Everybody learns differently. Some can handle lectures, others need to read it in a book, others need pictures and yet others need to practice the task themselves to finally master a new skill.
Regardless of whether you want to learn a new skill or sharpen up an existing one, the below techniques will help you become a better learner.
Take Breaks Frequently
It is imperative to let your brain rest. When your brain isn’t going a million miles per hour you tend to do some great thinking. It’s why great ideas might come to you in the shower. When you’re not thinking of anything in particular, that’s when you allow your brain to open up.
So if you’re going to study for an hour, be sure to give your brain a rest before and after. It might let you see the big picture or connect the dots in what you’re studying.
You can employ the Pomodoro technique, which calls for 25 minutes of work followed by 5 minutes of rest. Then after the 4th session, a larger 15-30 minute break. By using this technique you will help ward off mental fatigue.
Make The Topic Meaningful
Memorizing and then regurgitating facts may have helped you get through history class in high school, but it’s not going to help you in learning a new skill. Make a real life connection by understanding the relevance of what you’re learning in order to make it stick.
If you’re trying to memorize a recipe, it does you no good to read the recipe a hundred times. Instead, learn why you’re adding each item or why the amount of each is important to the overall flavor.
- Does one ingredient counterbalance another?
- Do two ingredients combined enhance the flavor?
- Why does it need to be cooked at such a high temperature?
- Why do you need to add ingredients at different stages of the cooking process?
Learning why something is important will allow the ingredient list and amounts to stick in your brain.
Likewise if you’re trying to master on-page search engine optimization techniques, learn about WHY certain techniques matter. Think about what the end goal is (better rankings) and the purpose of each technique (make it more Google-friendly). So if I mention images, repeating word for word what to do with an image is much harder to do if you don’t know why you’re doing it. For example, with an image, you want to:
- use alt tags (Why? Let’s Google know what the image is about, it needs text)
- small file size (Why? Google likes fast loading pages because users like them too)
- appropriate file name (Why? Helps your image appear in Google Images search results)
- relevant images (Why? Keeps the visitor on your site longer, which improves rankings)
You see, without making the “why” part meaningful, it’s just a bunch of nonsense rules to a silly game Google made up. But by learning the reasons why each bullet point is useful, you can more easily remember the steps to take.
Interact With The Information
There’s really no such thing as a book learner and a visual learner. The method of learning that works really depends on what you’re learning. But the important thing here is to immerse yourself in the activity.
If you are learning a new language, a book will rarely help you. You’ll need to watch television shows in this new language, talk with others in this language and even listen to music in this language.
If you are learning to be an auto mechanic, ditch the manuals and get your hands dirty. You will learn better through practice, patience and through trial and error.
While in school I’m sure we all hated taking tests. After all, these were make it or break it moments. Some of us just weren’t good at tests, even though we studied endlessly. Perhaps that was because of pressure. But it’s the real world now and you shouldn’t be afraid of tests anymore.
Do you know how to perform better at tests? It’s not by re-reading the textbook or your notes. Nope. It’s by taking many practice tests. Tests ask questions, tests ask you to be problem solvers, tests make you think. Becoming a problem solver is a great way to master whatever skill you’re learning.
When learning a new skill, test yourself, as it will help you learn your strengths and weaknesses. This can help you isolate what you need help with. You can then practice what you struggle with to get better.
Practice What You’re Not Good At
One of the greatest basketball players of all time, Kobe Bryant, practiced for hours on end. But he always kept pushing himself to learn new skills, practicing the moves and shots he had not yet mastered. Here is how he improved throughout his 20 year career:
- Problem: Coming into the NBA as a 17 year old, he had never played more than 30 odd games a year. The NBA season has a grueling 82 game schedule full of traveling, practices and the playoffs. By the end of the season his legs would give out near the end of games, leading to airballs on three pointers.
Solution: He worked in the offseason to improve his stamina and build up the strength in his legs, giving him the ability to power through a long season.
- Problem: Kobe had athleticism as a youngster, but knee injuries and age were slowing him down.
Solution: He worked on his low post game, perfecting pump fakes and the fall away mid-range jumper.
- Problem: Kobe suffered from finger injuries, a broken wrist and a torn labrum in his shoulder.
Solution: He relentlessly practiced dribbling, passing and shooting with his left hand.
- Problem: Kobe kept suffering season-ending injuries near the end of his career.
- Solution: For his final season, Kobe begrudgingly limited his minutes and took days off. He learned that his previous injuries had occurred late in games after playing too many minutes and later into the season.
What new skills have you learned recently and how did you do it?