Published on July 8, 2021

11 Most Effective Cognitive Skills To Speed Up Learning

11 Most Effective Cognitive Skills To Speed Up Learning

Learning how things are done the right way and mastering them are what hugely contribute to empowering yourself as a person and being competitive in areas you are interested in excelling. However, when it comes to grasping information and understanding it, we often have trouble following what we are trying to learn, we get distracted, and even have a pretty hard time wrapping our heads around some topics.

Sometimes, it feels like what we are trying to pursue was not meant for us because it is just simply tough to figure it out. That being the case, there are different cognitive skills we can work on in our lives that can help us become better learners, and if we take our time to better ourselves in these areas, we can have a fairly easier time soaking in information and applying it in places we need to.

Here are the 11 most effective cognitive skills to speed up learning that you are encouraged to consider for a better and more rewarding learning experience in the weeks, months, and years to come.

1. Selective Attention

Selective attention is a cognitive skill that allows you to direct your attention on a specific task that is important at a given time and fade out the other distractions that might be tempting for you to engage in.[1]

When you are in a noisy environment, many things can get your attention. Most of these things might be fun to engage in, but they take you away from the reason why you are in that environment. Now, through selective attention, you get to remain focused on the reason you are in that environment and pursue the tasks that took you there.

For example, if you and your friend are in a restaurant that is located in the heart of a town where there are cars hooting, noises from other shop attendants in the shops next to the restaurant, drunk people arguing and fighting, and more, you are bound to hear most of those noises.

However, the main reason you are in that place is to have a conversation with your friend as you eat, and selective attention helps you focus on that task and maintain your attention on it until you are done.

There are 2 types of selective attention: selective visual attention and selective auditory attention.

Selective visual attention is pretty much visual selective attention. Here, you can focus on the things that have high priority in the midst of so many other things that are visually attractive.

Selective auditory attention is selective attention that is based on your hearing senses. Using the example of you and your friend in a restaurant, you get to block out other noises and focus on what your friend is saying.

By working on improving selective attention, you can enhance your learning abilities as this helps direct and maintain your attention on your studies for a long period without allowing yourself to get distracted by other shiny and tempting objects and sounds.[2]


To improve your selective attention, it would be a good idea to make an effort of doing focused attention meditation, going to fairly noisy places, and trying to focus on some chosen object or sound for a long period. By doing this often and making it harder as you progress and get comfortable with a certain limit, you will be able to sharpen your attention.

2. Sustained Attention

Sustained attention, also referred to as vigilant attention, is a cognitive skill that helps you stick to one project and keep working at it until you complete it.[3][4] With sustained attention, you become more of a long-term person when it comes to your work or learning.

If you decide to take on a book that you have been wanting to read on a topic you are interested in, you stick to that book every day until you finish reading it, and then from there, you can now read another book.

Improved sustained attention is cultivated through having lengthened periods of focus where you focus on what you are learning and then take time to identify the things you have learned in detail.

For instance, as you read, you can have another sheet of plain paper where you note down the things you have learned in detail after about 30 minutes to one hour of focus. And when you are done with the book, you list down the knowledge you have gained from the first chapter to the last.

Listening to audiobooks and watching long videos of what you are learning also helps. Moreover, following periods of interesting activities with long periods of learning gives a positive kick to your attention.

3. Divided Attention

While having focused attention on one thing is good, the contrary is also useful. Divided attention is having your attention on more than one project or task at the same time. This might seem counterproductive but it is actually not.[5]

Think about having different units that you are taking in your learning institution or different chapters in a single unit. There are times you find yourself in a place where you are about to complete one chapter, but also you have to take on the next chapter or about to finish the last page of one unit while also having to keep in mind that you have another unit that you urgently need to get started on.

Finalizing on one thing while getting ready and planning for another one is common, and having divided attention in such cases can be helpful so that even while you’re having two exams on two different units in a day, you can still retain information of both without struggling.

Divided attention, that is also called multitasking, requires the active use the short term memory for some.[6] And while this is the case, it is also important to aim to store information in the long-term memory through constant repetition as it helps in the long run.

Being aware of what you are supposed to learn and how you learn also goes a long way in elevating divided attention.


4. Logic and Reasoning

Logic and reasoning are cognitive skills that pave way for problem-solving skills and brainstorming ideas that help make your learning useful in the real world.

Most of what we learn is explained in the most straightforward way possible, but some aspects require you to think deeply about the information you are getting and how it works so that you can safely and effectively apply it in the needed areas.[7]

For example, during examinations and tests, the examiner expects you to use what you have been taught to solve the problems given in the test, and since the questions are somehow twisted to gauge your understanding of the topic being tested, you may need to think out of the box to get it right. This is where logic and reasoning come to the rescue.

To get better at logic and reasoning, you can try various techniques including creating conclusions to various scenarios and then watching how they unfold to see if you got it right, playing brain games such as chess, and figuring out the patterns of different activities you are involved in.

