Learning to Learn
I used to be a poor learner. It wasn’t because
I was lazy or unmotivated. I was a poor learner because I didn’t know how to learn effectively.
I thought I was learning when I wrote out the information I was trying to learn–over
and over. I thought I was learning when I memorized facts on flash cards the night before
the test. I thought I was learning when I stayed up half the night studying for the
exam. But I was not learning.
I was getting by. And despite very good grades. I didn’t retain
much. Now, after all these years I have learned
how to learn. Research shows that sleep and exercise are
important for creativity and learning. Now, instead of staying up half the night studying,
I get plenty of rest. I study for about 25 minutes, then I take a break and walk around
the block or do jumping jacks by my desk. Although rest is important to learning, so
is being focused. I turn off my email and other distractions while I am trying to learn.
Research shows that a distracted mind is not actually focused and multitasking is a fallacy.
(Who knew?) I used to highlight areas I wanted to remember.
Now I know that if I highlight more than a sentence for each paragraph, I am kidding
myself. I should only highlight the most important concepts from the text. Highlighting doesn’t
help me learn. Recalling the important concepts and key ideas helps me learn.
Speaking of recall, instead of passively reading the material I am trying to learn, I recall
or teach myself what I have just read—out loud. Or I write it down as if I am explaining
it to someone else, like I am doing here. If I can explain the material to others or
to myself, I am on my way to learning the material. I learned that cramming doesn’t work! I now know to start early, and practice for
several days-just like an athlete building muscles. Those muscles didn’t appear the
day before the competition! Research shows that repetition hardwires our brain and helps
us remember. But to take hold in my brain, I must spread out my learning over several
days. Our brains can only take so much at one time, especially mine.
I can’t expect to learn something new by trying to grasp everything at once. The path
to learning a new skill or subject happens little by little. Learning requires me to
chunk information. A chunk is an amount of information pieced together through meaning
or use. So if I want to learn how to become a chef, I need to know how do many things,
slicing and dicing vegetables is one of them. Once I have mastered slicing and dicing, I
have learned a chunk required to becoming a chef.
Chunking the information is great for bits and pieces, but to be able to bring all the
chunks together, research shows I will learn better if I try more than one technique in
order to thoroughly understand the information. This is called interleaving. For example,
If I wanted to learn a specific style of painting, I may read books by experts, travel to the
museum, watch videos, and take a class. Learning isn’t just for the rising stars.
Learning is for everyone. And now that I have learned how to learn, Learning is for me.