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learning how to learn

Learning How to Learn (Steps and Strategies)

Most will probably agree that learning is an invaluable process that can open a world of possibilities. It can unveil some of the world’s greatest mysteries, and grow unique skills. But why, then, can it often be so difficult and frustrating? Part of the problem is that learners can find themselves so focused on learning a topic that they don’t stop to think about how they are learning. The phrase, “learning how to learn” has various definitions around the world, but generally refers to one’s ability to begin and continue learning while taking into consideration the management of the process. To put it simply, it is making the most of the time and effort that you put into learning something.

The concept recognizes that, for most people, the best way to learn isn’t just sitting in a classroom passively listening to a lecture, or even sitting in front of a book passively reading the words on the page. You need to actively do more to both make the information stick and make use of it. But, because the best method varies from person to person, learning what’s best for each individual is a process in and of itself.

This article reviews the importance of taking a close look at this concept of learning how to learn. You’ll find more resources to explore the topic and improve your own abilities to gain new knowledge and skills, as well as some coves of information to put your new skills to work. The concept applies to anyone in any walk of life, and can truly change how you gain new information and put it to use.

What is Learning to Learn?

Learning to learn isn’t just a set of instructions that you follow to the letter in order to suddenly be able to soak up information like a sponge. If it were, we wouldn’t need to learn how to do it so much as just follow the instructions. Rather, the process involves figuring out what works best for each individual, and then perfecting that method to optimize the process for that person. Once you know your optimal method, you can apply it to gaining new information in new situations.

Because learning is something everyone does throughout their lives, the process varies from situation to situation. Not only does this mean each person does it differently, but a single person might even use different methods during different times in their life. After all, the brain of a 70 year old is very different than that of a 15 year old.

Thus, learning to learn considers these variations by making awareness of individual needs paramount. Each person needs to be aware of their own needs and preferences when it comes to the best way for them to gain and use new knowledge. A learner must then identify available opportunities that fit these needs, and overcome any obstacles that are less than ideal. Through time, learners can build on previous experience and knowledge such that it helps with current situations.

Steps for Learning How to Learn

These steps help you to figure out what works best for you. They guide you through analyzing your own tendencies and preferences, and through making the most of them. You’re then able to create your own personalized steps and methods for learning, and apply them.

Understand How the Brain Works

You first need to look at how the brain works and discover how to take advantage of its natural tendencies towards learning. Everyone knows the brain contains tons of neurons connected by synapses. But you might not know that the different ways neurons can communicate with one another cause distinct ways of thinking: the focused mode of thinking, and the diffused mode.

The focused mode uses all memory slots in the frontal lobe of the brain and requires intentional effort on your part to stay focused. It typically involves neural connections of things that are already familiar to you. The diffused mode, on the other hand, is a more relaxed mode where your thoughts are free to wander. During the diffused mode, your brain goes over both new and older neural connections while also creating new links.

Both of these states are important for learning, so you it’s best to know how to use both. To do this, encourage short bursts of focused mode followed by diffused mode in which you relax.

Learn to Chunk

Once you know about focused and diffused states, you can apply them to learning. One important method is called “chunking.” In chunking, you “chunk” together smaller concepts one at a time rather than trying to look at an entire broad topic all at once. Seek out the most important sub-concepts first and then discover how to apply them.

During this process, be sure to identify the things you find most difficult. Then, practice those difficult things frequently until they become average to you. Especially practice what you just took in by immediately recalling it without looking back at it, such as summarizing an article you read right after reading it.

This helps reinforce what you learned, as well as identify areas that you didn’t retain and should go back to. Over time, this recall method moves those items from short-term/working memory to long-term memory storage in the brain. Once you know the concepts better, you can stop practicing them so frequently, but still touch back every now and then. This spacing of recalling is a widely applied concept called “spaced repetition.”

Tackle Procrastination

Learning how to learn means fighting anything preventing you from making the most of opportunities to gain knowledge or skills. Most, if not all, of us experience at least some urge to procrastinate. This is especially true with topics we find difficult. It’s important to figure out why it happens and how to combat it.

One of the most common techniques for fighting procrastination is the Pomodoro method. In this method, you work for a set amount of time such as 25 minutes, followed by a short break such as 5 minutes. But the Pomodoro method might not be for you, so check out some other techniques that might be a better fit.

Unlock Your Potential

Throughout the process of learning to learn you need to evaluate your own progress and compare it to where you want to be. Identifying problem areas gives you a reality check, but setting a goal for something more and deliberately working towards that goal will put you on track to reach your potential.

