Knowing the most effective strategies for how to learn can help you get the most out of your time when you are trying to learn new things. If you are like many people, your time is limited so it is important to get the most educational value out of the time you have available.
Speed of learning is not the only important factor, however. It is important to be able to accurately remember the information that you learn, recall it at a later time, and utilize it effectively in a wide variety of situations.
Becoming an efficient learner is not something that happens overnight, but putting a few of these learning techniques into daily practice can help you get more out of your study time.
Improve Your Memory
There are a number of different things that you can do to improve your memory. Basic tips such as improving your focus, avoiding cram sessions, and structuring your study time are good places to start, but there are even more lessons from psychology that can dramatically improve your learning efficiency.
Strategies that can help improve your memory include:
- Getting regular physical exercise, which is linked to improvements in memory and brain health1
- Spending time socializing with other people
- Get enough sleep2
- Eliminating distractions so you can focus on what you are learning
- Organizing the information you are studying to make it easier to remember3
- Using elaborative rehearsal when studying; when you learn something new, spend a few moments describing it to yourself in your own words
- Using visual aids like photographs, graphs, and charts
- Reading the information you are studying out loud4
For example, if you were working on learning, you might utilize general learning techniques like setting aside quiet time to study, rehearsing the information and reading the information aloud. You might combine this with other strategies that can foster better memory such as exercising and socializing.
If you’re pressed for time, consider combining study strategies. Listen to a podcast while your taking a walk or join a group where you can practice your new skills with others.
Keep Learning New Things
One sure-fire way to become a more effective learner is to simply keep learning. Research has found that the brain is capable of producing new brain cells, a process known as neurogenesis. However, many of these cells will eventually die unless a person engages in some type of effortful learning.
By learning new things, these cells are kept alive and incorporated into brain circuits.5
So, if you are learning a new language, it is important to keep practicing the language in order to maintain the gains you have achieved. This “use-it-or-lose-it” phenomenon involves a brain process known as “pruning.”
Certain pathways in the brain are maintained, while others are eliminated. If you want the new information you just learned to stay put, keep practicing and rehearsing it.
Learn in Multiple Way
Another one of the best ways to learn is to focus on learning in more than one way. For example, instead of just listening to a podcast, which involves auditory learning, find a way to rehearse the information both verbally and visually.
This might involve describing what you learned to a friend, taking notes, or drawing a mind map. By learning in more than one way, you’re further cementing the knowledge in your mind.
For example, if you are learning a new language, try utilizing varying techniques such as listening to language examples, reading written language, practicing with a friend, and writing down your own notes.
One helpful tip is to try writing out your notes on paper rather than typing on a laptop, tablet, or computer. Research has found that longhand notes can help cement information in memory more effectively than digital note-taking.6
Varying your learning techniques and giving yourself the opportunity to learn in different ways and in different contexts can help make you a more efficient learner.
Teach What You Are Learning
Educators have long noted that one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it to someone else. Remember your seventh-grade presentation on Costa Rica? By teaching to the rest of the class, your teacher hoped you would gain even more from the assignment.
You can apply the same principle today by sharing your newly learned skills and knowledge with others. Start by translating the information into your own words. This process alone helps solidify new knowledge in your brain. Next, find some way to share what you’ve learned.
Some ideas include writing a blog post, creating a podcast, or participating in a group discussion.
Build on Previous Learning
Another great way to become a more effective learner is to use relational learning, which involves relating new information to things that you already know.
For example, if you are learning a new language, you might associate the new vocabulary and grammar you are learning with what you already know about your native language or other languages you may already speak.
Gain Practical Experience
For many students, learning typically involves reading textbooks, attending lectures, or doing research in the library or online. While seeing information and then writing it down is important, actually putting new knowledge and skills into practice can be one of the best ways to improve learning.
If it is a sport or athletic skill, perform the activity on a regular basis. If you are learning a new language, practice speaking with another person and surround yourself with language-immersion experiences. Watch foreign-language films and strike up conversations with native speakers to practice your budding skills.
If you are trying to acquire a new skill or ability, focus on gaining practical experience.
Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes
While traditional classroom wisdom suggest that mistakes should be avoided in learning and studying, research has suggested that making mistakes when learning can improve learning outcomes.
According to one study, trial-and-error learning where the mistakes were close to the actual answer was actually a helpful part of the learning process.7
Another study found that when mistakes are followed by corrective feedback, it can be beneficial to learning.8
So if you make a mistake when studying, such as getting the answer wrong or reaching an incorrect conclusion, spend some time correcting the mistake and examining how you arrived at the incorrect answer. This type of strategy can help foster critical thinking skills and make you more adaptable in learning situations that require being able to change your mind.
Research suggests that making mistakes when learning can actually help improve outcomes, especially if you correct your mistake and take the time to understand why it happened.
Utilize Distributed Practice
Another strategy that can help is known as distributed practice. Instead of trying to cram all of your learning into a few long study sessions, try a brief, focused session and then take a break.
So if you were learning a new language, you might devote a period of time to an intensive session of studying. After a break, you would then come back and rehearse your previous learning while also extending it to new learning. This process of returning for brief sessions over a long period of time is one of the best ways to learn efficiently and effectively.
Research suggests that this type of distributed learning is one of the most effective learning techniques.9
While it may seem that spending more time studying is one of the best ways to maximize learning, research has demonstrated that taking tests actually helps you better remember what you’ve learned, even if it wasn’t covered on the test.
This phenomenon, known as the testing effect, suggests that spending time retrieving information from memory improves the long-term memory of that information. This retrieval practice makes it more likely that you will be able to remember that information again in the future.10
For many years, it was thought that people who multitask (perform more than one activity at once) had an edge over those who did not. However, research now suggests that multitasking can actually make learning less effective.
Multitasking can involve trying to do more than one thing at the same time, but it can also involve quickly switching back and forth between tasks or trying to rapidly perform tasks one after the other.
According to research, doing this not only makes people less productive when they work but also impairs attention and reduces comprehension.11 Multitasking when you are studying makes it harder to focus on the information and reduces how much you understand it.
Research has also found that media multitasking, or dividing attention between different media sources, can also have a detrimental impact on learning and academic performance.12