6 Scientifically Proven Ways To Learn How To Learn

People tend to go directly into learning a new skill or subject when they desire to learn something new. It’s a fault that they don’t take the time to learn how to study in the first place.

They would be better at everything else if they put in the effort to develop their learning skills. 
How can we prevent making the same error and improve our learning abilities?

Here are six scientifically validated methods for learning how to learn. 

1. Connect What You Are Learning To What You Already Know

Assume that you’ve never seen a leopard before. If I had to explain it to you, I would begin by listing various characteristics of it, such as its height, weight, number of legs, and so on. The knowledge would become quite abstract as a result of this.

Another alternative is to advise you to imagine a leopard as a large, wild cat, and then point out its distinguishing features, such as its spotted coat and long tail.

The second example is simpler to understand since I’m asking you to apply what you already know (the “idea” of a cat) to learn something new (the “concept” of a leopard).[1]

All learning works in the same manner; connecting new knowledge and abilities to what we already know makes them easier to absorb. It’s why outstanding teachers utilize analogies, similes, and similarities so frequently.

They know that the easiest way to get us to learn something new is to connect it to something we already know.

2. Scaffold Your Learning

Learning builds on itself: we start small and gradually increase our knowledge. [2] It is the concept of learning to walk before running. Even though this seems self-evident, we frequently desire to skip ahead without first knowing the basis on which to build.

Consider someone who wants to learn multi-leg options trading but has no prior knowledge of financial instruments or the stock market. People who wish to learn how to do handstand pushups before learning how to do a basic handstand.

This suggestion is related to the one that came before it. You can use your previous knowledge to help you add the new one by following a process.

Learning should always be progressive, ranging from broad to specific concepts, simple processes to complicated processes, tangible data to abstraction, and principles to tactics.

3. Use the Right Input Mode

Observation (watching someone perform what we want to learn), imitation (following along), explanation (listening or reading to instructions), and experimenting are the four ways we take in knowledge according to learning scientists (trying things on our own).

Some will be more effective than others, depending on what you’re attempting to learn. Observation and imitation are more effective methods for learning martial arts than studying solely from a book (explanation) or experimenting on our own.

A class, podcast, or book can be an excellent option in other circumstances, such as learning history or philosophy. In an ideal world, we should aim to mix different input modes so that new knowledge might be gained.

4. Practice Retrieval

The technical term for testing is practice retrieval. Testing is commonly associated with tests and quizzes, but it can also take the form of expressing what we know to others or mentally reviewing information. The goal of practice retrieval is to retrieve information from memory, as the name suggests.

One of the most effective learning mechanisms is practice retrieval.[3]

It makes use of what renowned psychologist Robert Bjork refers to as “desirable difficulty.” Recalling knowledge from memory is difficult, and the extra work we put into recall helps us remember what we’ve learned.

We benefit from practicing retrieval in two ways. On the one hand, the time and effort we invested into the recall confirm what we already know. On the other hand, testing our knowledge reveals what we already know and what we need to learn more about.

It’s important to remember that we’re not testing ourselves to receive a grade or to always get the answers correct when we practice retrieval.

We’re doing it to help us learn better. Even if we get the answers wrong, our minds are pre-programmed to learn the correct answers later.

How may we improve our retrieval skills? We can make our own quizzes, utilize flashcards, review the material in our heads, or teach it to someone else (teaching forces us to recall facts from the past).

5. Follow Spaced Repetition

Instead of cramming everything into a short amount of time, spaced repetition allows us to take our time between study sessions.

Spaced repetition is clearly a superior method to cramming, according to learning research. This is due to the fact that spaced repetition provides something that cramming does not: balance.

A period of concentrated study followed by a period of consolidation is required for effective learning. It also necessitates, as strange as it may appear, mild forgetting (more on that below).

We may feel as though we are learning more quickly when we cram, yet the progress we achieve evaporates almost as quickly as we gained it. And, because we are cramming so much knowledge into such a short period of time, it’s difficult to tell what has stuck in our heads and what hasn’t.

We leave time between study sessions with spaced repetition so that when we go back to test or review what we’ve learned, we’ll recognize which knowledge has been assimilated and which hasn’t—and needs more study.

In addition, the time between study sessions allows for some forgetfulness, making recalling what we learned before more difficult. This connects to the previous tip’s discussion of the desired difficulty[4]

6. Seek Out Mentors

Mentors’ importance cannot be emphasized. They walk us through the learning process, show us how to avoid common traps, and provide us with a wealth of knowledge on what works and what doesn’t, as well as where to focus our efforts. [5]

Throughout history, the mentor-apprentice paradigm has proven to be effective in a variety of disciplines. Beginners are matched with more experienced practitioners and teachers who will teach them the ropes.

Trying to figure things out on our own without any help slows down our learning. We should seek out mentors to learn from if we want to get the most out of the time and energy we invest into acquiring any skill in our industry.

They will encourage us to do our best and assist us in accelerating our progress in ways we never imagined.

Closing Thoughts

Learning how to learn should be prioritized over all other skills. We can reduce the time it takes to learn any other talent by improving our learning skills. It’s a long-term investment that will benefit us for the rest of our lives. 
Begin with the following pointers from this article: Connect what you’re learning to what you already know, use the appropriate input mode, practice retrieval, use spaced repetition, and look for mentors. These will provide you with a solid basis for learning anything you wish. 

Recommended Reading

  • Brown, Peter, Henry Roediger III, and Mark McDaniel. Make it Stick. The Science of Successful Learning. Cambridge: Belknap/Harvard, 2014.
  • Carey, Benedict. How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why it Happens. New York: Random House, 2015.
  • Novak, Joseph, and Bob Gowin. Learning How to Learn. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Reference:

  1. VeryWellMind: The Role of a Schema in Psychology

2. Wiley Education Services: Scaffolding Learning in the Online Classroom

3. ERIC.EDU: Strengthening the Student Toolbox

4. Psychological Science: Desirable Difficulties

5. The National Academic Press: Adviser, Teacher, Role Model, Friend

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