6 Go-To Techniques for Effective Learning

If you have a college degree, an established career, or are working towards either of them, and believe that this is the end of the road for learning, you may need to double-check your assumptions. Here are some facts you are missing:

  • ‘Nearly 50% of subject knowledge acquired during the first year of a four-year technical degree gets outdated by graduation time.’ — World Economic Forum, Future of Jobs Report
  • ‘35% of the skills demanded across industries will change by 2020.’ — World Economic Forum, Future of Jobs Report
  • ‘Almost 40% of American employers say they cannot find people with the skills they need, even for entry-level jobs.’ -McKinsey

Now, that you know that what you have learnt in college might not be what you need for work, and, even worse, it will soon be irrelevant in our rapidly changing economy, you must develop the habit of lifelong learning. You must get into the process of ‘ABL’ or ‘always be learning’ to stay always on top of your game.

But, wait a minute! Before you jump into reading one of the 129,864,880 books published out there, or before you dive deep into the 2.5 quintillion bytes of data available over the internet, or before you enroll in one of the 9400 MOOCs out there, how do you know you’re reading the right thing? How do you know it’s relevant or even useful? How do you know the course you’re taking is what you need? Or, more importantly, do you have the time to go through all of this? Is it even humanly possible, given your 70–90-year lifespan?

Well, we have the answer for you. It’s NO. No, you don’t have the time. No, it’s not humanly possible. So, instead of trying to learn more or harder or faster, you need to learn smarter. Here are 6 go-to techniques that you can use.

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1. Filter Information

Not all data is useful. Not all MOOCs are great. This is why you need to develop the skill of filtering signals from noise. You can do that by scanningfirst. So, instead of reading a text word by word, you should first start by taking a quick look at the main points, headings and highlighted information. Do they meet your needs? If they do, you can read the text with more focus. If they don’t, move on. In Knowledge Officer, we already do that for you. Our information filtering systems are hard at work analyzing the semantic signal-to-noise ratio of thousands of online texts and pushing through only high-value content. The content team, then, double checks this content to make sure that the online content you get through our app is la crème de la crème of the 2.5 quintillion bytes of data out there.

2. Use Sequence Learning

‘The order in which material is presented can strongly influence what is learned, how fast performance increases, and sometimes even whether the material is learned at all.’ –Ritter & Nerb, In Order to Learn

So, even after you filter signal from noise, going through your reading material with no clear direction or sequence may lead to low, even zero, learning. Not only that, but you will also quickly lose focus and get out of flow. In other words, spending four hours reading randomly featured articles is a waste of time; spending two hours reading well-sequenced material is an investment worth your time.

So, before you start delving into a reading list, ask, ‘is it sequenced? Is there a clear goal? How can I measure my progress?’ Only material that answers these questions with a yes will bring value to your time.

In Knowledge Officer, we make sure the goals, a.k.a. the professional personas you would like to assume, are clear from the beginning. Then, every goal is divided into levels, and every level is divided into well-sequenced objectives. You also get to measure your progress through challenges after every level. Good use of your time!

3. Read with Speed & Skill

Once you’ve selected the right material to read and have it in order, it’s now time to read. There are a few things you need to know here. First, reading does not mean going through a text word by word. In fact, there are three types of reading:

  • Mental reading: This depends on subvocalization where you sound out each word internally while reading. This is the slowest form of reading. It can take you through 250 wpm.
  • Auditory reading: It is based on hearing out the read words. This is a faster process.
  • Visual reading: It does not include sounding or hearing words. Instead, it depends on understanding the meaning of words as you view them. This is the fastest process as the eye can decipher three words in a single fixation. This is the best type of reading for you.

Second, many texts, especially longer ones, have filler paragraphs- paragraphs that only link between preceding and succeeding paragraphs, but do not add any real value.

So, you’re better off pseudo skimming; this means before you read a paragraph, go through the first line, and, accordingly, determine whether to complete the paragraph or skip it. It also helps to read backwards; preview the material from beginning to end, and come up with questions about it. Then, go back, and read, from the beginning, in search for answers.

4. Read to Remember

You want what you read to stick. To that purpose, make sure to mark or take notes as you read. Your notes will be indispensable when it’s time for review. You can, also, experiment with dual encoding. This means using both your auditory & visual memories to save information in your brain. In other words, when attempting to save information, do not only think of words, but also think of images of what they mean.

Also, build connections between what you are learning and what you already know. In context or in chunks (categories), information is much easier to remember. You may find tools like mnemonics, mind maps, infographics & diagrams helpful too.

5. Comprehend & Reflect

Learning is not about taking in information. Take the time to reflect. Has what you’ve learnt rung any bell? Can you relate it to a real-life experience you’ve had? Do you feel like you want to make any comparisons? Have you reached any specific conclusions about the topic at hand? Moreover, do you fully understand what you have learnt? Can you explain it in your own words? Can you explain it to someone else?

In fact, a good way to improve your comprehension of a topic is to apply the Feynman Technique. It is a technique that was devised and popularized by world-renowned, Nobel prize laureate in Physics, Richard FeynmanFeynmanused to challenge other physicists, like himself, to explain complex mathematical & physics ideas in simple terms.

The underlying assumption behind Feynman’s challenges was that ‘if you can’t explain it simply, then you don’t understand it well enough.’ This technique is grounded in the concept that teaching is the best way for learning.

So, in order to test your comprehension, attempt to explain what you have learnt to someone else who has zero background in the topic and check if they understand. If they do, then you do. Also, pay attention to their questions. The best challenges to falsely long-held assumptions come from people who have no previous idea what you are talking about.

6. Review & Recall

Review is part & parcel of learning because forgetting is the secret to remembering. This is why you need to know when & how to review.

When?

Well, definitely, immediately after you finish reading the material for the first time, but this is not enough. You will, also, need to use the Spacing Effect to your advantage. The theory of the Spacing Effect states that you will learn more in less time if you chunk your review time into several sessions that are hours or days apart. The intervals between your review sessions must space out more and more by time.

So, next time you’re planning your study time, set out time for reading and time for reviewing, and stretch out the time-span between the review sessions.

How?

The first rule of review is ‘not to re-read’. It will only make you miss what is important. Instead, go through your notes or, even better, your flash or index cards. Your flash or index cards should have all the important information you want to remember, but in a more visually appealing way. In Knowledge Officer, we create your flashcards for you. We call them Key Learnings. Review has never been easier!

Another great way to review is to test your recalling ability. Testing helps increase information retention in the long-term memory. This phenomenon is called the Testing Effect.

In Knowledge Officer, we mix the reading material you need to go through with an exciting set of challenges to check your progress, keep you going and, most importantly, help solidify your retention.

Now, that you have gone through these few learning techniques, we hope you experiment with them and find them helpful. Join us at Knowledge Officer and enjoy lifelong learning that persists and works for your career goal.

Happy lifelong learning 🙂


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Knowledge Officer is a learning platform for professionals. Our mission is to empower a generation of lifelong learners and to help people, however busy, learn something new and relevant every day and achieve their career goals.

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