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Published on November 16, 2020

6 Science-Backed Tips To Learn How To Learn

6 Science-Backed Tips To Learn How To Learn

When people want to pick up a new skill or learn a new subject, they tend to dive right into it. They rarely take the time to learn how to learn in the first place, and that’s a mistake. If they took the time to improve their learning skills, they would get better at everything else.

How can we avoid that mistake and become better learners? Here are 6 science-backed tips to learn how to learn.

1. Connect What You Are Learning To What You Already Know

Let’s imagine you’ve never seen a leopard in your life. If I were to describe it to you, I could start by naming different facts about it, such as height, weight, how many legs it has, etc. That would make the information very abstract. The other option would be telling you to think of a leopard as a wild oversized cat, and then point to its distinctive characteristics, such as its spotted coat and long tail.

The second example is easier to grasp because I am asking you to use the knowledge you already have (the “concept” of a cat) to learn a new one (the “concept” of a leopard).[1]

All learning works the same way; it’s easier for us to grasp new knowledge and skills if we connect them to what we already know. It’s the reason great teachers commonly use analogies, similes, and comparisons. They know the best path to make us learn something new is to relate it to what’s already in our heads.

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2. Scaffold Your Learning

Learning builds upon itself: we start small and add to it as we progress.[2] It’s the idea of learning to walk before learning to run. And though that seems obvious, we often want to jump ahead without learning the foundation to build upon. Think of people who wish to learn multi-leg options trading without having a fundamental understanding of financial instruments and the stock market. Or people who want to learn handstand pushups before learning the mechanics of a basic handstand.

This tip ties in with our previous one. By following a progression, you are using your prior knowledge as support for adding the new one. Effective learning should always be progressive, moving from general concepts to specific, simple processes to complex ones, concrete information to abstraction, and principles to strategies.

3. Use the Right Input Mode

Learning scientists classify the different ways we take in information into four categories: Observation (seeing someone doing what we want to learn), Imitation (Following along), explanation (listening or reading to instructions), and experimentation (trying things on our own).

Depending on what you are trying to learn, some will be more effective than others. If you are learning martial arts, observation and imitation are better approaches than learning purely from a book (explanation) or experimenting on our own. In other cases, such as learning history or philosophy, a class, podcast, or a book can be a good option. Ideally, we should try to combine different input modes, so the new knowledge is easier to understand and takes a better hold in our memory.

4. Practice Retrieval

Practice retrieval is the technical name for testing. We know testing in the form of exams and quizzes, but it can also come in the form of explaining what we know to someone else or reviewing information in our mind. The point of practice retrieval is that, as the name implies, we retrieve information from memory.

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Practice retrieval is one of the best learning strategies out there.[3] It takes advantage of something that renown psychologists Robert Bjork calls desirable difficulty. Retrieving information from memory challenges the mind, and it is that extra effort we put into recall that helps us solidify our learning.

Practice retrieval helps us in two key ways. On one side, the effort we put into the recall reinforces what we know. And on the other, testing our knowledge shows us what we know well and what needs more study.

Something to remember about practice retrieval is that we are not testing ourselves to get a grade or to get the answers right all the time. We are doing it to improve our learning. Even when we get the answers wrong, our mind primes itself to learn the right answers afterward.

How do we practice retrieval? We can create our own quizzes for what we are learning, use flashcards, review the information in our mind, or teach it to someone else (teaching forces us to recall information from memory, so it works as practice retrieval).

5. Follow Spaced Repetition

Spaced repetition is about allowing ourselves time between study sessions instead of cramming everything into a short amount of time.

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Learning research is clear in declaring spaced repetition a better strategy than cramming. This is because spaced repetition provides something cramming cannot: balance.

Effective learning requires a period of concentrated study, followed by a consolidation period. It also requires, as surprising as it may sound, moderate forgetting (more on that below).

When we cram, it feels as if we are learning faster, but the progress we make fades almost as quickly as we got it. And since we are packing large amounts of information in a short period, it’s hard to identify what has taken a good hold in our mind and what hasn’t.

With spaced repetition, we allow time between study sessions, so when we go back to test or review what we are learning, we’ll know which knowledge was internalized and which wasn’t—and needs further study. Also, the time between study sessions allows for some forgetting, making it more effortful to recall what we learned before. This relates to the desirable difficulty[4] we discussed in the previous tip. The effort we put into retrieving information helps us solidify our knowledge.

