7 Little Known Ways to Drastically Improve Your Learning

“The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as long as we live.”

– Mortimer Adler

Improve your learningNote: This guest post was written by personal development blogger Scott Young. You can check out his website here.

Whether you’re heading into exams or haven’t seen the inside of a textbook in years, how you learn is going to have a big impact on your life. Unfortunately most people have pretty ineffective strategies for learning. Here are a couple tips for how to maximize the amount you learn so you can use more of it later.

1. Learn Holistically

I wrote a popular article entitled, How to Ace Your Finals Without Studying, where I detailed a process I call holistic learning. Learning holistically is basically the opposite of rote memorization. Although most people usually sit somewhere between the extremes of holistic learning and memorization, I’ve noticed that particularly smart people who learn effortlessly sit far closer to the holistic learning spectrum.

Holistic learning means relating everything you learn to things you already know. This creates an interrelated web of information. Trying to memorize everything and if your memory fails you, that information is unreachable. But by interlinking your web of knowledge, if one route becomes blocked another is accessible.

2. Visualize It

You need to make the information you learn visceral. What this means is that you need to take the ideas you learn and translate them into your senses. As a predominantly visual learner, this means that I translate any complicated ideas into pictures in my head. If you think you are an auditory or kinesthetic (touch) learner, then you can translate ideas into those senses instead.

Earlier I took a course on vector geometry which involved subspaces. Although a subspace is a clear mathematical concept, I had initially had difficulty grasping what it was. By translating the abstract idea of a subspace into a visualization of a flat grid going through three dimensions I had a model that I could work off for solving problems. Your visualization won’t be a perfect representation but a simplified model you use as a basis for solving problems.

3. Diagram It

If you have difficulty translating an idea into your senses, take out a pad of paper and try to draw out how the ideas fit together. Learning history, I made a little picture which linked together all the different concepts I needed to know and drew a diagram for how they all related to each other. Diagrams help immensely in interlinking information and can often spur mental images, sounds or feelings to help describe it.

4. Metaphor It

Another way to interlink ideas holistically and form mental pictures is to use a metaphor. When I read Machiavelli’s, The Prince, I used metaphors to link his ideas about statecraft to ideas about social and business settings. A good way to know whether you are using metaphors is if you use the words “like” or “as” when comparing two things (simile’s for you literary types). Programming languages are often built with these metaphors with abstract constructs being described as child, orphan, inheriting or pointing to.

5. Test It

You can test your knowledge by using it to solve problems. Information you’ve learned but haven’t used is like disorganized iron filings on table. Putting a magnet will align these filings to a magnetic field and form an interesting pattern of lines. Similarly, information you actually use gets sorted and organized in a way so that solving future problems is easier.

The best way to solve problems isn’t to continually solve the same problem, but to solve new challenges in different ways. Each run through of a problem will organize your knowledge a bit more, but running wildly different problems on it improves your creative problem solving skills and gives you the ability to solve complex problems in multiple ways. If you want to really understand computer programming, don’t just solve problems, try to solve problems in different ways and tackle problems you’ve never faced before.

6. Teach It

Teaching your knowledge to someone else is about the best way to learn it yourself. The reason teaching works is it forces you to think holistically. While you may have memorized ideas inside your head, teaching someone forces you to relate the idea with different metaphors and images.

If you really want to learn something, I’d suggest starting a blog and then just writing about the stuff you’ve learned. Whether you are studying courses or just trying to master a discipline, writing down what you know and trying to teach it to others will dramatically increase your own understanding.

7. When in Doubt, Link or Peg It

There will always be some stuff that you simply have to memorize. When this happens, spending a bit of time to master link and peg systems for storing information can be invaluable. Dates, lists of information and specific rules or arbitrary ideas can all be stored with a link and peg system. Check out more about linking and pegging here.

About Scott Young:
Scott is a PBN blogger who writes about learning, goals, productivity and getting the most out of life. You can check out his blog here (subscribe here) or check out some of his other popular articles: Habitual Mastery (how to change habits), Double Your Reading Rate, How to Ace Your Finals Without Studying or Energy
Management
.

Featured Partner: Kids need to keep they’re brain stimulated. Entertain your children with learning games that are also good for them. They also need the best education resources to give them all the advantages in they’re educational career. Here you can find additional social studies lesson plans for extra help at home.

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26 Comments

  • Vince says:

    Truly a great post. I live my High School life through the first and second ones.

