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6 Effective Learning Techniques that are Backed by Research

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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.

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.[4][5]

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

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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,[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 August 11, 2021

23 Killer Sites for Free Online Education Anyone Can Use

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23 Killer Sites for Free Online Education Anyone Can Use

Whether you’re five or ninety five, the internet has a lot to offer. Particularly when the topic is education, the resources on the internet are endless. Best of all, many high quality sites are completely free. From history to coding, excellent, free online education awaits on the following 23 sites.

1. Coursera

Coursera is a website that partners with universities and organizations around the world. This brings a wide variety of topics and perspectives to one searchable database.

Coursera is a powerful tool for free online education and includes courses from many top universities, museums and trusts. This gives the site an extremely wide range of in-depth courses.

Coursera is extremely useful if you’re looking to study many different topics, or want courses from different schools and groups. However, the free courses are now quite limited, so you’ll have to

2. Khan Academy

Partnering with many post secondary schools, Khan Academy offers a useable, well-organized interface. Also curating many courses from around the web, Khan Academy offers impressive depth on many different subjects.

Among the more well-known educational sites, Khan Academy is also incredibly user-friendly, which may make it easier to keep learning goals. If you’re looking for a free online education, you can’t go wrong with Khan Academy.

3. Open Culture Online Courses

If you are struggling to find exactly the material you are looking for, try Open Culture’s listing of free online education courses. The page highlights 1000 lectures, videos, and podcasts from universities around the world.

The site features a lot of material found only on universities’ private sites, all in easy-to-browse categories. This means you can find hundreds of university courses without having to visit and search each university’s site.

Open Culture’s list features courses from England, Australia, Wales, and many state universities around the United States. It’s a very helpful resource for finding many courses in one area of study.

4. Udemy 

Udemy’s free courses are similar in concept to Coursera’s but additionally allows users to build custom courses from lessons.

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Working with many top professors and schools, the site mixes the customizable platform of other sites with a heavy emphasis on top-quality content. This is another site, however, that mixes free and paid content.

5. Lifehack Fast Track Class

Lifehack believes in skills that multiply your time, energy, and overall quality of life.

In this rapidly changing world, traditional education skills just don’t cut it anymore. You can’t afford to take years learning a skill you’ll never really practice. Besides offering some paid courses that will help you become a better self, it offers a list of free courses which aim to train some of the Core Life Multipliers including:

These are cross-functional skills that work across many aspects of life.

6. Academic Earth

Another site with courses from many different schools is Academic Earth. Much like the three sites above, Academic Earth brings together top notch courses from many different sources and focuses on offering a wide variety of subjects.

Academic Earth lists courses by subject and school, so it might be easier to find what you’re looking for.

7. edX

Another great option for free online education is edX. Also bringing together courses from many different schools, the site has impressive, quality information for everyone. edX covers a great range of topics from universities such as Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley, meaning a high-quality, free online education is entirely possible here.

8. Alison

Unlike the previous sites on this list, Alison is a free education site offering certification in some areas. Alison offers courses mainly in business, technology, and health, but also includes language learning courses.

It’s a great option if users need a professional certificate for their learning, as Alison also offers school curriculum courses.

9. iTunesU Free Courses

A very convenient place for free online education is iTunesU, because it integrates seamlessly with your iPod or any app-ready Apple mobile device. On an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, users download the iTunesU app.

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Desktop users can access iTunesU on the upper right hand corner of the iTunes Store. iTunesU is also convenient because the store is categorized much like iTunes.

Users can search learning materials in many different ways, including by genre and topic. However, courses are often a mix of free podcasts or videos and paid content.

iTunesU does include courses on a variety of topics, but it does not integrate with Android, Google or Windows mobile devices.

10. Stanford Online

Your hub for all the online offerings from Stanford University, Stanford Online offers self-paced and session-based courses. While Coursera features some courses from Stanford, many classes are only available via other hosts. Some courses require iTunes, but most are completed in your web browser.

Stanford Online is a great site for high-quality courses, though the topics are somewhat limited compared to sites partnered with more than one school. If you’re looking for free courses, make sure to mark the “free” option on the left-hand side.

11. Open Yale Courses

Open Yale Courses echoes Stanford Online, in that it offers only courses from Yale. While the site is similarly limited to topics taught at the school, Open Yale Courses offers a lot of videos of actual campus lectures. The availability of videos makes the site a great option if you’re looking for quality courses but learn better by watching than by reading.

