Learning new things can be tricky but the value of personal & professional growth & development is immense. Like anything, learning takes time, and we only have so many hours in a day. So how can you make the most out of your limited time by speeding up the learning process? Thanks to numerous studies, neuroscience & years of experience, we now have a better understanding of how we learn and the most effective ways our brains process and retain information.
Here are 8 proven ways you can start learning faster today.
1. Take Written Notes
Even if it might seem that typing your notes on a laptop during a conference or lecture may be a more efficient way of note taking, it actually doesn’t help you learn the information any faster. To speed up your learning, start taking notes the old-fashioned way, by writing them. According to NPR, research has shown that people who type their notes retain the information at a lower level (NPR). Students who take notes by hand, learn more efficiently.
The extra information processing involved in writing out the information, improves comprehension and retention (NPR). Reframing the information in your own words helps you retain the information longer, so consequently, you’ll have a better recall.
2. Use Distributed Practice
This tip involves distributing multiple practices (group study) on a topic during a period of time. A wealth of research displays that, “to achieve long-lasting retention, information must be practiced and/or tested repeatedly, with repeated practice well distributed over time” (Gerbier, E. & Toppino, T.) The first step is to take detailed notes while the topic is being discussed. Afterwards, take a couple minutes to look over your notes, making any additions to add details and ensure accuracy. Do this a couple of times following each class or period of instruction.
With time, you can begin to spread the sessions out, starting with once per day and eventually up to three sessions a day. It has been proven that “spaced or distributed practice is superior to massed practice for long-term learning and retention” (Kang, S.). Spacing out practice is also typically easier to do because small study sessions will keep you motivated to continue learning.
3. Get Good Rest
Let’s imagine that you have a big project or a major presentation tomorrow and you are not prepared. Like many of us have done before, you will stay up too late trying to cram as much as possible. However, exhausting yourself while trying to study or prepare for something is not the most efficient way for our brains to retain information.
Getting good rest is beneficial for learning for two reasons. For one, “a sleep-deprived person cannot focus attention optimally and therefore cannot learn efficiently”. Secondly, “sleep itself has a role in the consolidation of memory, which is essential for learning new information” (Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School). Deep sleep can also strengthen memories if the sleep occurs within 12 hours of learning the new information.
4. Use Mnemonic Devices
One of the best ways to memorize a lot of information fast is to use a mnemonic device: a pattern of letters, sounds or other associations that assist in learning something. Mnemonics work by “associating easy-to-remember clues with complex or unfamiliar data” (Kelly, M.). One of the most popular mnemonic devices is one most everyone learned in kindergarten: the alphabet song. This song helps children remember their “ABCs,” and it remains in their memory into adulthood.
Mnemonics help you summarize, simplify and compress information to make it easier to learn. It can be really helpful for students learning new material, people studying a new language or someone learning large amounts of new information. To conclude, if you need to memorize and store large amounts of new information, you should try a mnemonic device and you will find it is easier to remember the information long past the test you were studying for.
5. Take a Brain Break
Over-studying is a real thing. In order to learn something new, our brains must send signals to our receptors to save the new information, however, stress and overexhaustion would prevent your brain from effectively storing information.
When we are anxious or feeling overwhelmed, our brains can effectively shut down. The best way to combat this is by taking a “brain break,” or simply switching your activity to focus on something else. It refreshes our thinking and helps us discover another solution to a problem or see a situation through a different lens. Even just a five-minute break can relieve brain fatigue and help you refocus.
6. Stay Hydrated
Staying hydrated is crucial to physical & mental health & wellness. Staying hydrated is very important to achieve optimal cognitive abilities. Studies have shown that “once thirst is felt, mental performance including memory, attention and concentration decreases by as much as 10%” (Hoaglund, S.). Philippa Norman M.D. backs this claim by pointing out: “Water is essential for optimal brain health and function. Water is necessary to maintain the tone of membranes for normal neurotransmission” (Norman, P.). Dehydration can seriously affect our mental function. When you don’t drink water, your brain has to work harder than usual.
7. Learn Information in Multiple Ways
When you use multiple techniques to learn something, you will use a range of areas in your brain to process & store information about the subject. This allows the information to become more interconnected in your brain. It creates a redundancy of knowledge in your brain, helping you fully comprehend & ingrain the information and not just memorize it.
You can do this by using different media, such as taking notes, reading a textbook, using flashcards, watching a video and/or listening to a podcast on the topic. The more resources you will utilize, the faster you will learn.
8. Make Connections
The more you can relate new concepts to things that you already understand, the faster you will learn the new information. According to the book Make It Stick, many common study habits are counterproductive. It might create an illusion of mastery, however the information quickly fades from our minds.