Learning is a lifelong endeavor that is important for us intellectually and relationally. Our ability to take in new information and use it effectively is essential to our ability to grow as individuals. Given that learning is something that is necessary throughout the life course, it’s important to recognize key components, skills, and behaviors that can help us to become better learners; learning more quickly, more efficiently, and more effectively.
There are many different elements to consider in terms of learning. We must look at how quickly we learn something new, how long it takes us to retain that information and how quickly we are able to recall that information. There are many things in our brain that contribute to this; memory and attention span are two of them. Our brain is the tool that allows us to learn. Becoming a better learner means recognizing what our brain needs to be successful.
Your Brain Needs Time
Science tells us that cram sessions are ineffective. If you cram information into your brain right before a big test, the information only stays there for a limited amount of time. A one-time cram session doesn’t signal your brain to commit the information to your memory. The better method of learning information is to chunk it off every day. Instead of a 3 hour cram session you spend 30 minutes every day for six days prior to your exam. This helps you to learn more effectively by committing the information to memory.
Be a Teacher
One very effective method of learning a concept is by teaching it to someone else. By talking about a subject and explaining it to someone else you signal your brain to remember the concept and you gain a better understanding of it yourself. There is a reason you had to do all of those assignments in elementary and high school where you “taught” the class. You were essentially teaching yourself while teaching the class. The best way to do this is to explain the concept in terms that you understand and then try to explain it to someone else. Research suggests that students actually learn more when they have to explain their answers and responses to someone else.
There are many ways we can learn; visually, auditory learning, verbal learning, etc. Try to be diverse in the methods in which you learn. If you’re always an auditory learner, try learning something visually. And vice-versa. Try getting outdoors, learning in different ways stimulates different parts of the brain and can create a stronger memory.
Testing yourself with flashcards or multiple choice questions is a great way to commit information to memory. Not only does writing out the test or flash cards help you concrete information in your brain, the practice of recalling the information adds to your learning experience. This can speed up the time it takes you to learn and recall information. Research tells us, however, that if you’re really stuck on a study test question, go back and look it up. You’re less likely to forget it the second time.
Give Yourself Breaks
Don’t plan to study for hours and hours on end. Research suggests the best method of committing information to memory is to take breaks in between studying. Study on day one, take a break ion day two and then study again on day three. This type of a study schedule sends stronger memory signals to the brain.
Try New Places
Location actually plays a role in how you commit things to memory. If you were studying outside you may associate a term with birds chirping. If the second time you study, you’re at Starbucks you may associate the same term with the sounds of a coffee machine. Studying in different locations helps to strengthen memory.
Get Enough Sleep
Adequate sleep is very important to effective learning. Our brains simply do not function at their optimal level when they are sleep-deprived. To get the most efficient and effective learning experience, it’s best to study when well rested.
Be a Lifelong Learner
Don’t ever stop learning. Keep learning and practicing new things for the rest of your life. This is the best way to ensure that you remain an effective learner. And, keep practicing what you have already learned. Foreign language is a great example of this- if you don’t use it, you lose it. If you don’t practice the new skills you learned or use the new information you committed to memory, you will very likely lose it. Be a lifelong learner, stay committed to growing intellectually. There is always something to learn!