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Developing Your Learning Skills

Learning effectively and efficiently requires some basic skills. In other words, we need to learn how to learn. Here are some ways to develop those skills.

1. Identify what is essential. This is one of the most important learning skills to develop. If you are learning to drive a car, getting used to the steering wheel, gas pedal and brake pedal are essential, right? All the rest can come later.

Knowing the essentials helps you make sense of all the rest. If you are studying economics, for example, you need to understand supply and demand. Then it is easier to understand how good weather can depress commodity prices, or how government spending can drive prices up.

How do you identify what is most essential? A simple way is to ask, "What is important here?" We often forget to do this. Ask yourself this question, but ask others too, if they are teaching you. In textbooks, the key points are often listed after a chapter. Read these first, and again after reading the chapter.

2. Relate new material to what you already know. Suppose you are a doctor, for example, and you are reading an article about car maintenance. Finding parallels between the two, like the concept of dirty oil and a blood toxins, will help you remember what you learn. Do this enough and you'll train yourself to automatically look for connections between things. You'll think more creatively, and improve your memory, because having more connections makes it easier to recall things.

3. Compare and contrast. Think to yourself "That's like this," or "How is that different from this?" This process categorizes and arranges facts and ideas in your mind, making them easier to access later. It is like using a mental filing cabinet instead of just piling things up on a mental desk.

4. Expose your mind to new material before you feel "ready," or have time to study. This first part of learning is where you look at new ideas and say, "huh?" Do it quickly, reviewing everything for a few minutes, and your unconscious mind will start "incubating" the new concepts, and finding some way to organize them.

5. Get curiosity and anticipation working for you. How do you create this state of mind? Try to leave each learning session with a question or two clearly in your mind. It will help create a sense of anticipation and curiosity that will help you the next time you approach the material.

6. Study as a teacher. This can totally change your perspective and make your learning more efficient. Keep the idea in mind that you will be teaching what you're learning. Imagine how you will teach it, even hearing the words you'll use. This is one of the more powerful learning skills.

7. Take breaks. Research shows that we remember best what we study first and last in a given session.Taking breaks creates more "sessions," and so increases the number of firsts and lasts. Fifteen or twenty minute sessions followed by two or three minute breaks works well for some, but experiment.

8. Imagine the uses for what you are learning. Of all the information you will be exposed to, so little of it is the "important stuff." However, by imagining how you'll use the new information, or at least how it could be used, you will tend to automatically focus on the things you really need to know.

9. Carry a list of the above tips and refer to it until these skills have become an automatic part of your study routines.

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