  • Charlie says:

    Thanks for sharing the idea about holistic learning and memorization. Most of us are probably forcing memorization, especially if it’s before an exam. After the one or two days after the exam, we usually forget the things we studied during that time

  • Kim Roach says:

    Thanks for the great tips. I especially like the one about holistic learning. I think it’s extremely important to relate new concepts to ones you are already familiar with. This is something that Albert Einstein did constantly.

  • Mousetrapper says:

    I have been trying to improve in chess, making use of point 6 with a chess blog. I am not sure if I play better chess now. I still lose. But at least I feel that I know better than before why I lost a game.

  • strongblur says:

    I will try to apply this technique. Hopefully it will work for me. I am completely new to this holistic learning till I read your post at your blog on ace without studying few weeks ago. Thanks for the tip.

  • Flix Peer says:

    Nice article.

    A few years ago I took a course to become an English as a Second Language (ESL) instructor. One of the techniques that the instructor taught us to employ, was to have the students teach each other. I don’t remember the exact percentages, but she said, “If you hear something, you remember 15%. if you read something, you remember 25%. If you write something, you remember 40%. But if you teach something, you remember 80%!”

  • I love the article and agree with many of the points because I’ve been able to use some of them to master Spanish.

    Another thing I try to do if I’m stuck on a point is “define and conquer”, which involves taking words and phrases that surround the topic I’m learning and defining them one by one. After learning all of those foundational concepts, I go back to the topic that I was working at again with a fresh view. That way, you learn the words and ideas that are used to describe the topic first, and then you learn the topic.

    Obviously, that approach is much more word oriented than visually oriented, but it’s another way of skinning the cat.

    Again, great article. I’m going to print it and put it up on my wall at work.

    Jamison

  • Bob9UK says:

    The ’emotive’ content of any learning will make sure you can’t forget it…… get someone to argue ‘vigorously’ with you over the subject matter……though it may be counter-productive to argue too vigorously with a member of the opposite sex….since they invariably react in an unexpected manner……

  • Dave says:

    Those are great tips, especially the one about holistic learning. I think that the subject mathematics can be a good example for holistic learning. It would need more than just memorization to make it through this subject. It’s certainly requires understanding.

  • srithar says:

    This is great tips for hard thing learners, and also true message for all.

  • Jeremy says:

    Sounds like what they taught me in my secondary education classes in college. I often wonder if they are teaching this to would-be teachers, why more people don’t know these things. I guess we need to wait until they filter through the education system. Until then, glad you posted it here.

  • Richard says:

    I was educated in a time when almost all learning was done by rote, so to read about this holistic method of learning is very exciting and one that I will try to put into practice

  • David says:

    Good post, all great points. For me, the acid test is being able to teach something to someone else – and then for that person to be able to explain it to another.

  • dee says:

    Great tips.. Agree with all of them, especially on point 6.

  • ace says:

    In the end most of learning is common sense and follow through,

  • Tantowi says:

    Speed reading is one of them too.Imagine having the ability to absorb many times the amount of information in a shorter space of time than you ever thought possible.

  • I shall give it a try 😉

  • bigbluealien says:

    Great help before my summer exams, its all things I already know but seeing them in writing makes me want to do them, thanks

  • richardc says:

    hmm so my post was deleted.

    To the person who posted about speed reading.

    Speed reading will only help you with short term performance, not for long term memory.

    Speed reading is actually a good tool if you are a terrible test taker. Its been shown that most “poor test takers” are those that spend to much time trying to read ( or understand) what the question is asking.

  • n.n says:

    Hello
    Thanks For these ways.
    Iwill apply them & then send more idea.

  • I think for me being able to teach it (even if I don’t know it) makes it sink in the best.

  • Joan says:

    I find number 2 especially useful and true. I’ve often tried this method and it is in fact tue. Also, helping my son with his homework and reenforcing what he learned in class, is no doubt a form of teaching myself.

    Great, great article.

  • I’d prefer reading in my native language, because my knowledge of your languange is no so well. But it was interesting! Look for some my links:

  • Jake says:

    This is a great article. I totally agree with the part about holistic learning, and my company created a Note Software to help students with holistic learning – relating topics, subjects, or thoughts to their sources and keywords.

    I will be posting a link to this article on our blog over at http://www.notescribe.net

    Thanks again for the great write-up!

    Jake

  • carlyn says:

    im new I didnt know how to study so thanks

  • carlyn says:

    I train my mind to study but its hard you taught how to train my mind

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