How do I learn better?
February 24, 2007 12:04 PM   Subscribe

I want to learn how to learn more effectively and efficiently. What steps should I take to maximize my ability to master skills and retain information?
posted by TwelveTwo to Human Relations (14 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: One of these days I'll learn to put these questions in their proper subject. I meant to put this in Education.
posted by TwelveTwo at 12:05 PM on February 24, 2007

First thing that comes to mind is a to take aspeed reading class, that does wonders for some people.
posted by magikker at 12:15 PM on February 24, 2007

From personal experience, tea drinking and note taking. Even if I never refer to my notes again, the act of writing them down seems to make a big difference.

Tea helps me focus.
posted by popcassady at 12:20 PM on February 24, 2007

My physiology professor has advised me that repetition through writing can be very effective. Depending on the material you are trying to learn and thus retain for future use, you should condense the information into your own notes, on a blank sheet of paper. (Apparently there is research justifying the claim that lined paper provides a "distraction" to the brain's retention abilities, I haven't read this first hand however) Now, the idea is to build a groove or indention in the brain where this information is to be stored, so in order to do this, the same information should be re-written in the same manner several times, in the same order. After 5 or 6 times of writing the same information, you should find it easier to recall the words without looking back at previous notes. If it sounds is. I realize this isn't terribly effective for all types of information, but for some types within the sciences, it seems to work well.

I'm testing this method out with my Physio and Pharmacology courses this term.
posted by Asherah at 2:18 PM on February 24, 2007

I am a full-time learner. Carry a notepad and pen in your pockets and it becomes impossible to forget anything. Add what you write down into your master notes in your computer when you get home. Its important to use the computer so that you can rearrange your notes into better configurations on the fly. For something you want to learn, say cooking, create a cooking category in your notes. Anything you pick up related to cooking goes in there, and as the notes grow more voluminous create sub-headings and whatnot. This is the basic idea, and over the years I have learned many complex skills using this method. Organize what you want to learn on e-paper.
posted by who else at 4:23 PM on February 24, 2007

Do you mean this in a general "how can I be smarter and exercise my brain" way? Or in a specific, tactical "How can I improve my Econ score" way?

From a tactical standpoint-- it is important to understand how you learn best. Do you learn best when you see things? When you have to write things? When you hear things? Are you a logical learner or free-form?

This can be hard to figure out and you may need to think back to teachers you had an easy time learning from and trying to pick out techniques. I learn best when I have to explain things or teach them to someone else out loud. So I would always do test prep with one other person where we'd explain things to each other. Even now with school in the rear-view mirror I belong to a small book group because it is only through explaining things to other people that I can really learn.

In a general sense, nothing beats reading frequently on a wide variety of subjects. It's forcing your brain to process and conquer the unfamiliar that serves you best. And studies have shown that doing crossword puzzles decreases the likelihood of diseases of the mind. Crosswords aren't my thing, but I try to do other puzzles to work my brain.

The other thing I've seen help some people is to study cognitive science or language acquisition or teaching.
posted by Mozzie at 5:03 PM on February 24, 2007

I'd say take a Pysc class on learning, they will help you figure out what different types of things work for different people... Or figure out when one is taught and show up and sit in, a bunch of profs won't mind if you do that as long as you are nice about it.

I would also say not to waste time. When I have large art projects due, I tend to listen to something while I do it. Either a book on tape or some other informative time of audio.

For some reason this post reminds me of the "how would someone BE batman" post which seems to settle on the idea that the biggest barrier to being Batman would be in learning such a wide range of things quick enough. Let us know if you get good results with any method so we can pass on the info to future crime fighters.
posted by magikker at 6:45 PM on February 24, 2007

First read The Memory Book.
Then read The Mind Map Book.
Finally, take the Multiple Mentality Course.

Changed my life.
posted by blahtsk at 8:00 PM on February 24, 2007

I'll second Asherah's suggestion of writing. Also, saying the information out loud (provided its an appropriate setting) can be beneficial.

A few things to keep in mind:
Minimize distractions.
Don't try to learn when you're tired or your mind is wandering uncontrollably. You need to be able to focus.
Expose yourself to the material daily. Even a quick scan of something you have already read will help significantly reinforce the concepts.
Highlight key points in anything you can (provided it's on paper). Also, feel free to markup pages in pen to help you focus on areas that need the most attention.
Find someone interesting in learning the same things as you, and learn alongside them. Feel free to casually quiz each other over some of the material, but don't make a contest out of it.
posted by comwiz at 9:05 PM on February 24, 2007

A lot of people forget this one: sleep. Getting a good night's sleep not only improves concentration, but helps you remember what you already learned.

Sleep is necessary for retaining the information you collected during the day. That's why babies sleep so much: they're learning so much that they have to sleep a lot to remember it all.
posted by giggleknickers at 9:30 AM on February 25, 2007

Ok, I'm irked that I can't remember what this is called, but...

One of the main problems is not storing the information, but retrieving. If I recall my undergrad cog psych correctly, a good way to do this is to establish multiple reference points, e.g. more "paths" that will lead you back to the memory. I know this works well in law and history: take notes verbally, also draw diagrams, connect facts and point to one another, and where possible, relate what you're learning to a narrative (either a real-life example, or one you made up).
posted by sarahkeebs at 11:17 AM on February 25, 2007

Response by poster: Do you mean this in a general "how can I be smarter and exercise my brain" way? Or in a specific, tactical "How can I improve my Econ score" way?

I mean in a more general way. Unless I am wrong, learning is itself a skill. So I am looking for ways to learn better, and learn smarter.
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:26 PM on February 25, 2007

This interesting-sounding book is on my to-read list:
Learning to Learn: A Philosophical Guide to Learning
posted by philomathoholic at 12:56 PM on February 26, 2007

I forgot, you may want to read Mind Hacks which explores a lot of weird ways the mind works, and many of them relate to learning and retaining information.

The only way to learn better/faster/smarter is to practice it, ideally on your own [not for class or with a teacher]. Pick something you want to learn that is outside your immediate area of expertise [but not too far outside] and then go about learning it. Memorize a medium-to-longish poem that you like. After that, maybe tackle a skill that involves body memory or physical movement [I learned everything a lot faster when I was a dancer]. It doesn't have to be super-athletic... it could be knitting or hackeysack or yo-yo-ing. Then move on to something else you'd like to learn, maybe something more academic. Learn all the countries of the world.
posted by Mozzie at 1:23 AM on March 2, 2007

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