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Last Updated on September 2, 2020

10 Powerful Learning Hacks to Boost Your Learning Ability

10 Powerful Learning Hacks to Boost Your Learning Ability

There’s always room for improvement. No matter which industry you’re working in or how long your list of skills is, there is always more to learn.

It’s true that people learn for as long as they live. But with age, one’s learning ability withers. Luckily, just like the hundreds of life hacks that make existence just that much easier, there are some proven learning hacks that help you absorb more knowledge about any skill that you want to polish further.

Here’s the good news:

The implementation of these learning hacks will help you excel both at your work and in everyday life. You can boost your productivity in all aspects of life by becoming a sponge to all the useful information around you!

Before I dive in to the learning hacks, I’d like to recommend you who want to supercharge your learning ability and pick up any skills faster to 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.

Now, here are the top learning hacks for becoming an expert at learning.

1. Define Goals

If you want to eradicate all the confusions and distractions from the process of learning, you have to guide your brain to a certain path. Unless you finalize a direction, your brain will be all over the place.

To do so, you need to set your goals. Sit down and figure out what it is exactly that you want to learn. If you spend a few minutes defining goals, you’ll end up saving a lot more time.

Well-defined goals have to be SMART:

  • Specific: Do not aim for everything. Set boundaries so that your mind considers it achievable
  • Measurable: This is basically the scale that you measure your progress against
  • Attainable: Be realistic because if the mind cannot comprehend it, you’ll never be able to accomplish it
  • Relevant: The goals should not be outlandish or something that goes against your beliefs and values
  • Time-bound: How long do you want to give yourself to learn? Set a realistic time frame. Without any time limitation, you’ll procrastinate more than you want to

Your brain should be able to visualize the final aim. Is it you strumming a guitar like a pro by the next month or are you fluently speaking a foreign language a year from now?

Once you push your brain onto the right track, things will proceed smoothly.

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2. Take Handwritten Notes

The brain remembers things better if they are written down physically. You could repeat things a hundred times in your mind. But, if you wrote them down once, your mind will be able to have something visual to build further concepts on.

Let’s say you’re figuring out ways to tackle bad PR. If you develop a strategy in your mind alone, you’re likely to forget some parts. However, written notes and mind maps will allow to you remember as well as expand on those ideas.

Of course, this hack doesn’t apply exactly to things like learning to drive. But even in that case, you will have to drive a car instead of telling your brain how to drive in order to actually learn the skill.

3. Go for Short Learning Sessions

An average human’s attention span is no more than a few minutes. There is some conflict on the exact figure. Some sources believe it is between 10 to 15 minutes whereas others argue it is only 8 to 10 seconds.

Either way, humans cannot focus on anything for too long. The brain literally stops absorbing anything that you’re feeding it.

Therefore, instead of wasting your time and energy on long learning sessions, go for multiple short episodes.

You can break down the learning criteria into smaller parts. Learn one part each day instead of burdening yourself with a huge chunk of the process once every week. This helps the brain retain information more efficiently.

4. Share Knowledge

Learning is a two-way process. You take in some information and you also give out some information. This isn’t something that you’ll have less of if you give some away. In fact, learning is probably the process in which you get more by giving some away.

Share what you know and you might get feedback that will strengthen your concept. Simply talking about what you’ve learned will clarify any confusion in your mind.

On top of that, the person you’re sharing your knowledge with might point out a grave mistake you were making all along. Even if none of these happens, you’ll contribute to the cycle of learning. You teach some people and learn from others. This way, knowledge will spread and benefit everyone around you.

5. Set Schedules

So you know how your brain has a mental clock? If you have set a 6 am alarm for work, you’ll gradually get so used to waking up at that time that you might not even need an alarm anymore.

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Your brain is always prepared for the routine that you’ve set. If you use this to your benefit, you can boost your learning power.

Have a routine. The brain can retain information better if there is a regular learning schedule. Let’s say you decide to have a 20-minute learning session every evening. Your brain will slowly develop the tendency to take in new information at that time.

A set schedule will also help you achieve your goals in a timely manner.

Wondering how to build routines? Take a look at these Powerful Daily Routine Examples for a Healthy and High-Achieving You.

6. Organize Information

To prevent confusion, new skills should be learned in a way that the new information stays organized mentally.

Basically, this means that you should consider your brain to be like a computer. If you keep saving new files on the desktop, everything will get so jumbled up that you won’t be able to link related files or find what you’re looking for.

Pretty much the same happens with your brain. You have to organize your brain in a way that there is a separate mental space for the new skill you’re trying to learn.

Let’s assume you already know how to play the guitar. Now, if you were to learn a new instrument, there is a high chance that the brain will get confused and the chords of the guitar will get mixed in with the new instrument.

This can be done by spacing out the intake of new knowledge and repetition of newly learned ideas. The reinforcement of the knowledge will do exactly what needs to be done inside your brain.

7. Use Various Techniques

All humans have different learning styles.[1] There are 7 broad categories. You can easily figure out your style online.

The concept of these learning styles is that if a person learns in a way that goes hand in hand with their learning style, they can retain new information more successfully.

