Learn how to learn faster and with efficiency. Remember what you learn.
A Chinese proverb says that learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere. At every stage in your life, you can learn. Every time you do, you grow a little bit as an individual and as a contributing member of your community. However, as true as these thoughts may be, learning new skills can sometimes present discomfort and challenge. But, there is help.
Well, though it might sound confusing at first, learning how to learn can help you not only learn faster and more efficiently but also make things stick once you’ve learned them. In a nutshell, self-care, motivation, goal setting, planning, strategic review and application are all fundamental requirements that will help you learn anything more efficiently.
These will also help you remember and, most importantly, put to use what you’ve learned. In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to learn more effectively and explain the strategies you can apply immediately in your everyday life.
Why Learn Anyway? An Overview
No matter what specific reasons an individual has for deciding to learn new things, there is one common reason for learning: to increase our value. From the time we are born, learning new things continues to improve the contribution we are able to make to mankind.
To start – First, we learn to walk, talk and speak. With these new skills, we can begin to participate in caring for ourselves and communicating with those around us. Later, we learn to listen, cooperate, obey, and discern.
To grow – Along the way, we are taught literacy and numeracy, faith and science, history and culture, both in formal and informal settings. With every new height we reach, we become more valuable to society.
To evolve – As adults, our compulsory school years are over, but a new journey of learning begins. We are ever learning, ever evolving, whether we continue to take classes or not. We learn a new language and pick up new skills in vocational jobs. We undergo changes in our workplaces that make it necessary to learn how to use new equipment.
To meet challenges – Sometimes, a new endeavor, like remodeling an old house, opens up a whole new set of opportunities to learn what we have never known. Some say when you stop learning, you start dying. To live is to learn.
All that said, just receiving new information is not enough to say you have learned. Indeed, you may be able to retain some of it. Nevertheless, the desired outcome for learning anything is to be able to use what you’ve learned to the level of mastery you need or want.
This does not happen by osmosis. Indeed, to maximize your learning, you must take some intentional steps. Whether your learning is prompted by your own personal goals or by an outside force, there are 6 basic requirements you will need to maximize your learning.
How To Learn – 6 Requirements To Maximize Learning
1. Learning How To Learn – Self-Care
If you are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, then you will be aware of the fact that it is nearly impossible to think of anything other than your basic needs if they are not met. At the bottom of the famed pyramid are the basic requirements for life – food, clothing, and shelter.
If you’re missing any one of these three, then you cannot pursue learning in any area that is not directly related to immediately fulfilling these needs. Your online course in SEO is not going to get any attention if you are chronically struggling to stay housed and/or fed.
On the other side of this is where many of us find ourselves. We do have access to our basic requirements. Nonetheless, if we simply neglect ourselves in them, then we diminish our capacity to focus on learning or retain information.
Care for yourself before beginning a study session or heading out to a class. Making sure you’ve had plenty of sleep (also a basic need), water and a nourishing meal are your first steps to maximizing the time you spend.
2. Learning How To Learn – Motivation
This is about your “why”. The fact is that, depending on what you are setting out to learn, you will need to dedicate some focused time. The contemporary world is replete with instant gratification and abundant distractions. In the midst of all this, your motivation will be essential for keeping you on track or to tackle and stop procrastination.
Your motivation source needs to be specific. It should include how you want to be different from how you are now. It should express the benefits of such a difference as well. The key feature in this is to be clear about your final destination. When embarking on any journey, always keep your destination in mind. Without that, you will be aimless and easily diverted.
Also, as you remind yourself of your motivation when the going gets tough, it will help to know how reaching your destination will make things better for you or someone else. That will help you push through the rough patches.
3. How To Learn – Setting Goals
Golf legend Greg Norman is quoted as having said “If you don’t know what you’re aiming at, you will hit it every time.” Akin to the motivation requirement, setting goals also helps you stay on track. In addition to being clear about your endpoint, you should set up milestones. The destination you wish to reach on your learning journey is the macro goal. Milestones will be micro-goals that will help you enjoy moments of fulfillment along the way.
Your goals should be based on several factors:
- Your current level of aptitude or skill level. This will help you set realistic, attainable goals.
- Any stages of increased aptitude you may need to pass through along the way.