12. UC Berkeley Class Central

Much like the other schools on this list, UC Berkeley has a variety of free online education options. The school has slightly fewer courses than the schools above, but it includes some supplementary lectures, webcasts, and RSS Feeds, making it easy to keep up with the topics you choose.

13. MIT OpenCourseWare

Similarly, MIT offers a variety of free courses. The school has a comparable number of courses to the schools above, and it includes very in-depth course materials on the subjects available. MIT also offers free RSS feeds, a convenient way to continue learning.

14. Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative

Carnegie Mellon’s free online education site is comparable with the other school’s on this list. However, Open Learning Initiative also covers a smaller range of topics, but for the topics that are covered, impressive, in-depth material is available.

15. Codecademy

Codecademy is a website dedicated specifically to teaching coding. Where other coding sites follow an example/practice session workflow, Codecademy includes a live practice window. This means you can practice coding while still viewing the lesson material.

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The courses at Codecademy are well-written and easy to follow, and the website is organized very nicely. Codecademy features a centralized dashboard where you can monitor your progress, and it organizes lessons into complete modules. This lets you learn an entire language without needing to pick the next course manually.

16. Code

Code is another website focused on coding and app writing. A site with high-quality courses, Code also features learning options for kids.

In addition to kid-friendly courses, Code offers free online education classes on a wide variety of technology topics. These classes include app writing, robotics, and Javascript.

Most of the courses are also geared in a such a way that they can be useful in a classroom setting. This makes Code a great resource for harder to find coding topics, as well as various learning settings.

17. University of Oxford Podcasts

The University of Oxford features many different podcasts. Most are public lecture series or lectures from visiting professors, with several different recordings available.

The advantage to this particular site is that podcasts are organized into series, making it easy to subscribe to multiple lectures on one topic. This is another great site for thoroughly in-depth lectures.

18. BBC Podcasts

For the more casual learner, the BBC offers a wide variety of podcasts on many different topics. Most podcasts are updated weekly and focus on everything from finance, to sports, to current events.

Through the World Service line of podcasts, there are also many in different languages. The focus of these podcasts are less in-depth and theory based, which may be more accessible to the average person.

19. TED-Ed

Another great destination for more general learning and free online education is TED-Ed. From the same people that brought you the all-encompassing, motivational web series comes a site chocked full of educational videos. Most include impressive animation, and all are ten minutes long or less.

Not only is TED-Ed an excellent site for the curious, but it also includes supplemental materials and quizzes on the videos. This makes the site extremely useful in formal education settings, as well as in entertaining ways to brush up on new discoveries and topics.

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20. LessonPaths

LessonPaths is another great tool for those looking for a more usable and convenient way to access learning material. On this site, users create link playlists of their favorite learning materials from other sites. Users then rank these collections, making it easy to find many different high-quality, accessible sources on a given topic.

21. Memrise

Another impressive free online education site offering ease of use and convenience is Memrise. Available both on desktop and as an app, Memrise is a particularly powerful tool if you are studying a language. The site encompasses many other topics as well, though some of the course material is user generated content.

Part of what makes Memrise special is their integration of games into the learning materials, mixing learning with entertainment.

22. National Geographic Kids

The kids site for National Geographic is another site that makes free online education applicable for younger users. For those looking for kid-friendly education, a large variety of games, puzzles, videos and photos keep kids interested on this site.

National Geographic Kids doesn’t organize learning into courses, making materials available by topic and medium instead. This makes National Geographic Kids a good option for those looking for a more casual learning environment.

23. Fun Brain

Fun Brain is another great option for kids looking for free online education, as it focuses on games and fun puzzles. Particularly focused on math and reading, Fun Brain’s game-based approach can be valuable if the child in question struggles to pay attention.

Fun Brain offers rewards and challenges as well, and it is another site aimed at a casual learning experience for kids K-8.

The Bottom Line

With so many amazing free online education resources, everyone has the ability to boost their skills and knowledge. Whether you’re interested in picking up some interesting trivia for your next party, improve your resume with some coding or business skills, or become a more well-rounded person, these resources are perfect for you.

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Featured photo credit: Dai KE via unsplash.com

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