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Now, here’s the deal:

This is definitely a useful theory. But, this can restrict you.

In today’s day and age, there are hundreds of learning techniques available. Certain methods are a good mix of various learning styles too.

The point is, you should not limit yourself to one mode of learning. Firstly, it gets boring. Secondly, if you figured out your learning style incorrectly, your entire struggle will go to waste.

Alternate between all the available options. You can attend workshops or webinars. Listen to YouTube videos or read books. Do as much as possible and then stick to the methods you find are the most effective.

This learning hack is not the fastest. But it is one that ensures successful learning.

8. Follow Your Role Model

A lot of the time, the brain fails to agree with your motivation level. You may have full faith in yourself but the brain will be unable to understand that what you’re trying to learn is possible.

The best way to satisfy yourself and your brain is to have a real-life example to follow. Someone who achieved something similar to what you’re aiming for.

For example, a person who learned a foreign language in one month will be the perfect role model to follow if you want to learn a new language in a short time span too.

So, this will make your mind believe that your goal is achievable. Even if you don’t have the same story as your role model, they will serve as a motivation for you to keep struggling.

9. Utilize Time Efficiently

One of the previously mentioned learning hacks was to go for short learning episodes. So if you’re giving only less than an hour to a task, how in the world will you fulfill your goals in a short time period?

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Here’s the thing:

That short learning session is the time when your brain will learn new information. The rest of the day, on the other hand, has to be used to prepare your brain for this learning episode.

Throughout your day, do something related to the skill you’re trying to learn. Direct your unconscious mind to a relevant task even in your free time. For example, play a podcast that is relevant to the skill while you’re walking to work or read a book written by your role model before you go to sleep.

The important thing here is to focus all these activities and hacks around the main skill.

So, if you’re trying to learn the French language, the learning hacks and other supportive tactics you use need to be either in the same language or somehow helping you to learn it.

10. Keep Your Brain Healthy

You can use as many tips and tricks as you like. But, the only thing that ensures there success is a healthy brain.

Ultimately, your brain the main organ that plays a role in absorbing new knowledge. If the brain itself is not in a healthy state, you can never increase your skillset. Instead, an unhealthy mind will deteriorate your existing qualities.

Make sure to have a good sleeping schedule. Alongside that, eat a healthy and well-balanced diet. Tired, sleepy, exhausted minds learn nothing. Include mental exercises and meditation to your daily routine to boost the performance of the brain.

All these learning hacks are, luckily, extremely simple to include in your day to day life, but only if you’re determined. With these brilliant tips, you can get to the top of the ladder of success one steady step at a time!

More Tips for Smart Learning

Featured photo credit: Alex Samuels via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Published on March 1, 2021

What Is Double Loop Learning And How Is It Valuable?

What Is Double Loop Learning And How Is It Valuable?

As someone on the Millennial/Generation X cusp, one of my first memories of a news story was the devastating crash of the Challenger space shuttle. I couldn’t process the severity or the specifics of the event at the time, but looking back, the Challenger explosion represents a heartbreaking example of what can happen when systems fail.

A part of the shuttle known as the O-ring was faulty. People from NASA knew about it well before the disaster, but NASA employees either ignored the problem—writing it off as not that bad—or were ignored when they tried to alert higher-ups about the issue.[1] This is a tragic example of single-loop learning where organizations focus on what they’re doing without reflecting on how or why they’re doing it, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Single and Double-Loop Learning

Chris Argyris describes the difference between single and double-loop learning with a metaphor. A thermostat that turns on and off when it senses a pre-set temperature is akin to single-loop learning. The thermostat being able to reflect on whether or not it should be set to that temperature in the first place would be more like double-loop learning.[2]

Imagine the difference if NASA would have encouraged and addressed employees’ questions about how they were doing, what they were doing, and whether or not they should be doing it at all—you’ll start to see how an extra layer of questioning and critical thought can help organizations thrive.

Single Loop Learning

Single-loop learning is when planning leads to action, which leads to reflection on those actions and then back to planning, action, and more reflection. Now, you might think that because reflection is involved, single-loop learning would be an effective organizational model. However, because there isn’t room for critical questions that ask why actions are being taken, problems begin to bubble up.

The Double Bind

When organizations are operating in single-loop learning, they get stuck in what Argyris calls the Double Bind. Because there’s no value placed on questioning why the team is doing something, team members are either punished for speaking up or punished for not speaking up if something goes wrong down the line.

Primary Inhibiting Loop

When an organization is stuck in single-loop learning, the double bind leads to what Argyris calls the primary inhibiting loop. Real learning and growth are inhibited because team members withhold information from each other. This withholding leads to distrust and is difficult to remedy because even if employees attempt to become more forthcoming, lack of trust sours interactions.

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Secondary Inhibiting Loop

Because information is being withheld, team members play unconscious games (not the fun kind) to protect each other’s feelings. For example, I might try to distract my colleagues from worrying about a problem in our plan by shifting the focus to another project we’re working on that’s going better.

When you’re stuck in single-loop learning, the organization does whatever it can to continue taking action after action instead of stopping to truly reassess the bigger picture. This leads team members to hide information from each other, which causes distrust and behaviors that try to mask flaws in the organization’s structures and systems.

