By Matt Keas, Houston Front End Engineering Instructor.
While everyone learns slightly differently, we do have similarities in the way our brains take in new information, and knowing how this works can help us choose the most efficient strategies for learning new things.
Why spend 6 months learning something new, instead of 3?
Knowing how we learn and what we naturally retain can help us, as students in the Game of Life™, learn more, master more, and keep momentum towards our goals in our struggle for simpler lives in the cacophany of notifications and emails.
How to accelerate learning:
Find or make flash cards with images on them.
Add doodles, photos, or pictures from magazines and newspapers to your notes. Use colors and diagrams to illustrate new concepts you learn.
We take in information better when it’s visual
Half of your brain power goes to your eyes and the processes in your brain that turn what you see into information. Thus you can digest infographics and pictures (or atleast supplement them with texts) to help facilitate faster rates of learning.
Another surprising finding about vision is that we treat text as images. As you read this paragraph, your brain is interpreting each letter as an image. This makes reading incredibly inefficient when compared to how quickly and easily we can take in information from a picture.
This also explains why the inner-letters of a word can be scrambled, and yet a person can still read the text. All the typically matters is the first and last letter of the word. Our brains are powerful image-processors.
Keep a large diagram or page of notes handy.
… that explains the big picture of what you’re learning and add to it each major concept you learn along the way.
When you’re learning lots of new concepts, it’s easy to get lost in the barrage of information. Avoid overwhelm by keep a “mind-map” and a playbook of “metnal models” to help you tackle other concepts creatively.
In fact, our brains tend to hang onto the gist of what we’re learning better than the details, so we might as well play into our brains’ natural tendencies.
Try practicing or reading about your new skill.
… before going to bed or taking a nap. When you wake up, write some notes on what you remember from your last study session.
Studies have shown that a night of sleep in – between learning something new and being tested on it can significantly improve performance. In astudy of motor skills, participants who were tested 12 hours after learning a new skill with a night of sleep in-between improved by 20.5%, compared to just 3.9% improvement for participants who were tested at 4-hour intervals during waking hours.
Also, you don’t need a full night of sleep. Naps work, too!
Save practice and study sessions for days when you’re alert and well-rested. And definitely avoid sleep deprivation right after learning something new.
Sleep deprivation can cut your brain’s ability to take in new information by almost 40%. Optimize your schedule around sleep adn energy; do what it takes to get a good night’s sleep.
Especially, be cautious of losing sleep in favor of being more “efficient”. It will set you back a few days’ worth of learning. Instead, focus on being “effective”.
Keep a notebook or blog where you write about what you’ve learned.
Write about each new concept you learn as if it’s a lesson for others.
When we expect to have to teach other people what we’re learning, we take in new information better. We organize it better in our minds, remember it more correctly, and we’re better at remembering the most important parts of what we’ve learned.
One study approached participants and gave them a test. Only, half of the participants were to be teaching others on this content.
“Positively altering a student’s mindset can be effectively achieved through rather simple instructions,” said researcher Dr. John Nestojko.
A simple change in perspective has been shown to help us focus on the most important pieces of information, the relationships between different concepts, and carefully organize the information in our minds.
When you’re learning or practicing a new technique, practice it interleaved with other techniques.
For instance, if you’re practicing a particular golf swing, practice other swings at the same time to mix it up. If you’re learning new information, mix in information you already know — old vocabulary words and new when you’re learning a foreign language, for instance.
When you practice or focus on learning one particular thing over and over, that’s block practice. Mixing and matching items is called “interleaving”.
Interleaving techniques helps us recognize patterns and outliers.
When applied in the real world it also provides an opportunity for us to review information regularly, as we interleave what we already know with new information.
Some examples for interleaving could be cycling through three different subjects you need to study before exams, practicing speaking, listening, and writing skills of a foreign language in tandem rather than in blocks, or practicing your forehand, backhand, and serves in a single tennis lesson rather than setting aside one lesson for each.