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Last Updated on March 31, 2020

How Social Learning Helps You Learn Faster

How Social Learning Helps You Learn Faster

Learning new behavior by observing is called social learning. Social learning is one of the 6 common types of learning. It helps you learn faster as you are observing other people’s behavior in a social context because knowledge and habits are acquired easily when they are practiced by people within a certain environment.

Through centuries, humans have incorporated social learning in their lives. From initially being the only way to learn it is now the fastest and most comprehensive learning method.

In this article, you’ll find out how you can make good use social learning to help you learn faster.

The social learning theory as presented by Albert Bandura is simple. It suggests social learning is based on attention, retention, motivation and reproduction.[1]

While these stages seem like common sense, there is a surprisingly large number of people who go through social interactions without learning anything because they aren’t actively practicing the different stages.

Attention

Since our mind has a limited capacity for storing data, it is the things that we pay attention to that stay with us as lessons learned. Giving 100% of your attention to a situation you learn from is guaranteed to help you maximize social learning:

Stay in the Moment

When you’re focused on learning from your surroundings, your mind will focus only on what it wants to learn, so distractions fade away. Yet it’s very normal to be in a situation where the information you are getting becomes monotonous or you get distracted for some other reason.

There may be times you lose focus because you’re not well or are tired. Make sure you are well-rested and take care of your health so you can spend your energy learning things that matter to you.

Make an effort to declutter your mind when you want to learn – step up to a window and look out, focusing on only one object you see outside for a few minutes. You could also get yourself a drink and savor every sip till it finishes and your mind calms down.

If you’re looking to give your brain a break from the daily grind, learn some tricks in my article What Is Mentally Tired? 11 Ways to Combat Brain Exhaustion.

Be Mindful

Mindfulness in its simplest terms is tuning our thoughts into what we’re experiencing in the present rather than thinking about something that could or did happen.

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For social learning, you should be mindful only of the conversation or activity you want to learn from, filtering out other things that don’t matter to you as much at that moment. This way, your brain can make memories of what you are experiencing at that time only, which is the thing you want to learn.

If you find yourself getting distracted, focus on deep breathing until the distractions fade away and you can bring your attention back to the learning opportunity at hand.

Focus, and Don’t Multitask

In today’s hyper-connected world, it’s normal, even expected to be a multitasker. Being amongst people and checking emails on smart phones is now accepted.

However, when you want to maximize your social learning, don’t multitask. You should focus only on the interaction you want to learn from and block out all the rest.

Don’t reach for your device, don’t engage in multiple conversations simultaneously. In short, don’t have your mind and other senses deal with anything apart from learning.

Engage Actively

Similar to the above points, learning through social learning is fast and easy if you listen, speak and observe actively.

When you’re actively engaged, you respond to the situation by making relevant observations, mimicking the actions and focusing on listening so you understand.

To maximize the benefits of learning through social learning, be around those who are attentive and looking to learn as well. A good example of this would be medical students on clinical rotations who are actively observing and listening to the doctor they are assigned to, and responding to his / her queries.

Legitimize your participation in situations by interacting and recalling the interaction when needed.

Retention

Paying attention is great for learning, but what about retaining the new information?

Our brain has limited space to store data, so how do we ensure we remember things that are important to us?

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These tips should help increase your retention power:

Repeat to Remember

Our brain starts developing from the moment we are born, absorbing things from people and experiences around us. It is learning constantly, and repeated experiences help reinforce the learning.

A new experience opens up new neural pathways in our brain and repetition of these experiences strengthens the pathways, helping us retain the information better and for longer.

To help remember, you could memorize a fixed number of things about the social learning scenario you are in and recall them frequently.

Increase Brain Power

You can improve retention by increasing your brain power: exercise regularly, sleep well and stretch memory muscle by playing brain games.

Here’re more ways to help: How to Increase Brain Power: 10 Simple Ways to Train Your Brain

Make Connections

Connect a social learning opportunity with mnemonics. Use mental images, music and anything else you want to retain and recall information.

Link new information with old to reach new conclusions. You can use writing and speech for this.

Remember That Less Is More

When you are looking to retain knowledge through social learning, try taking in information in small quantities.

Full day conferences, lectures that last for hours and similar learning schedules do not have the desired effect. The human mind shuts down when it is faced with information overload and the learning from these situations becomes minimal.

If you are looking to retain information from social learning opportunities, it’s a far better idea to put yourself in the situation more frequently for a shorter amount of time.

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Motivation

The idea of a tangible reward or the emotional high that comes with the sense of accomplishment is what motivates us to keep doing a good thing, while the fear of repercussions or unpleasant outcomes is what keeps from doing something bad.

When a child observes that good behavior of a sibling results in them getting a treat while bad behavior courts punishment, the child wanting a treat will be motivated to good behavior by this social learning lesson.

Motivation to learn new information and habits is a critical part of social learning. To stay motivated for social learning, you can:

Find a Role Model

Finding a role model and basing our learning on them means you are motivated to do the same thing that they are.

The medical students example fits well here again. The students will be motivated to learn better clinical skills and patient handling techniques by observing others around them and aspiring to be as good as they are.

Make a Note

Write down things that inspired you and keep going back to them to stay motivated.

Talk about It

Talk to your role model or peers about what is motivating you in a shared social learning environment.

An example of this is a person in rehab who is motivated to attend meetings by the presence of others who have managed to kick the addiction and are on the road to recovery.

Positive motivation is reward-based motivation (satisfied patients) and negative motivation is punishment-based motivation (absolute dependence on drugs).

To learn more about the merits / demerits these two types of motivation, read my article Positive Motivation vs Negative Motivation: Which One Is Better?

Remember, no matter which type works for you, without motivation, there is no reason for us to do anything.

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Reproduction

In the context of social learning, “reproduction” is not propagation of the learning, but the implementation of it.

Reproducing learned information is the last stage of social learning. Once you pay attention to your surroundings and retain what you learned in the setting, you are then motivated to reproduce your learning so you can get the reward.

Bandura suggests direct reinforcement, vicarious reinforcement and self-reinforcement as the different ways to reproduce knowledge gained through social learning.[2]

Direct Reinforcement

This is when you know act on knowledge knowing the result will be positive or avoid the act because the result would be unpleasant.

To repeat the medical students’ example here, direct reinforcement would be one of them practicing patient handling techniques learned from their role model, with the expectation that the result would be a satisfied patient.

Vicarious Reinforcement

Vicarious reinforcement in social learning is the application of knowledge that has not been learned first-hand but is learned by observing the consequences of the actions of a third party.

A good example of this type of reinforcement would be learning not to take drugs after seeing the condition of a drug addict.

Self Reinforcement

Self-reinforcement is when a person decides to reward him / herself for good behavior, or bring about a negative consequence as a result of an undesired situation.

Think of a student who has promised herself a scoop of ice cream if she got an A in an exam she studied hard for, or decided to ask for extra coaching if she got anything below a C.

Bottom Line

Albert Bandura presented the social learning theory in the 1970s and it immediately gained popularity because of its simplicity, practicality and immense potential for success. While the theory never went out of fashion, it is now experiencing a resurgence for all the right reasons.

If you want to become a smarter learner, take advantage of the social learning theory to learn faster!

More About Effective Learning

Featured photo credit: Edvin Johansson via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Psychology Today: Social Learning Theory
[2] SimplyPsychology: Bandura – Social Learning Theory

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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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