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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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, 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.
And if you want to learn a powerful strategy to supercharge your learning ability, I recommend you take a FREE Learning Fast Track Class offered by Lifehack. It’s a 20-minute intensive class called Spark Your Learning Genius, and will surely upgrade your learning skills right away. Find out more about the Fast Track Class here.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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
- 13 Ways to Develop Self-Directed Learning and Learn Faster
- 9 Efficient Learning Habits of Smart Learners
- 12 Powerful Learning Strategies to Help You Retain Info Fast
Featured photo credit: Eliabe Costa via unsplash.com
|||^||SAGEPUB: Improving Students’ Learning with Effective Learning Techniques|
|||^||The Learning Scientists: Elaborative Interrogation|
|||^||The Learning Scientists: Retrieval Practice|
|||^||SAGEPUB: Improving Students’ Learning with Effective Learning Techniques|
|||^||PsychCentral: 3 Common Study Habits that Surprisingly Don’t Work|
|||^||Brainscape: Repetition is the mother of all learning|