5. Processing Speed

Processing speed is a cognitive skill that relates to your ability to interpret what you learn and have an easy time applying it in the right place to get the kind of results you are looking for. With this skill, you can improve your rate of productivity in a day and, therefore, create more time to do other things in your daily schedule.

Think about having the ability to sit down and within 30 minutes, you already have read and fully understood what a certain aspect of your studies—like a topic in the unit you are doing in school or on an online course—is all about. The best part is, you have understood the concept so well that you don’t find it necessary to go back and reread it and try to figure out what it means and the whole process of it.

For most people, this might appear to be far from reality, but some people are living this experience. Some people argue that this is an ability that’s given to a chosen few when, in fact, it is something anyone can learn if they set out to achieve it.

Having a great processing speed is possible and it makes you a sharp person, which also improves the quality of your life in the long term.

You can increase your information processing speed by ensuring that you are regularly involved in aerobic exercise, pushing your mind to understand things quicker by reading and interpreting information faster than you usually do, and eating healthy foods.[8]

6. Visual Processing

Visual processing is a cognitive skill related to processing speed but only focused on visuals.

This skill comes in handy when you are trying to comprehend visual data, such as images, tables, and graphs. We can all admit that at some point in our lives, we’ve had to use these two, and having that skill to know what is happening does help.


The more you use visually represented data, the better you get at identifying the patterns used in them and the easier it is for you to decode new data presented that way in the future.[9]

7. Auditory Processing

Auditory processing—just like visual processing—is a distant cousin of processing speed. It deals with sound-based information such as audiobooks.

We are now in an age where advanced technology is being used in almost all industries including education. Instead of having to spend a couple of days or weeks reading a coursebook, you can just listen to an audiobook of the same and learn massively.

If you are good at analyzing and make sense of the sound and relating it to what you are learning about, you have a much smoother time reading and advancing your studies. Again, the more you listen to audios, the better your audio processing skills get.

8. Working Memory

The working memory is where you store recently acquired information. If you read a manual of a device that you intend on using immediately you are done reading and then go ahead and start using it without having to refer to the manual every now and then, your working memory is awesome.

The working memory promotes comprehension, problem-solving, reasoning, and planning in education.[10] Having a good working memory means that you can store in your mind enough information about various items and their relations to each other well enough to take on the challenge you have and solve it successfully.[11]

A good way to enhance the working memory is by trying to flash words, numbers, cards, or even dots for a couple of seconds and figuring out what you saw after a few seconds, and then check if you are correct. You can even take it a notch higher and try to do some fairly complex calculations with what you see and see if you can hack it.

Listening to sounds and relating to them at a deeper level, just like in the flashing brain game, can also give some boost to your working memory.

9. Long-Term Memory

This is the retention of information that was acquired a long time ago. You are classified among the people with the best long-term memory when you can retain and easily retrieve information about something you gained months or years ago.

If you had met someone a couple of years ago and then get the chance to meet them again and you can still remember their name, what they dressed, and what you talked about the first time you met without struggling, then you might have an above-average long term memory.

Some of the well-known ways to take your long-term memory to the next level are through activities such as constant repetition (revisiting the information in your mind), visualizing what you have learned, and being super focused and attentive when you are learning something new.


10. Fluid Intelligence

Fluid intelligence is the ability to reason, as well as create, alter, and utilize information from our senses in real-time for various reasons including problem-solving.[12] This type of intelligence allows you to think abstractly and reason flexibly, and it is usually free from learning, education, and experience.

When you come across a problem that needs to be solved and you can’t rely on past knowledge and experience, fluid intelligence helps you get the right answers. Fluid intelligence is believed to decline in late adulthood, although it is trainable and you can always increase it at any point in your life if you choose to.[13]

One of the ways you can improve your fluid intelligence is by enhancing your working memory as they are closely linked to one another.[14]

11. Crystallized Intelligence

Crystallized intelligence can be perceived as the opposite of fluid intelligence as this type of intelligence heavily relies on past knowledge and experience that you have gained over the years. It is based on facts and knowledge, and you become stronger at it as you age since you gain more knowledge and experience as you progress in life age-wise.

Fluid intelligence can later on become crystallized intelligence when you use it to think and reason about various issues and then store the information in your long-term memory. With crystallized intelligence, the more you gain information, learn new skills, and have numerous experiences, the stronger it becomes for you.


These are the cognitive skills you should try to focus on to help make it easy for you to learn new things faster and get to understand them well.

Now, mastering these skills is not a walk in the park, although it is not that tough either. It may require you to get out of your comfort zone and push yourself just a little every day so that you can improve your mind power. However, the good thing is that you can do that. You are more than capable of mastering these skills and, as a result, get better your life.

Starting small is the key. Take on one skill at a time. Invest your time in sharpening it and constantly applying it. Before long, you will be amazed at how far you have come.

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Last Updated on August 11, 2021

23 Killer Sites for Free Online Education Anyone Can Use

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.


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.


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.


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.


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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