Three key tips for learning to learn

Photo by Lonely Planet on

Photo by Lonely Planet on

Learning is something we all do. It is assumed that the ability to learn is a function of intelligence. Recent research suggests that effort through deliberate practice and strategies can yield better results. Here are three ways to do this.

  1. Organise your goals
    Getting organised involves structuring your learning. That means making a plan, with objectives and action plans of how to achieve them. Planning helps to clarify the intention and focus attention. Objectives help you to break up learning progress into manageable chunks. When achieved, there is a sense of achievement and progress can be tracked. This helps encourage people to maintain their effort in working towards the bigger goal.Sharing objectives with others and making a visual display of them (lists, charts) help to keep learning front of mind. These reminders (social and visual) encourage support and commitment to the objectives.
  2. Think about thinking
    Metacognition is thinking about thinking. This sort reflection on the learning process helps to deepen learning by a sort of “learning how to learn” process. Suggested question that might be posed include:
     – Do I get this?
    – Could I explain this to someone else?
    – Do I need more background information/practice?The critical part of metacognition is to engage in it. That can be through personal reflection or engaging others as critical listeners to your ponderings. Part of the process may also involve reframing problems – to look at learning in different ways. With practice this can be done alone, but in the interim friends, peers and colleagues who will listen to you constructively are very valuable.
  3. Reflect on your learning
    Everyone benefits from having a break from concentrating on learning. When you are in a more relaxed state, away from the books/tools you often find the solution to a problem or an idea to try. Critical to the effectiveness of such reflections, is the change in the intensity of thinking. Some describe this as diffuse thinking. When you are not focusing so hard on an issue, a solution will often appear.
    Some people find doodling a good way of getting into this mode of thinking. Others find that ideas come when they are in the shower or doing some other activity eg sport or washing the dishes.

    It is as if your brain needs some quiet time to allow everything to settle. In fact, sleep is a useful strategy hear. While sleeping, our brain goes into maintenance mode and “cleans up” loose ends, consolidating the important material. That is often why people will make breakthroughs after a night’s sleep or a nap.

Good news for learners
The good news here is that we are all able to learn new things, if we put in the effort. We are not hamstrung by IQ requirements. Instead, it seems that our own enthusiasm and energy to apply to the processes listed above, are the critical factors.


Boser, Ulrich. 2018. “Learning Is a Learned Behavior. Here’s How to Get Better at It” in Harvard Business Review. 2 May 2018.

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