6. Seek Out Mentors

The value of mentors cannot be overstated. They guide us through the learning process, help us avoid common pitfalls, and offer us a wealth of experience into what works, what doesn’t, and where to direct our efforts.[5]

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The mentor-apprentice model has been successful throughout history in all fields. Beginners are paired with advanced practitioners and teachers to show them the ropes.

Trying to do things on our own without any guidance makes our learning slow. If we want to get the most out of the time and energy we put into learning any skill in our craft, we should seek out mentors to learn from. They will push us to give our best and help us accelerate our progress in ways we could never do on our own.

Closing Thoughts

Learning how to learn is a skill that should precede all others. When we get better at learning, we shorten the time it takes us to learn any other skill. It is an investment that pays off for the rest of our lives.

Start with the tips we discussed in this article: Connect what you are learning to what you already know, Use the right input mode, Practice retrieval, Follow Spaced repetition, and Seek out mentors. These will give you a strong foundation to get better at learning anything you want.

Recommended Reading

  • Brown, Peter, Henry Roediger III, and Mark McDaniel. Make it Stick. The Science of Successful Learning. Cambridge: Belknap/Harvard, 2014.
  • Carey, Benedict. How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why it Happens. New York: Random House, 2015.
  • Novak, Joseph, and Bob Gowin. Learning How to Learn. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

More Learning Tips

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] VeryWellMind: The Role of a Schema in Psychology
[2] Wiley Education Services: Scaffolding Learning in the Online Classroom
[3] ERIC.EDU: Strengthening the Student Toolbox
[4] Psychological Science: Desirable Difficulties
[5] The National Academic Press: Adviser, Teacher, Role Model, Friend

More by this author

Nick Velasquez

Bestselling author of "Learn, Improve, Master."

6 Science-Backed Tips To Learn How To Learn 4 Reasons Why You May Be a Slow Learner

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1 How to Use the Learning Style Quiz to Accelerate Your Learning 2 10 Effective Ways To Make You a Fast Learner 3 Best Brain Workout! Super Learning Hacks 4 How to Know Which Types of Learning Styles Work for You? 5 Learning Methods to Help You Learn Effectively and Easily

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Last Updated on June 1, 2021

How to Use the Learning Style Quiz to Accelerate Your Learning

How to Use the Learning Style Quiz to Accelerate Your Learning

If you’ve ever taken a learning style quiz, you know that the idea is to find your most prominent learning style. The question then becomes: what do you do with that information?

A textbook definition of learning styles is:[1]

“Characteristic cognitive, effective, and psycho-social behaviors that serve as relatively stable indicators of how learners perceive, interact with, and respond to the learning environment.”

That’s a fancy way of saying that different individuals interact with their learning environment in different ways. You’ll often see learning styles in conjunction with higher education and other types of cognitive learning courses. The theory is that, if the teacher is aware of the various ways in which people perceive information, they can differentiate the instruction to meet those needs.

To the casual learner, understanding your learning style can help you find the best way to learn new information. There are seven different learning styles, and everybody uses a little of each one (on a sliding scale).

In this article we will talk about how many different learning styles there are (and what they mean), get you to try the learning style quiz, and find out how to use your specific learning style to improve your life.

The 7 Learning Styles

The following is an overview of the various learning styles[2]:

1. Visual / Spatial

A visual learner thinks in pictures. They prefer having illustrations, pictures, and other types of images to help form a mental image of what they are learning. Visual learners are typically spatial thinkers.

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2. Aural / Auditory-Musical

An aural learner learns through music and rhythm. While actual music isn’t necessarily required to reach an aural learner, it certainly is more effective.

3. Verbal / Linguistic

A verbal learner prefers using words, both in speech and in reading. A person with this learning style might prefer a good lecture or textbook to more visual and auditory styles.

4. Physical / Kinesthetic

A physical learner prefers using their body, hands, and sense of touch. A person with this learning style is more of a “hands-on” learner who prefers to learn by doing.

5. Logical / Mathematical

A logical learner prefers information to flow from one thought or idea to the next. A person with this learning style prefers mathematics, logic, and reasoning.

6. Social / Interpersonal

A social learner prefers to learn in groups or through social interaction. A person with this learning style usually prefers group-work and project-based learning.

7. Solitary / Intrapersonal

A solitary learner prefers to work alone. People with this learning style are great at teaching themselves and often prefer self-study and online courses to more traditional learning methods.

