Advertising
Advertising

Published on January 13, 2020

6 Effective Learning Techniques that are Backed by Research

6 Effective Learning Techniques that are Backed by Research

The world we live in is a constantly evolving one with new disciplines and skills arising every year. With so much to learn and so little time, employing the right learning techniques is essential.

But here’s the kicker:

Most of what you were taught in school about learning is wrong.

In fact, research shows that most learning techniques used by college students are utterly ineffective.[1]

The same research outlined a handful of learning styles that are actually useful. So, in this article, I’ll be explaining those methods and a few others that have worked for me in acquiring a diverse skillset.

By the end of this article, you’ll be aware of all the learning styles that you need in order to learn anything effectively.

The Best Learning Techniques

Most people go with basic learning techniques like reading and highlighting. But what if I tell you that both are useless?

You see, your mind needs a lot more than that to retain info. According to research, here are the best learning techniques:

1. Distributed Practice

Remember in college when you used to have a big test and you’d pull all-nighters just to pass it? Well, the chances are that the next morning, you didn’t even remember half of what you studied.

But even if you did, you’ll probably forget everything by the next day.

Now, this works fine in an academic environment where your sole purpose might just be to pass an exam. But this gets tricky when you’re trying to learn a skill.

Because you can’t just cram a skill… it takes time to perfect whatever skill you want to learn, be it a sport or playing a musical instrument.

That’s where distributed practice comes into play. In this learning technique, you’re supposed to distribute your learning sessions such that a considerable amount of time passes before you start learning again.

Advertising

You might be wondering:

How much time should I give before I start my next learning session?

Well, anything over a day should work well. So, if you’re learning to play the violin, you can have sessions on alternate days.

What that does is it switches your mind from focused to diffused mode of thinking. In the focused mode, you’re actively learning (ie playing the violin). But in the diffused mode, you’re waiting until the next session and thinking about what you learned in the last one, how it worked and what mistakes you were making.

2. Practice Testing

Back in college, I had a professor that everybody in class hated. And why wouldn’t they; he took 2 tests every week!

And you know what?

The whole class scored the highest in his subject. That’s the power of practice testing.

In this method, you’re intentionally putting practice sessions or studying material away and challenging yourself to recall what you’ve learned without any aid.

An interesting thing about practice testing is that you’re often going to suck at the actual test. But once you make that mistake, it’s easier to rectify and remember it.

A lot of people are scared of testing themselves because they’re afraid to have their weaknesses exposed.

But that’s the whole point of practice testing; to highlight your weak spots so you can work on them.

Additionally, practice testing allows you to shift what you learned from short-term to long-term memory.

You don’t need to have an actual test in a proper testing environment, though. Depending on what you’re trying to learn, challenge yourself to try or answer as much as you can about what you’re learning.

Advertising

Keep a track of your performance in those tests and try to compete with your own self if you don’t have others to compete with. As I say, “your biggest competition resides in the mirror”.

3. Interleaved Practice

This is one of the most interesting learning techniques for me… partly because it provides me a reason to learn two things at once.

In interleaved practice, you revise or practice something alternatively.

Let’s say you’re learning to speak French. On a particular day, you won’t practice that skill all in one go.

Instead, you’ll study a bit of French and then divert your attention towards some other skill before you get back to studying French.

Like the distributed practice method, this technique also allows you to switch between focused and diffused thinking method.

However, the interleaved learning technique offers another benefit; it makes things harder for you to remember and practice.

And we all know that the harder you make your practice sessions, the better you’ll learn.

4. Self-Explanation

Till now, we’ve discussed some valuable learning techniques that work in almost all types of learning.

Self-explanation, although not that universal a method, is still one that shows promising results.

In this technique, you explain to yourself what you’re trying to learn. This is more applicable when studying academic or theoretical material.

Self-explainers teach themselves just like a teacher would. So, if you’re trying to learn Accounting for your business or are working on different marketing techniques, try explaining to yourself how and why they work.

You’re not supposed to worry too much about whether your explanations make much sense or not. In fact, you probably won’t even know where you’re headed when you start explaining yourself.

Advertising

But as you do, you’ll uncover details and concepts that you didn’t even know existed. This method is especially useful for deep thinkers and conceptual learners.

5. Elaborative Interrogation

Elaborative interrogation[2] is a similar learning style to self-explanation. Hence, it’s more applicable to theoretical learning as well.

In this method, you consistently question yourself while learning. So, if you stumble upon a particular technique or solution, you ask yourself questions like, “why?” and try explaining the answer to yourself.

In the previous example where you were trying to learn Accounting, you might ask questions like, “why is XYZ Business profitable?” and explain it in terms of your Accounting knowledge.

A major drawback of this method is that it consumes a lot of time. Regardless, it’s useful for those that have it.

6. Retrieval Practice

Retrieval practice, a method put forth by the Learning Scientists,[3] is similar to a lot of other techniques on this list. However, it maintains a separate position on our list because it primarily focuses on the time when you’re not actually learning.

Allow me to explain:

In retrieval practice, you try to recall what you’re learning after the studying or learning session. This challenges your mind to recover whatever info it has on the topic without an actual practice or testing environment.

Retrieval practice will give you a good idea of how you would act out if you’d have to use your skill or knowledge in a real-life scenario.

What About Learning Techniques that Don’t Work?

Now that we’ve covered all the learning methods that are scientifically proven to be effective, let’s quickly cover some common learning techniques that are utterly useless.

And I’m not saying that myself; studies have concluded that these methods do not have far-reaching practical applications.[4][5]

The first and foremost useless learning technique is highlighting and underlining. Research shows that both these methods do not help improve learning.

Secondly, we have mnemonics. This technique involves memorizing keywords in a particular order to remember a complex concept.

Advertising

Although studies found this method to be useful in certain situations, it didn’t have a lot of practical use.

Surprisingly, re-reading is another learning method that’s deemed useless by researchers. Although repetition is the key to learning,[6] research suggests that rereading isn’t much of a useful repetition method.

If repetition is what you’re after, I’d suggest you try (and retry) practice testing.

Creating and Expanding a “Mix” that Works for You

Fixating yourself too much on one learning technique will cause a lot of problems.

Why?

You’ll become too rigid in your approach to learning.

You see, successful people have fluidity in their character. They learn to adapt and mold according to what’s needed.

Depending on what you’re trying to learn, you may have to use different learning styles. For that, you need to be adaptable in order to approach these methods.

So first, understand what learning styles work for you–this is your “mix”. Now, assess which learning techniques you should work on and try to expand.

This doesn’t mean you need to be perfect in all the learning techniques mentioned in this article. However, knowing which learning styles work for you and which ones you need to work on is pivotal for rapid growth.

More About Learning Effectively

Featured photo credit: Eliabe Costa via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

35 Top Productivity Apps for iPhone (2020 Updated) 7 Tips for Overcoming Challenges in Life Like a Pro What Should Be Your End Goal In Life Above All Else? Fail Forward: How Setbacks Can Fuel Future Success 25 Best Audiobooks to Make the Most of Your Commute

Trending in Learning

1 A Comprehensive Guide to a Smart Learning Process 2 12 Learning Strategies to Help You Retain Information Fast 3 How to Become an Intentional Learner for Never-Ending Growth 4 7 Characteristics of a Smart Auditory Learner 5 How Do Memory Vitamins Work? (And the Best Brain Supplements)

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.”

Advertising

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

Read Next