- The timeframe in which you want to achieve micro and macro goals.
- Any obstacles that you can already see up ahead.
- The level of mastery you are looking to attain in your new knowledge.
All of this will become clearer as you begin to develop your plan. For example, you may want to learn how to play guitar well enough to play a great solo at church by December for the annual Christmas Social.
If you make this choice in July, and at this stage, you are already able to play some simple songs, you can set some goals. By September, you could decide on some more complex songs you want to be able to play. By October, you could select your song or songs for the social and begin practicing them.
If you really want to activate your micro-goals to help your motivation, you can decide to reward yourself with small treats for each one.
4. Learning How To Learn – Planning
Here is where the rubber meets the road. In this part of the process, you can select your mode of learning. It is helpful to know your own learning style. Although some question the science behind learning styles, many people recognize the validity of the concept. You will find it useful to know your own learning style and target it primarily in your learning journey.
The most important part of this is that you are planning WHO will be teaching you. That is a big decision. Make sure your instructor is trained, experienced and credible in relation to the topic they are teaching you. Also, make sure you like them and, if you are learning in person, that they like you also.
Once you have decided how you are going to go about learning, it is time for you to schedule yourself. Armed with your motivation and goals, you need to plan your learning time as well as your study time outside of lessons.
You may now start planning your strategy for note taking, your milestone rewards and your review methods. Be realistic and take into account the other responsibilities in your life as you plan. Also, be flexible, because as with any journey, it is wise to expect the unexpected.
5. Strategic Review in Learning – 3 Concepts
Depending on what your learning process and goals are, you will need to implement an intentional strategy for retaining what you have learned. Many people fall down right here.
Short vs long term memory – Numerous studies suggest that the information that you receive will not enter your long term memory automatically. Your newly acquired knowledge will enter your short term memory first. Then, if you expose yourself to it several more times in intervals that allow the brain to rest in between, it can pass into your long term memory.
Consider the well-known adage about riding a bike. In your first few attempts, you cannot just jump on a two-wheeler and go. You will be wobbly, finding it hard to steer and unsure of how to not fall down. However, once you get the hang of it, bike riding transitions into your long term memory. Years can pass since the last time you’ve ridden and you can hop on a bike and ride as though you do it every day.
Ingrain knowledge – This is apparently true for everything. Thus, strategically implement new knowledge as soon and whenever you can into your everyday life and frequently review this process. In other words, whether it is for the purpose of preparing for an exam or for practical application, strategize your review activities of what you are learning.
Reviewing – This review process harkens to a pedagogical concept called “assessment for learning.” Whereas the traditional way student knowledge is assessed consists of mid or end term exams, grades reports and the like (known as assessment OF learning), the goal of assessment FOR learning is different.
The idea is for both student and instructor to get a sense of where a student is at along the way and whether the learning plan needs to be tweaked or if any learning needs reinforcing. The latter teaching/learning strategy not only allows for troubleshooting at the time of need but also seeks to give the learner some autonomy in their own learning.
Here are three effective ways you can strategically review something you are learning. These methods can serve as an assessment for learning tactics.
1. Spaced Repetition – This strategy helps you get your newly acquired knowledge out of your short term memory and into your long term memory. The note-taking you plan to use greatly affects how you execute this strategy. With Cornell method notes, for example, you can use a self-questioning technique to quiz yourself on what you have learned thus far. If you did mapping of any sort, the lack of full sentences leaves space for you to string the ideas together for yourself during review.
The repetition feature of this review method will help you lock the information into your long term memory. The spaced part speaks of the intervals of time between the repetitions. One blogger described it as giving you time to almost forget the information and then bringing it back again. Find out how to plan your intervals to be most effective for embedding what you’re learning for keeps.
2. Teach Someone Else – Teaching helps to learn. Imparting knowledge to someone else is the ultimate assessment of whether you are confident in it or not. If you are confident enough, you can be a blessing to someone else with what you have learned. You will know how well you know your stuff as you plan and execute a lesson on your topic.
You can do this at any stage. Although you may have not completed the learning process, you can still share what you are learning with your children or help a classmate who is struggling to teach them what you have learned so far.
