Learning How to Learn

Learning how to learn is not something most people think about, even though is the critical to continued success. Improve your memory and retain information effectively with these helpful tips.

How to learn is not something most would give a second thought. Although learning effectively is important, it’s not a lesson that is taught in school. Many question the value of a college education, since most of what students are taught, do not align with what employers are looking for. On top of that, one study found that 45 percent of students don’t learn much in college. Yes, there are some students, who choose easy courses because they do not want to have to study, but there are other situations where the course contents and requirements are not rigorous enough. Even if students are taught meaningful information that employers value, they will likely forget what they learn because of the curve of forgetting.
“Two thirds of what we learn vanishes from our brains within an hour,” according to research by German philosopher Hermann Ebbinghaus, reports Newsweek International in an article titled “Truly Total Recall.” What this means is that whenever you learn important information that’s worth remembering, you have to take proactive steps to be able to recall it when you need it. In the webinar, “Leveraging the Latest in Brain Science to Deliver the Next Generation of E-Learning,” researcher Alice Kim presented the following three tips to improve your memory.
  1. Repeated Retrievals: Repeated retrieval is asking yourself questions about what you have just learned. This process forces you to think about the information, which leads to better learning.
  2. Spacing: You can improve your long-term retention of information learned by increasing the spacing between repeated retrieval. If you want to remember the information you just learned for years to come, retrieve the information shortly you learned it for the first time, then every few months, then once every year. By using the spacing technique, the information is cemented into your long-term memory.
  3. Deep Encoding: Visualize what you learned, repeatedly retrieve the information, link the new information to what you already know about the topic, and break the new information into chunks. The more deeply you process information, the more likely you will remember it. Another way to deep encode information is to create a mind map of what you just learned. Mind maps force you to think about information, so that you can concisely represent it visually.
For the three techniques to work, it means that you have to always take notes whenever you are learning new information, and not try to rely on your memory – that does not work. And the best way to take notes, is to rephrase what the instructor is saying, or what you are reading. Research shows that taking notes by hand is more effective than taking them using a computer, because when you are taking notes by hand, you are forced to summarize what you hear and read.
When you are learning information that can contribute to your future success, the most effective way to remember it, is to immediately find ways to apply the new information. If you are a student, and you cannot figure out how to apply what you learn, teach the information to another person. If you have a personal blog, which you should have, write a blog post on your new learning.
Whether or not you are a student, learning how to learn is important because the average person will change careers four to nine times, therefore, they have to learn continually to keep skills sharp. Learning doesn’t stop when you graduate, you have to supplement your education to remain an agile learner, so that you will fit into a company and be able to contribute meaningfully. When it comes to learning how to learn, keep the three memory techniques front and center, because when they are top of mind, you will take steps to do what it takes to learn effectively.

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