How To Be A Better Learner

A lot of the time we spend when studying and learning is on the “what”. I remember a time in school where the learning objectives for the term were written in dot points across four A4 pages. We see long lists of topics and bullet points that we need to be able to answer and this overwhelming task leaves us stuck in a rut because we have no idea on how to cram all that knowledge into our brains. Sometimes there are just concepts that we just can not completely grasp and become demotivated because of it.

What we forget is that our ability to learn is a skill, just like reading, riding a bike, or driving a car, that we can train and improve, just like we can a muscle. In doing so, we continually try to acquire knowledge in a way that may not suit us as a result, feel poorly because the effort invested does not translate into results. 

One of the biggest contributors to this is that we have no strategy, no technique to use when we are trying to learn, trying to understand new ideas. This is because we are always focussed very heavily on “what” to learn, and ignore the other important question: “how” will I learn? When are able to take a step back and think about the methods we are using to acquire new knowledge, then we address some key questions about our own ability to learn:

  • What am I currently doing that is working me?
  • Is there anything that I am doing which is not working?
  • How can I do things differently?

So today, we’re going to have a look at a few simple tips and techniques that I use to improve my ability to learn and pick up new pieces of information:

Tips for improving your ability to learn:

  • Focus on topics: one of the most important things to do when studying is to start; to get the ball rolling. I have found the best way to do be specific. Start with a broader topic and narrow your way down to a specific topic that is manageable. When you start too broad and stay broad, your focus will drift from section to section and make for a messy learning experience. Keeping a narrow focus allows you to move from topic to topic quite comfortably and lets your brain make connections between the different areas.
  • Active participation: the important thing to remember about learning is that it is your learning, your experience that matters. And hence, the way to get the most out of it is to get yourself involved. I find the easiest way to do this is to ask questions because that is how you get answers. The more curious you are with the topic or area of study, the better it will stick in your mind. Occasionally, the topic does not inspire much curiousity so it is up to you to get creative with it; link it to something that you do find interesting or find reasons as to why this would be useful knowledge for you to have.
  • Be gullible: we often face a lot of life with a safe degree of skepticism. This is very helpful in making sure we are not fooled or tricked in everyday life, but we need a level of gullibility when it comes to learning. We need to be open to different expressions and ideas of those teaching and instructing for us to accept it and take it on board. It is much easier to accept a wide range of facts as true and let the brain discern between those that are and those that are not, than to scrutinise heavily every piece of information we come across.
  • Repetition and practice: this tip is true about all skills that we learn during life but is none more important anywhere else. It is essential that we accept that repitition and practice improves our knowledge. Revisiting the same pieces of information will reinforce it into our brains, and practicing again the same skills will markedly improve our ability to perform them. It can be very satisfying the remember a quote, or perform a skill well for the first time but that is merely the start of the learning process. It takes repeated efforts to truly learn. A well-known saying goes, “Repitition is the mother of all learning”, and we need to believe it to best improve our ability to learn.
  • Test yourself: just like with any goal we set, it is important to know when we have achieved it, and to affirm when we have learnt something, we must test ourselves. This is important for building confidence in what we know. It is easy to say we have learnt something after reading it in a textbook, but that is not the field in which we must display our knowledge. When we place ourselves under test conditions and are able to perform, it is with that result that we can say with some confidence that we have successfully learnt what we set out to.

That sums up our tips improving your ability to learn! If you have any questions about any of these ideas or would like a more in-depth explanation or review of different ways to work on your learning, get in touch and we can discuss what would work best for you!

Keep learning!

Eamon

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