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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Last Updated on February 19, 2020

How to Memorize a Speech the Smart Way

How to Memorize a Speech the Smart Way

Did you know that 75% of the population suffers from glossophobia? That scary sounding word is one of the most common phobia’s in the world, fear of public speaking.

I’ll bet even as you are reading this, you are getting nervous thinking about giving a speech.

I have got good news for you. In this article, I will share with you a step by step method on how to memorize a speech the smart way. Once you have this method down, your confidence in yourself to deliver a successful speech will increase substantially. Read on to feel well prepared the next time you have to memorize and deliver a speech.

Common Mistakes of Memorizing a Speech

Before we get to the actual process of how to memorize a speech the smart way, let’s look at the two most common mistakes many of us tend to make while preparing for a speech.

Complete Memorization

In an attempt to ensure they remember every detail, many people aim to completely memorize their speech. They practice it over and over until they have every single word burned into their brain.

In many ways, this is understandable because most of us are naturally frightened of having to give a speech. When the time comes, we want to be completely and totally prepared and not make any mistakes.

While this makes a lot of sense, it also comes with its own negative side. The downside to having your speech memorized word for word is that you sound like a robot when delivering the speech. You become so focused on remembering every single part that you lose the ability to inflect your speech to varying degrees, and free form the talk a bit when the situation warrants.

Lack of Preparation

The other side of the coin to complete memorization is people who don’t prepare enough. Because they don’t want to come off sounding like a robot, they decide they will mostly “wing it”.

Sometimes they will write a few main points down on a piece of paper to remind themselves. They figure once they get going, the details will somehow fill themselves in under the big talking points while they are doing the talking.

The problem is that unless this is a topic you know inside and out and have spoken on it many times, you’ll wind up missing key points. It’s almost a given that as soon as you are done with your speech, you’ll remember many things you should have brought up while talking.

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There’s a good balance to be had between over and under preparing. Let’s now look at how to memorize a speech the smart way.

How to Memorize a Speech (Step-by-Step Guide)

1. Write Out Your Speech

The first step in the process is to simply write out your speech.

Many people like to write out the entire speech. Other people are more inclined to write their speech outline style. Whichever way your brain works best is the way you should write your speech.

Personally, I like to break things down into the primary points I want to make, and then back up each major point with several details. Because my mind works this way, I tend to write out speeches, and articles for that matter, by doing an outline.

Once I have the outline completed, I will then fill in several bullet points to back up each big topic.

For instance, if I was going to give a speech on how to get in better shape my outline would look something like this:

Benefits of being in shape

  • Point #1
  • Point #2
  • Point #3

Exercise

  • Point #1
  • Point #2
  • Point #3

Diet

  • Point #1
  • Point #2
  • Point #3

Rest and hydration

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  • Point #1
  • Point #2
  • Point #3

ConclusionNo need for points here, just a few sentences wrapping things up.

As you might imagine, this step typically is the hardest because it’s not only the first step but it also involves the initial creation of the speech.

2. Rehearse Your Speech

Now that you’ve written your speech, or outline, it’s time to start saying it out loud. It’s completely fine to simply read what you’ve written line by line at this point. What you are working on doing is getting the outline and getting a feel for the speech.

If you’ve written the entire speech out, you’ll be editing it while you are rehearsing it. Many times as we say things out loud, we realize that what we wrote needs to be changed and altered. This is how we work towards having a well rounded and smooth speech. Feel free to change things as needed while you are rehearsing your speech.

If you are like me and you’ve written the outline, this is where some of the supporting bullet points will begin to come out. Normally, I will have written several bullet points under each main topic. But as I say it out loud, I will begin to fill in more and more details. I might scratch certain bullet points and add others. I might think of something new at this stage while I am listening to myself and want to add it.

The key to remember here is that you laying the foundation for your awesome speech. At this point, it’s a work in progress, you are getting the key pieces in place.

3. Memorize the Bigger Parts

As you are rehearsing your speech, you want to focus on memorizing the bigger parts, or the main points.

Going back to my example of how to get in better shape, I’d want to ensure I have memorized my primary points. These include the benefits of being in shape, exercise, diet, rest and hydration, and the conclusion. These are the main points I want to make and I will then fill in further details. I’ve got to ensure I know these very well first and foremost.

By practicing your major points, you are building the framework for your speech. After you have this solid outline in place, you’ll continue by adding in the details to round things out.

4. Fill In the Details

Now that you have the big chunks memorized, it’s time to work on memorizing the details. These detail points will provide support and context for your major points. You can work on this all at once or break it down to the details that support each major point.

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For example, the details I might have under the “exercise” big point might include such things as cardio, weights, how many times a week to exercise, how long to actually exercise, and several examples of actual exercises. In this example, I have 5 detail points to memorize to support my major point of “exercise”.

It’s a good idea to test yourself regularly as you are rehearsing your speech. Ask yourself:

What are the 5 detail points I want to talk about that support my 3rd main point?

You need to be able to fire those off quickly. Until you can do this, you won’t be able to associate each of the details with the main point.

You have to be able to have them grouped together in your mind so that it comes out naturally in your speech. So that when you think of main point #2, you automatically think of the 4 supporting details associated with it.

Keep working at this stage until you can run through your speech completely several times and remember all of your big points and the supporting details.

Once you can do that with relative ease, it will be time for the final step, working on your delivery.

5. Work on Your Delivery

You’ve got the bulk of the work done now. You’ve written your speech and rehearsed enough times to have not only your main points memorized but also your supporting details. In short, you should have your speech almost done.

There’s one more step in how to memorize a speech the smart way. The final component is to work on how you deliver your speech.

For the most part, you can go give your speech now. After all, you have it memorized. If you want to ensure you do it right, you’ll want to hone how you are delivering your speech.

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You work on your delivery by rehearsing and running through it a number of times and making tweaks along the way. These tweaks or changes may be are’s where you’d want to pause for effect.

If you’ve found you have used one word 5 times in one paragraph, you might want to swap it out for a similar word a few times to keep it fresh.

Sometimes while working on this part, I’ve thought of a great story that’s happened to me that I can incorporate to make my point even better.

When you work on your delivery, you are basically giving your speech a personality as well.

The Bottom Line

And there you have it, a step by step approach on how to memorize a speech the smart way.

The next time you are asked to give a speech don’t let glossophobia rear its familiar head. Instead, remember this easy to use guide to help craft a powerful speech.

Using the method shown here will help you deliver your next speech with increased confidence.

More Tips about Public Speaking

Featured photo credit: Anna Sullivan via unsplash.com

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