Throughout the process, be sure to remember that learning isn’t always a linear process. You often won’t just gain more and more knowledge every day. Sometimes you forget things, or get things wrong and need to reevaluate. Learning can slide backwards, and that’s okay.

To help stay on track, seek guidance from others. Sometimes you need some help, but, at the same time, make sure you’re not having others spoon-feed you. You want them to give you a leg up, not a piggyback ride to the top.

Books and Courses on Learning How to Learn

A great resource for improving your abilities in this area is the “Learning How to Learn” course found on Coursera.org. It contains about 12 hours’ worth of material and subtitles in over 20 different languages. The course follows its own advice and provides more than just videos to passively watch. About a third of the course consists of exercises to practice the material. In addition to this course, you can find a number of others here focusing both on broad concepts and specific skills.

If getting your hands on one of these courses isn’t possible for you, or maybe you just prefer reading a book, then “A Mind for Numbers” might be for you. This book, by Dr. Barbara Oakley, is the basis for the Coursera course mentioned above. Dr. Oakley started studying math at the age of 26, followed by becoming an engineering professor at the University of Oakland. She has also co-authored and published the book “Make It Stick” with a number of influential researchers.

Another book for optimal learning in any field is “The Art of Learning” by Josh Waitzkin. Waitzkin uses his experiences from leaning chess and martial arts, both of which he has successfully mastered almost entirely. On the other hand, “How We Learn” by Benedict Carey uses less anecdotes and more science to support its ideas.

If you’d like to hone in on certain fields, you can find books for that too. “A Mind for Numbers,” mentioned above, specifically aims to help you excel at Math and Science. Additionally, “The 4-Hour Chef” by Tim Ferriss gives cooking tips in addition to general techniques for any topic. If these aren’t your cup of tea, be proactive and search for books and courses on your interests.

Learning on Direct Knowledge

Articles

Here on Direct Knowledge, you’ll find the tools that work with your style of learning to get the results you’re aiming for. A great place to start is with the selection of online articles. These are free and available to all, so as long as you have internet then you’re good to go. There are five main sections — applied sciences, formal sciences, humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences — each split into a number of categories.

This library of articles is also periodically updated with new material, so it’ll be tough for you to run out of new material. The topics include specific subjects as well as material for you to continue to focus on learning to learn in the Education category. You can also be confident in the quality of the material as each article is written by a qualified professional in the field.

Books

While online articles are a great resource, they’re typically only 1,000 to 3,000 words long. This can give a decent introduction to a topic, or a good explanation of a small subject or concept. But, books provide a space for much more thorough and profound analysis of a topic. They can make sure no stone is left unturned, exploring every question you have and some you’ve never thought of. And, possibly more importantly, they often provide practice exercises that articles don’t. As mentioned above, just reading new material will only get you so far. Using recall and spaced repetition methods are what will really cement the knowledge into place.

The Direct Knowledge bookstore contains the same 24 categories found in the article library. Each book is written and self-published by professionals in the field, and available in eBook formats so that they’re available to anyone anywhere in the world. They range in style from casual reading to structured learning material. This means you can find interesting books for the layman, as well as supplemental texts for academics, researchers, and educators.

Courses

In terms of efficiency and effectiveness, the courses on Direct Knowledge offer the best bang for your buck. They are the most effective of the options, with lots of hands-on practice to reinforce what you’ve learned. And, as many of us can probably admit, it’s often harder to procrastinate or ignore a course you’ve paid for than some free articles online.

Each course comes with lifetime access, as well as a 30-day money-back guarantee if you’re not fully satisfied. But we think you will be, because these courses have so much to offer. Many of the topics correspond to common college courses, so you can use them to help get through a degree. They’re available anytime, anywhere on your electronic devices, allowing you to customize your learning to your style. When you’ve finished each course, you even receive a certificate that you can use on your resume.

The pursuit of knowledge isn’t always easy, but it really pays off in the end. Whatever your budget, time constraints, and topics of interest may be, Direct Knowledge is here to help you reach your goals. You just need to target the areas in which you wish to learn, and stay aware of how you learn. Do what works best for you so that you can make the most of what’s available to you.

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About the author Direct Knowledge Verified Account
Created by professionals with the intent of helping others become professionals, Direct Knowledge began by simply pulling together the best articles and media it could find. The company was officially founded on November 10, 2017 by a professor who wanted to share his knowledge with anyone. With an academic background and a passion for professional and individual development, the Direct Knowledge mission started with one passion: grow knowledge and offer a comprehensive place to learn, discuss, and network.

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