Did you see yourself in more than one learning style? If so, then you understand that no one person has just one learning style. Each of the above styles exist in everybody to a certain degree.

If you take a learning style quiz, you might see a certain style emerge as the strongest (and, thus, more preferred). However, that does not mean that person cannot learn in one of the other ways listed.

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Learning Styles and the Brain

Learning styles influence and guide the way you learn. They affect the way you internally represent your experiences, remember information, or even dictate the words you choose[3].

Learning style quiz: Dunn & Dunn learning styles brain map [Source: Kos, (2017)]

     

    Research suggests that each learning style makes use of a different part of the brain. Here is the breakdown for each learning style:

    • Visual: Visual learners use the occipital and parietal lobes at the back of the brain.
    • Aural: Aural content is mostly processed through the temporal lobes (especially the right temporal lobe for music).
    • Verbal: Verbal content is processed through the temporal and frontal lobes.
    • Kinesthetic: Kinesthetic learning is processed using the cerebellum and the motor cortex.
    • Logical: Logical learning is processed through the parietal lobes (specifically using the left side of the brain as it pertains to logical thinking).
    • Social: Social learning happens in the frontal and temporal lobes.

    How to Use the Learning Style Quiz to Improve Your Life

    Perhaps you didn’t realize that people had different learning styles before you read this article. Maybe you already knew about learning styles.

    Whatever the case, you can learn a lot about yourself just by taking a short learning styles quiz. But what do you do with the knowledge you get from the results?

    Here are some tips:

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    Visual Learner

    If you’re a visual learner, focus on how you can make the material you’re learning more visually appealing[4].

    1. Stay Organized

    If a learning style quiz tells you you’re a visual learner, focus on getting your material organized. Your brain will likely feel overwhelmed if your notes are chaotic.

    2. Use Color

    Try color coding information in order to help your mind visually separate each bit. For example, if you’re studying for a history test, highlight dates in yellow, people in blue, and places in pink. This technique will set important pieces of information off in your mind and make them easier to remember.

    3. Watch Videos

    Ditch the audio-books and podcasts and either read or watch videos and lectures online. Your strength is found in visual explanation — seeing the information in a book, diagram, or demonstration.

    Auditory Learner

    If you’re an auditory learner according to your learning style quiz, focus on using your ability to hear to take in information[5].

    1. Limit Distracting Noises

    Traffic outside your window, students speaking nearby, or music blaring from a speaker won’t help you while studying. You’re already prone to take in the sounds around you, so if you want to learn something specific, find a quiet place to work where you can limit distracting noises.

    2. Read Aloud

    If you’ve taken notes in class, try reading them aloud to yourself. You can even create jingles or rhymes to help you remember specific bits of information.

    3. Record Lectures

    Instead of just simply writing notes as your professor or boss speaks, record the lecture or conversation and listen back later. This will help solidify the information with aural cues. Also, try speaking with classmates or coworkers to help “fill in” the information.

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    Kinesthetic Learners

    Your learning style quiz tells you that you’re a kinesthetic learner. Here are some study tips to help you[6].

    1. Teach Someone

    After you’ve studied the target information, try teaching it to someone else. This dynamic activity will help turn on your ability to recall the information.

    2. Be Hands-on

    Using your hands to create something will help your brain work through specific problems. If you need to remember 20 vocabulary words, try drawing a map and placing the words in specific places. This is related to the idea of a memory palace, which you can learn about here.

    Bonus tip: Try chewing gum, as the movement may help activate learning centers in your brain.

    3. Take Breaks

    As a kinesthetic learner, your mind won’t like being in one static position for very long. Take time to get up and walk around or do another physical activity for a few minutes between study sessions.

    Also be aware that most of the learning styles can fit into one of those three categories. You are essentially going to be one of these three types of learning styles paired with an interpersonal or intrapersonal preference. In other words, you either like working with others or you don’t.

    If you’re ready to take your learning to the next level with your learning style, check out the video below for some more tips and tricks:

    Final Thoughts

    Have you taken the learning style quiz yet? If not, scroll down this page a bit and try the quiz now!

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    If you spend just five to ten minutes on this quiz, it may give you insight into learning styles that will change your life.

    More on How to Use the Learning Style Quiz

    Featured photo credit: Eliabe Costa via unsplash.com

    Reference

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