Double Loop Learning in Organizations

A common misconception is that the opposite of single-loop learning involves focusing primarily on people’s feelings and allowing employees to manage themselves. However, the solution for single-loop learning is not about doing the opposite. It’s about adding an extra later of critical analysis—double-loop learning.

With double-loop learning, questioning why the organization is doing what it’s doing is an organizational value. Instead of moving from planning to action to reflection and back to planning, in double-loop learning, people are encouraged to reflect on why they’re doing what they’re doing. This can help the organization take a step back and reconsider what’s best for all stakeholders instead of being stuck acting and reacting.

Ultimately, double-loop learning gives team members the time, space, and systems to ask tough questions and have them addressed in meaningful ways.

Let’s think back to the Challenger disaster. If NASA had created an organization that uses double-loop learning, employees wouldn’t have felt compelled to stay silent, and the employees who did speak up would have influenced the process enough to reconsider the timeline and develop a solution for the O-ring problem.

Single-loop learning is like a train with no breaks. Double-loop learning provides the extra layer of critical thought that allows the organization to stop and pivot when that’s what’s required.

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Think back to Argyris’ thermostat metaphor. Instead of just reacting—turning on and off when it detects a certain temperature—double-loop learning invites the thermostat to reconsider why it’s doing what it’s doing and how it might do it better.

How to Shift to Double Loop Learning

So, how can organizations shift from single to double-loop learning?

1. Stakeholders Must Level With Each Other

The first step to shifting from single to double-loop learning is for all stakeholders to sit down and talk openly about their expectations, values, and goals. These sessions should be led by organizational experts to ensure that old single-loop learning habits of distrust, withholding, and game-playing don’t keep people stuck in single-loop learning.

One of the keys to team members leveling with each other is listening. Focus on creating an environment where everyone can speak up without fear of judgment or punishment.

2. Create Benchmarks for Lasting Growth and Change

Old habits die hard, and single-loop learning is no different. If systems, check-ins, benchmarks, and periodic times to reflect and reset aren’t put into place, old habits of withholding and mistrust will likely creep back in. You can guard against this by making it a norm to measure, assess, and improve how new double-loop learning systems are being implemented over time.

3. Reward Risk-Taking and Critical Feedback

Double-loop learning requires squeaky wheels. You have to create a culture that rewards criticism, risk-taking, and reflecting on the system as a whole and the reasons the organization does what it does. Think big picture stuff.

This is about walking the walk. It’s one thing to tell employees to speak up and give their feedback, it’s another thing entirely to have systems in place that make employees feel safe enough to do so.

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Kimberly Scott’s Radical Candor comes to mind as one way to start shifting to a more open and critical environment. Radical Candor is a system that incentivizes employees and managers to start speaking up about things they used to sweep under the rug. It’s a roadmap and a way to assess and improve open and reflective feedback between all stakeholders.

Double Loop Learning for Individuals

Double-loop learning isn’t only for organizations. You can also apply Argyris’ ideas to your learning.[3]

Here’s how that might look:

1. Level With Yourself and Seek Accountability

Instead of being stuck in a single-loop learning cycle, break out by adding another layer of critical reflection. Why are you learning what you’re learning? Is it important? Is there another way? Think big picture again.

Become clear on what you want to learn and how you’re currently trying to learn it. Then, open yourself up to others to keep yourself accountable. Leave the door open to completely shift major details about your learning goals.

2. Create Benchmarks and Don’t Put Your Head in the Sand

Just as with organizations, individuals also need to create goals and continuously reflect on whether or not they’re moving toward double-loop learning. Schedule times to meet with the people keeping you accountable for your learning plan. Then, ask yourself whether or not your learning goals still make sense.

Ask big picture questions. Are you in the right environment to learn? Is your learning plan working? Do you need to change course altogether or shift your goals entirely? If it’s double-loop learning, you can’t be afraid to ask questions about why you’re doing what you’re doing and change course when the need arises.

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3. Value Risk-Taking and Accept Criticism

You’re also going to need to shift your mindset from simply learning and reflecting to accepting criticism, being critical of yourself as a learner, and taking risks and experiencing discomfort as you ask big questions and make drastic alterations to your learning plan over time.

Instead of concerning yourself with grades and GPAs, double-loop learning would mean you’re allowing yourself time to step back and analyze why you’re learning what you’re learning, if there’s a better way, and even whether or not you should be on that learning trajectory in the first place.

Final Thoughts

Think back to the thermostat example. Doing homework, handing it in, and then receiving a grade is single-loop learning. Thinking about why you’re doing any of that and making appropriate changes that align with your learning goals shifts you into double-loop learning, and that’s a great way to see the bigger picture and get the best results.

Learning and reflection are two of the most important things when it comes to organizational or personal development. This is why double-loop learning is key if you want yourself or your organization to succeed.

More Tips on Effective Learning

Featured photo credit: Cherrydeck via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] NPR: Challenger: What Went Wrong
[2] Harvard Business Review: Double Loop Learning in Organizations
[3] Journal of Advanced Learning: The role of reflection in single and double-loop learning

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