All of us benefit from learning throughout our lives.
We spend the formative years of our lives in formal education, extending throughout middle school and high school.
From there, most of us attend university.
And even when you’re in a stable career, you may benefit from pursuing continuing education classes.
No matter what you’re learning or where you’re learning it, there are some strategies that can help you Learn More Efficiently.
What Is Efficient Learning?
First, let’s define what we mean by “efficient” learning. To learn better, we want to accomplish three things:
- Decrease the time it takes to learn something new. Ideally, you’ll be able to learn new skills and concepts while spending fewer hours on the acquisition.
- Minimize stress and effort associated with studying. Difficulty and frustration with studying can be a source of attrition.
- Increase retention and memorability. Learning is only truly effective if you remember and retain what you’ve learned.
So how can we do this?
Choose the Right Environment
One of the best things you can do is choose the right environment for your learning.
You may not have much control over the classroom setting in which you learn, but you should at least be able to control where you study later.
Ideal learning environments typically include:
- Sufficient lighting. You need to be able to see what you’re doing and read as clearly as possible.
- Minimal distractions. Distractions come in many forms, and any distraction can interfere with your ability to learn. For example, is your environment noisy? Are you able to be interrupted by other people? Is there a TV that tempts your attention in the background? Try to keep your study space focused on learning.
- Ambient noise. Some people learn better in absolute silence. Others learn better with a bit of soft, unobtrusive music. Figure out which works better for you and create an environment that allows you to achieve this.
- Comfortable accommodations. You should also have comfortable accommodations available; if you’re uncomfortable in your chair or if you can’t maintain good posture, you’re not going to be able to learn effectively.
Spread Out Your Learning
Too many people still attempt to “cram,” or study in concentrated, heavy loads, usually right before a test or major exam.
This is ineffective, and almost always results in memory loss after the fact.
That’s because our brains learn better with repetition and consistency; if you want to commit something to long-term memory, you have to go over it many times.
The best approach for most people is to break down your studying into many smaller sessions.
Instead of trying to learn everything in a couple of 4-hour blocks, instead try to commit to 15 minutes of studying per day, every day for a couple of weeks.
This process will be far less stressful and overwhelming, and will allow you to retain information much better.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Sleep is an important part of the learning process.
While sleep is a complex phenomenon that’s still poorly understood by science, we know that sleep serves the role of consolidating memories.
When we acquire new information and new knowledge during the day, our sleep at night helps to turn them into long-term memories.
Accordingly, if you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll have difficulty remembering what you learned—no matter how much time you spent trying to absorb it.
Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night, even if it means cutting a study session short.
Write Things Down, Physically
It may not seem like an impactful habit, but writing things down with a pen and paper can help you remember whatever you wrote.
It’s shown to be much more effective than simply listening to someone speak, and even better than typing out your notes on a laptop.
Consider taking notes by writing them down, then rewriting those initial notes in more detail later, as part of your long-term studying strategy.
Imagine Explaining Concepts to a Six-Year-Old
A quote popularly (but possibly inaccurately) attributed to Albert Einstein is, “if you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”
When learning a new topic (especially a complex one), imagine yourself explaining it to someone much younger than you.
You’ll be forced to put the concept into your own words, and simplify some of its complexities.
It’s a good measure of whether you truly understand it, and it will help you remember the material in new ways.
Learning more effectively isn’t something that happens overnight.
You’ll need to retrain your mind to work in a certain way and put in the hours to improve your environment.
But once you’ve committed to these strategies, you’ll undoubtedly see a marked increase in your acquisition, retention, and personal enjoyment along the way.