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Published on February 11, 2021

9 Effective Reading Strategies For Quick Comprehension

9 Effective Reading Strategies For Quick Comprehension

Whether you are a veteran at reading or just starting to get into adult reading for the first time, you know that reading isn’t quite the same as before. It might be taking you more time to process what you are reading, or maybe you’re looking to speed up your reading overall. Whatever the case may be, what’s truly blocking you from getting up to the right reading speed is the lack of a reading strategy.

I’ve been there plenty of times before, and thanks to the various reading strategies I’ll be talking about, you can devise a reading comprehension strategy to make you understand and read things faster than before.

Here are nine effective reading strategies for quick comprehension:

1. Read With a Purpose

The first strategy that I’d suggest employing is to read with a purpose. This is my go-to strategy for quick comprehension. As I’ve expressed in the past, life is very fast-paced, and reading a book allows me to slow down as I give myself fully to the book, regardless of the genre.

The reason I approach my reading this way is that if your brain is distracted or unable to process the information presented, then you’ll lose that information.

Another way you can look at this is to read with a purpose in mind. You’ll lose that information if you don’t focus on that purpose for reading.

Knowing how to read with a purpose is a matter of grouping books into three categories:

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  • Books that strengthen a skill – These books are packed with knowledge consolidated over the years that you can quickly access.
  • Books that share success stories and allow you to learn about a person’s struggles and failures – Even though your circumstances are different, reading about a big name in a field you’re interested in humanizes the process you’re going through right now.
  • Books that let you experience life in a different way than yours – These books provide profound insights into other life experiences and help you understand people on a deeper level.

By grouping books into these categories, you have a clear purpose for reading each book and processing information in that manner.

2. Previewing

I’ve read many books over the years, of course, and one thing you’ll quickly find is that many authors—in non-fiction books specifically—will talk about similar concepts. While an author’s view will be different, some concepts are consistent across the board.

This is where this strategy truly shines as this is all about previewing a text and tapping into what you already know about the subject. While a book or an article could expand your knowledge of something, this can speed up your reading time and understanding because the author is talking about something you’re already familiar with.

There’s no point in reading over something you already know, so it’s easier and faster to move on to how the author uses that information instead.

3. Predicting

Expanding from previewing, the idea with this is that you’re making predictions about what the book or article you’re about to read is like. It sets up expectations.

For example, when you read the title of this post, you expect reading strategies to make comprehension easier. You’re not expecting anything else but that.

This same concept holds true with any book you read. Of course, you’ll make adjustments to your prediction as you read through, but like previewing, you are still brushing over pieces of information that you’re already familiar with or that you expected to be there.

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4. Identifying the Main Point

Every book has a summary to entice readers, but you can provide more in-depth summarization as you’re going through chapters of a book. If you’re looking for faster comprehension of a book, you must find the main idea that the book is presenting to you. Furthermore, by putting it into your words, you’ll have a better grasp of it.

The main point of the book could also be explained in the preface section. Most non-fiction books are set-up in a way where they explain their arguing points of why something matters and why you should continue reading. From there, they’ll discuss what the book contains.

Oftentimes, the main point is in there and you can use that as a blanket statement for the rest of the book. Knowing the main point of the book allows you to put information into context. They’re explaining this concept because it ties into the main point they’re trying to convey.

This saves you a lot of time on reading since if you’re even somewhat familiar with the topic, you can gloss over information with the other methods. Furthermore, you’ll be able to retain this information better as you can describe the main point of a book in a single sentence in the future.

5. Questioning

While you are preparing to read a book, another key reading strategy is to have questions in mind. This may require you to briefly skim through the book and ask yourself questions based on what you skimmed. Questions can stem from various sentences or even the titles or headlines that authors use.

By creating questions, you then begin to focus on answering those questions. Naturally, this brings comprehension quickly as the book ought to be equipped to answer those questions.

How you go about asking these questions is up to you. You could think of them and hold onto them, or you could consider writing them on the right margin of the page where you got that question. As you read through the book, you could mention the answer on the left margin or underline the answer and note the page number underneath the question you asked.

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6. Inferring

This is all about reading between the lines—a skill that not many people have or are hesitant to use. Inferring is a reading strategy that can seem like it would backfire as people’s interpretation of something could be off from what the author intends to convey. But that’s further from the truth as inferring is a process of learning and something you can develop over time.

It’s fine if you’re wrong about things as inferring encourages more of discovering and absorbing information on a deeper level. This naturally increases your comprehension of a topic.

Inferring, in the end, is all about drawing your own conclusions. An author presents information that you can then deduce for yourself and develop all kinds of questions. What do they mean by this? How does this fit in with everything else they’ve said thus far?

Again, even if you’re wrong with the answers to those questions later on in the book, there’s still knowledge to be gained. The answers that you have created could spark new questions or understanding. And when an author presents something different from yours, then your knowledge still expands with that in mind.

If you happen to be right, then you save yourself a lengthy explanation, which cuts down on reading time and comprehension.

7. Visualizing

Visualizing covers the creative side of things and is one of the more thrilling methods of quickly comprehending something. Even if you’re reading a non-fiction book or article, visualizing is still a helpful tool.

The idea is to be crafting, drawing, or making mental images of the information that you have. If the author outlines a system for you to use, look at the various aspects of that system. Visualize yourself performing these specific actions. Things like these keep you invested in learning and understanding more since you’re using both sides of the brain to digest information.

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Visualizing also keeps you invested because it answers the question, “how is this relevant to me?” We read books because of specific emotional or personal reasons and visualizing can help you in answering that question, especially how you see it fitting in your life.

8. Monitoring/Clarifying

Stemming from inferring and predicting, monitoring/clarifying as a reading strategy is taking your deductions and comparing them to what you are actually reading. In many cases, your understanding of something can be different from what the author is stating, and from that comes a deeper understanding of the information. This can also stem from questioning strategies as you are searching for clarity in those answers.

9. Searching

The final reading strategy stems from questioning where you are looking for answers—similar to clarifying. The difference between searching and clarifying is that clarifying is designed for a general understanding.

For searching, you’re looking to find information that backs up and reinforces what you wish to be learning about. This puts you in a situation where you’re defining things that you’re uncertain about, and it allows you to solve problems that you still have with the text.

Final Thoughts

Comprehending what you’re reading involves having a system of reading strategies that you can easily tap into. Effective readers will employ several of these strategies to rapidly understand what they’re reading.

As such, I would strongly encourage you to employ these methods and experiment. Find out what works for you and develop a reading strategy that works best for you.

More Essential Reading Strategies

Featured photo credit: Seven Shooter via unsplash.com

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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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