply drill information into our brain through rote memorization. We must change the way we think about memorization. We must find a way to “shake the snow-globe” in our mind or flatten the snow so that we can create new learning paths.

              Or as Derek and Laura Cabrera point out, we must insert “Thinking” into the equation,

              “Information X Thinking = Knowledge”

              More About Enhancing Memories

              Featured photo credit: Nong Vang via unsplash.com

              Reference

              [1] Remember Everything: Memory Palaces and the Method of Loci
              [2] The Learning Center Exchange: 9 Types of Mnemonics for Better Memory
              [3] Art of Memory: Mnemonic Peg System
              [4] Art of Memory: Number Rhyme System
              [5] Art of Memory: Number Shape System

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