1. Memory Improvement BasicsI've written before about some of the best ways to improve memory. Basic tips such as improving focus, avoiding cram sessions and structuring your study time are a good place to start, but there are even more lessons from psychology that can dramatically improve your learning efficiency.
2. Keep Learning (and Practicing) New Things
One sure-fire way to become a more effective learner is to simply keep learning. A 2004 Nature article reported that people who learned how to juggle increased the amount of gray matter in their occipital lobes, the area of the brain is associated with visual memory.1 When these individuals stopped practicing their new skill, this gray matter vanished.
So if you're 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 other are eliminated. If you want the new information you just learned to stay put, keep practicing and rehearsing it.
3. Learn in Multiple WaysFocus on learning in more than one way. 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. According to Judy Willis, “The more regions of the brain that store data about a subject, the more interconnection there is. This redundancy means students will have more opportunities to pull up all of those related bits of data from their multiple storage areas in response to a single cue. This cross-referencing of data means we have learned, rather than just memorized.”2
4. Teach What You've Learned to Another Person
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.
5. Utilize Previous Learning to Promote New LearningAnother 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 about Romeo and Juliet, you might associate what you learn about the play with prior knowledge you have about Shakespeare, the historical period in which the author lived and other relevant information.
6. Gain Practical ExperienceFor many of us, learning typically involves reading textbooks, attending lectures or doing research in the library or on the Web. 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 you are trying to acquire a new skill or ability, focus on gaining practical experience. 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 immersive experiences.
7. Look Up Answers Rather Than Struggle to RememberOf course, learning isn’t a perfect process. Sometimes, we forget the details of things that we have already learned. If you find yourself struggling to recall some tidbit of information, research suggests that you are better offer simply looking up the correct answer. One study found that the longer you spend trying to remember the answer, the more likely you will be to forget the answer again in the future. Why? Because these attempts to recall previously learned information actually results in learning the "error state" instead of the correct response.
8. Understand How You Learn BestAnother great strategy for improving your learning efficiency is to recognize your learning habits and styles. There are a number of different theories about learning styles, which can all help you gain a better understanding of how you learn best. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences describes eight different types of intelligence that can help reveal your individual strengths. Looking at Carl Jung’s learning style dimensions can also help you better see which learning strategies might work best for you.
9. Use Testing to Boost Learning
10. Stop Multitasking
1 Draganski, B., Gaser, C., Busch, V., & Schuierer, G. (2004). Neuroplasticity: Changes in grey matter induced by training. Nature, 427(22), 311-312.
2 Willis, J. (2008). Brain-based teaching strategies for improving students' memory, learning, and test-taking success.(Review of Research). Childhood Education, 83(5), 31-316.
3 Chan, J.C., McDermott, K.B., & Roediger, H.L. (2007). Retrieval-induced facilitation. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 135(4), 553-571.
4 Rubinstein, Joshua S.; Meyer, David E.; Evans, Jeffrey E. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 27(4), 763-797.