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Last Updated on November 6, 2020

12 Ways for Any Slow Learner to Easily Speed Up Learning

12 Ways for Any Slow Learner to Easily Speed Up Learning

Have you ever struggled to learn something? Has it ever taken you longer to figure something out than everyone else? Do you have a mental block when it comes to certain subjects? We all have our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to learning new things. Everyone is a slow learner about one thing or another.

I know I’m a slow learner when it comes to new languages or anything technological. However, that doesn’t mean I’m a slow learner all around. It just means I’ve got some areas for growth.

Luckily for me and you, there are many ways to speed up learning with extra support, even when we’re talking about those  creative or academic areas that we usually struggle with.

Here are 12 ways for slow learners to speed up learning.

1. Relax and Stay Calm

It’s tough to learn much of anything when you’re stressed out or upset about something, so learning how to relax and stay calm is vital to speeding up your learning.

In one study, stress negatively impacted both recall and recognition tasks.[1] This means that we need to do our best to de-stress and stay calm if we’re trying to shift from a slow learner to a fast one.

What kinds of activities can help us reduce stress and stay calm? Breathing exercises can help reduce stress. Slowing and deepening our breath can help us feel less stressed and calmer.[2]

Mindfulness exercises can also help us think more about what we’re learning and less about what’s stressing us out. Noticing what’s in your immediate environment and listening to the nearby sounds can help you shift from worrying and overthinking (bad for learning) to being able to better focus on the task at hand.

2. Remove Distractions

It’s also extremely difficult for a slow learner to learn efficiently when surrounded by distractions. Extraneous noises and technology overload can get in our way when we’re trying to learn something new.

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When possible, put your phone away and turn off notifications. Also, do your best to find a quiet spot with no radio or TV to compete with whatever it is you’re trying to learn.

Once you do all of this, you can learn how to take your learning to the next level in this video:

3. Eat Right

It may seem obvious, but there’s a direct link between proper nutrition and learning outcomes. Nutrient deficiencies can cause you to feel like you’re in a haze, which is a surefire recipe for slow learning.[3]

Combat that by eating a healthy, balanced diet filled with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Fatty acids have been linked with memory and brain-boosting, so make sure to eat fish and nuts or try an omega-3 supplement.

4. Sleep

Another healthy way to boost your learning is to get plenty of sleep. When we sleep, our brains sort through our experiences from the day. Some synaptic connections erode while others are strengthened during sleep. This just means that your brain requires deep sleep to strengthen memories, so you have to sleep in order to learn.

Get at least seven hours of sleep each night, so you can wake up refreshed and ready to learn. Try reviewing the information you’re trying to learn before bed, so you can use your sleep time transferring it into long-term memories.

It also helps to have a consistent bedtime routine. Your body needs to have consistent Circadian rhythms to fall right asleep and get those valuable REM cycles.

5. Play to Your Strengths

We all have our strengths and weaknesses, right? I know I’m terrible at foreign languages and much more comfortable with reading and writing. Take a self-assessment and think about things you learn quickly and things that turn you into a slow learner.

Then, use this self-assessment to your advantage, and play to your strengths. When I’m struggling to learn Spanish or Bosnian, I challenge myself to read children’s books or write rudimentary stories because I enjoy them and am more comfortable with these activities. This helps me learn something I struggle with because I’m playing to my strengths, instead of just forcing myself to review grammar or memorize flashcards.

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6. Practice Makes Perfect

Another trick for speeding up slow learning is to plan repeated exposure to whatever it is you’re trying to learn. Just reviewing your notes once is not going to do the trick.

There’s something called spaced repetition that helps make learning more effective[4]. Spaced repetition is when you study tough material more often and easier material less often.[5]

Spaced repetition for slow learners

    For example, if I’m trying to learn a new language, I might quiz myself with some vocabulary flashcards. I’m going to repeat all the cards I got wrong sooner than the ones I got right as I continue to add in new flashcards.

    Spaced repetition is a proven method to help you store new information as long-term memories, which means that it becomes second nature.

    7. Mnemonic Devices

    Who remembers ROYGBIV? Probably a lot of you. ROYGBIV is a mnemonic device that helps us easily (and quickly) remember the colors of the rainbow.

    Mnemonic devices help speed up learning by making memory encoding easier. It’s much easier for me to remember ROYGBIV than it is to remember all the colors. Then, the first letter of each color gives me a hint to make remembering the colors easier.

    So, if you’re having a slow learner moment, speed up by using mnemonic devices.

    8. Try All Learning Styles

    Learning styles started to gain in popularity in the 1990s. Since that time, there’s never been definitive proof that someone’s preferred learning style (auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and reading/writing) improves learning outcomes. However, knowing which style you prefer can help you learn faster.

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    I know I prefer to see things written out, so when I want a better chance of learning someone’s name I either write it out myself or ask them to write it, since hearing it spelled only confuses me further.

    Find your preferred learning style and use it to your advantage.

    To really speed up learning, mix and match the learning styles, and try to match the learning style with whatever you’re trying to learn.

    For example, if you’re trying to learn a new song, you may want to hear it first. If you’re trying to figure out some new statistics, it may help to see it mapped out visually.

    9. Reflect and Adjust

    When we’re talking about speeding up learning, it may not make sense to stop and reflect, but being reflective and self-aware can speed up learning in the long run.

    Keeping a journal to review past learning helps boost learning a little, but that may just be the boost you need to move from a slow learner to a not-so-slow one.

    10. Know Your Learning Blocks

    It’s also important to know what makes you shut down when trying to learn new things. I know that if I’m feeling embarrassed, I tend to shut down and get defensive instead of being open to learning new things. It’s important to figure out what makes you shut down, so you can recover and continue to learn.

    Improv has a lot to teach us about how to create learning environments that promote creativity and learning. By going along with people’s ideas and not judging each other, we can create learning environments that are much more conducive to faster learning.

    11. Don’t Be Afraid of Mistakes

    Learning also requires us to make mistakes. If we’re too worried about being right or being perfect, we won’t take the risks necessary to learn new things.

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    When mistakes do happen, it’s important to be able to talk about them openly to learn from them, instead of letting them lead to shame and embarrassment.[6]

    You can learn how to let go of perfectionism here.

    12. Get Curious and Be Playful

    Finally, to move from a slow learner to a fast one, it’s crucial to be curious about whatever it is you’re learning.

    In one study, curiosity was shown to have positive benefits for workplace learning and performance.[7]

    The key is the shift in focus. When we play, we are better able to shift our focus from internal thoughts to an external focus on the people and objects around us. This helps decrease overthinking and distractions and helps people focus on the present moment and the task at hand, crucial ingredients for efficient learning.

    Final Thoughts

    Don’t beat yourself up if you think you’re a slow learner. Find comfort in knowing we all have our learning strengths and weaknesses.

    You should also find comfort in the fact that there are twelve practical ways that you can start speeding up your learning today.

    More Tips to Speed Up Learning

    Featured photo credit: Andrew Le via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Clay Drinko

    Clay Drinko is an educator and the author of PLAY YOUR WAY SANE (January 2021 Simon & Schuster)

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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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