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
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.