3. Construct Something – As a micro-goal, you can do a small scale application of what you have learned. Studying housing construction? Build a model house using some of the principles you have learned. Taking a course in change management? Work through a simple case study using what you now know. Looking to level up your piano skills as a composer? When you reach a milestone that makes sense, write a simple song.
Once you have constructed your small project, review it and ask yourself some questions. What did I do well? What went wrong? How can I improve this? What am I still having trouble understanding? Your honest answers will help you move forward in the most effective way to attain your macro-goal.
6. Application – Always Ingrain What You Learn
One of the main features of your macro-goal should be the ability to put to practical use the new things you have learned. Application will reveal the truth about how well things have connected in your mind and how much more value you will be able to add to the world.
Indeed, your first go at a full application of newly acquired knowledge almost always reveals the fact that learning should continue. Nonetheless, you should have reached a level of mastery where application now becomes the method for continual learning. The more you do the thing, the better you will become at it.
You will be able to navigate a variety of scenarios and you will pick up hacks for overcoming small obstacles. Indeed, there are some things that can only be learned through application, as situations that only arise in reality become teachable moments for you.
In the words of Benjamin Franklin: Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.
8 Universally Useful Skills To Learn
Now that you know more about how to maximize your learning, let’s put this insight to use. If you have low or zero proficiency in any of these, you can use the steps above to learn and lock them in. There are more essential skills you could lock down, but these skills are universally useful.
Speed Reading – While the term might make you think that you beam over pages of words, it actually refers to a set of proven techniques you can apply to efficiently read and understand non-fiction material. Those are best to learn through speed reading courses.
Skimming and scanning are one of the most effective ways to decide whether a book is worth the time or not or to quickly extract applicable knowledge without reading the whole material. If you ingrain what you have learned you will become skilled through reading. The more you read, the faster you learn.
Basic Cooking – Education in basic cooking should include a run-through of essential equipment and ingredients, essential knife, stove and oven principles and techniques as well as learning a few simple dishes for every mealtime, as well as one or two desserts.
You may never become a world-class chef, but at least you will be able to nourish yourself (and, one day, your kids) on a budget or create super-tasty meals everyone loves.
A Second Language – Learning a new language will expand your possibilities in your career, relationships, business endeavors and even in your pursuit of continuing education. You will be able to access knowledge and experiences available only in that language, get to know new cultures, habits or styles of living. It literally helps to better understand the world.
Public Speaking – Becoming a more confident, more effective orator will help you become a more effective communicator overall. Furthermore, it is one of the most common fears people have these and overcoming it will push you forward in your personal development. There are many public speaking courses available to facilitate that journey.
Gardening – Knowing how to grow food is a skill that much of mankind has lost through urbanization. You will feel so empowered when you learn how to cultivate at least some of the food you need to sustain yourself and your family.
Storytelling – Learning the art of storytelling will help you to influence those around you. If you can master this skill, you can relate to people on many levels in many contexts and get more positive outcomes from your interactions.
Deep Work – This skill, championed by Cal Newport and his 2016 book, will essentially help you focus better. As you do this, you will position yourself to create more meaningful work in whatever you do. In learning, especially when you are taking a course, knowing how to do deep work will help you get more out of the learning process.
Learning How To Learn Effectively – Summary
Your value increases every time you add a new skill to your personal tool kit. The more value you incur, the more people you help, in more ways. Indeed, it is said that people are paid commensurate to the value that they contribute to the world.
First and foremost, take good care of yourself so your mind is free to absorb, process and store new information and healthy enough to do so efficiently. At the very least, healthy food, water and plenty of sleep should prepare you to learn efficiently.
After that, the requirements don’t necessarily go in order, but each is critical for success. Motivation will help you finish what you start. Setting goals will help you define your destination and set up milestones along the way. Planning is essential, like a map for a journey. Remember to be flexible so you can detour when you need to and still progress.
Strategic review along the way will help you to assess your learning and troubleshoot where needed. Finally, application will double as your moment of triumph and your final exam. This is the moment when the treasure becomes yours, and like the Chinese proverb, it will indeed follow you everywhere.
What are your strategies, experiences and tips on learning how to learn efficiently? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: What is spaced repetition? – 1 | How we remember things – 2