We live in a society that is based on information and where knowledge equals strength. Thus, if you want to be rich and successful, you need to excel in something so that you can stand out among other people that are doing the same thing as you. To get to the top, you must continuously learn and gain new knowledge that will come in useful.
The multitude of information that is available on the Internet makes it very easy for you to learn just about anything. The proliferation of the Internet over recent years has made information distribution happen in a much more rapid pace. That is why continuous learning is necessary if you want to stay ahead of the curve and well-informed in your area of expertise. If you neglect to keep up with the latest industry trends, you might find yourself backdated and unable to make the best decisions.
In order to stay on top and keep up with changing times, you must be an efficient learner. School teaches you many things, but rarely focuses on the most basic yet most essential element: the act of learning or, better put, how to learn. The art of acquiring knowledge, of “installing new software” in your brain, so to speak, is much more important than the knowledge that you’ve accumulated so far.
We’ll be looking at 3 important techniques that will help you acquire knowledge faster and easier. A quick look into the inner workings of the brain will help us better understand how memories are stored.
Psychologists and neurobiologists discovered that the human brain craves novelty and unusual, unexpected and inspiring information while sorting out the boring and the useless. That is why learning can be difficult. Psychologists and medical doctors from UCL – University College London have discovered that exposure to new experiences improves memory performance.
Researchers have long believed that the human brain is particularly attracted to new information and that this might be essential for learning. A specific region in the midbrain, which is responsible for motivation and reward-processing, responds better to novelty than to the familiar. This system also controls levels of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter in the brain, so it could be helpful for learning. The link between reward, motivation, memory and novelty could be really helpful for persons that have memory problems.
In the study paper “Absolute Coding of Stimulus Novelty in the Human Substantia Nigra/VTA”, published in Neuron, on 3rd August 2006, dr. Emrah Duzel mentioned that when seeing something new, people also see a potential for rewarding in some way. This potential leads to the motivation to explore our environment for rewards. New things activate the midbrain area and increase the level of dopamine. Once the stimulus becomes familiar, no reward is associated with it and it loses its potential.
Have you ever been in love? Of course, you have. You’ll find out something very interesting. Researcher Helen Fisher studied persons who were in love to see what is happening in their brains. The researcher scanned the brains of young lovers and discovered that when they were focusing on their partner, a whole segment of the brain starts lighting up. The brain areas related to dopamine and norepinephrine production light up. These chemicals are associated with pleasurable activities and excitement.
Let’s get out of the love’s territory and return to learning. To become a better learner, you need to find a way to go through all boring yet useful material. The secret to being as focused and engaged as possible is to convince your brain that whatever it is you need to learn is very important for you. Not only that, but you must also learn to enjoy what you’re learning, even if it’s boring. The key is to find the fun and the usefulness in the apparently boring.
The brain is stimulated by emotion. That is why the essential element that increases focus, understanding and memory is the emotional charge. You memorize much faster when the material makes you feel something. The stronger the feeling, the easier it will be to learn and stay focused for hours.
That is why it’s best to learn by including playful, challenging and curiosity-inspiring activities. Let’s deepen into some efficient ways of learning and finishing your tasks on time.
1. Teach someone else
A great way to learn something new and have it drilled into your memory for a long time is by thinking how you could teach someone else what you’ve just learned. Think how you could explain it to someone that is totally new to the subject. That means eliminating the formal and academic tone and trying to explain it as simply as you can by using common terms that even a newbie can understand. That shows that you yourself understand the logic behind all the jargon. You might even find out that you aren’t sure of some terms, which is great because you know where you have to fill in the gaps.
A study conducted by some specialists at Washington University in St. Louis revealed that this helps speed up the learning and remember more. In this way, the expectation changes your mind-set so that you engage in more effective approaches to learning. You tend to seek out key points and organize information into o coherent structure.
2. Visualize the information
We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words. Researchers concluded that pictures facilitate the memorization process and help you learn 90% faster. That is why it’s good to build mental diagrams of what you’re studying. You can also draw them on a piece of paper, illustrate them on the computer or anything that will offer you a visual representation of what you’ve learnt so far. Mental images that you can build with your “mind’s eye” can greatly help in understanding and memorizing the information due to the brain connecting that information to more parts of the brain.
So, never underestimate the power of visualization. The mental imagery really accelerates learning and improves the performance of your skills. Mentally rehearsing may be just as effective as physical training and it also helps understanding abstract concepts.
Did you know that 2% of the population or one in 50 people is dealing with aphantasia? Aphantasia refers to the incapacity to form mental images and was named by the neurologist Adam Zeman of the University of Exeter. People that are dealing with aphantasia experience visual imagery in their dreams, but they are unable to visualize something voluntarily. Aphantasia is not directly related to learning disabilities. It is known that there are people who cannot visualize things in their minds since the 1880s when the psychologist Francis Galton conducted a paper called “Statistics of Mental Imagery”. He tried to establish the different degrees of vividness with which people have the faculty of recalling familiar scenes under the form of mental pictures.
3. Question everything
You must know that your brain learns and memorizes new information only when it actively focuses on it. The Socrates technique was widely used by Greek scholars. The technique was defined by thoughtful questioning that allowed learners to explore the idea for themselves. Thus, the learner takes an active role and the lesson becomes an interactive discussion which engages the people present to stay focused and use their minds to come up with new ideas and inquiries.
That is why learning through guided questioning is one of the most efficient learning techniques ever used. It’s best not to just go through a text without mentally or physically “scribbling” some questions that need answering before you progress to the next lesson.
You could ask yourself questions like: “What is the main idea of this chapter/paragraph?”, “Have I ever read about the topic?”, “What do I already know about this?”, “Could I be wrong about this term?”, “What does this mean?”. Oftentimes, the author has begun or ended a chapter with a series of questions.
Also, simple questions like “How?”, “Who?”, “Where?”, “When?”, “Why?” or “Do I need to know?” should always be part of your thought process while reading.
Cognitive psychologists like Jepma, Verdonschot, van Steenbergen, Rombouts and Nieuwenhuis identified, in 2012, two types of curiosity, perceptual and epistemic, which are classified as either be “specific” or “diversive”. While perceptual curiosity is triggered by novelty, epistemic curiosity is driven by the desire to learn and acquire information. That means that epistemic curiosity helps intentional learning, usually about particular topics and perceptual or diversive curiosity is related to an unintentional way of acquiring information, involving the desire to learn about general information.
Neurological research has revealed that curiosity makes the brain more receptive to learning, determining people to enjoy the sensation of learning. Curiosity is known for preparing the brain for learning as it puts the brain in a state that accelerate learning and it helps retain any kind of information.
Being an efficient learner is often overlooked by many. Taking an idea and breaking it down into easy-to-understand pieces that you can explain to everyone will make it a lot easier to understand the essentials. Visualizing will help you gain a better picture and will engage other parts of your brain, which will make the information more connected and drilled into your memory. Questioning is the best way to fully grasp an idea and the best remedy for ignorance.