In a world of constant change, learning new things or new ways of doing things is a key part of surviving. It is not that learning itself has changed, but we do have to find ways of being smarter about it.
Here are some tips that may help you understand not only how to learn, but how to apply it in different settings. Learning for work, for a study program or personal interest are all rewarding activities. Making that learning “stick” will result in far greater satisfaction and reward.
Recognising the relevance of learning material is important for reinforcing its purpose and linkage to longer-term goal(s) (eg career move, completing a qualification). It is also important for making neural connections to other learning and knowledge (memory).
Reflect, retell, repeat
It is important to think about what you have learnt, and be able to explain it in your own words for someone else. This step is important for identifying where there may be gaps in your understanding. To reinforce ideas and strengthen new neural pathways, repetition is necessary. It is like hard-wiring your brain with the new ideas.
This means repeating the ideas/concepts in a variety of ways eg saying it aloud, reading it on a chart/flashcards or handwriting it. This is best done through paced repetition, done sporadically over several days. In other words, practice in different ways.
Variety is important
Your brain likes variety. Stimulate learning through the senses – using pictures, narration (audio/visual) and text. Each provides different ways of taking in information. Pictures are particularly powerful at conveying a lot of information quickly.
To keep learning or studying fresh, try not to get stuck in a rut. Several shorter sessions on a topic will be more effective that one long session. Changing the time of day and the strategies for consolidating ideas, as well as the environment in which it takes place can promote more effective learning. Even though the initial adjustment to a changed routine my take more effort initially, it actually promotes deeper processing of the content.
Mind the gap
Know what you know and what you don’t know so that you can focus on the gap in your skills/knowledge. Strengthening these areas will again help reinforcing those weaker neural pathways. Assess this by testing yourself. This gives you feedback about your progress, which helps encourage your efforts that can be channelled towards the areas of most need.
Know your goals
Set yourself specific goals that link to your purpose. SMART goals are effective for maintaining your focus and having realistic objectives. SMART = Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.
Tracking your achievement of goals contributes to your sense of your own success. The brain likes success. This experience helps to reinforce the learning achieved.
Socialise your learning
Making learning social provides another avenue for reinforcing learning. Through collaborating and sharing your ideas on social media, you have an opportunity to explain your ideas to others and consider different perspectives on the same topic. Different platforms could include blogging, Twitter and online forums/discussion boards. This introduces repetition and variety (as listed above) with different audiences. For some learners, social learning promotes engagement as it can seem less formal that traditional learning methods.
Find parallels with your learning and other areas with stories, analogies and metaphors. These techniques are powerful for promoting memory retention. They work by creating connections with neural pathways that already exist. An example: tracing a pattern with tracing paper – gives you a sense of what is going on with this technique.
We are socialised with stories early in life. We understand their structure and how they work to illustrate points. Likewise, when you can use a story to illustrate learning it easily becomes memorable because it traces our existing use of stories.
Look for ways of applying your learning to things happening in your world. This encourages transfer of ideas to different situations as well as repetition of concepts. Try doing this on a daily basis so that it becomes habitual.
Hope these may interest you. If you have other ideas, please share them below.
Stenger, Marianne. 2017. “Ten ways to improve transfer of learning”. Ed Inform Newsletter, www.opencolleges.edu.au
Material provided through Learning to Learn MOOC.