Learning To Learn

18. May 2016 · Time to Read: 4 MinCategory: Personal

A few years ago I was forced into having to learn a new topic. This is the best scenario for someone like me. I was the worlds best procrastinator but I quickly developed a few strategies for how to learn more effectively.

I now employ these strategies every time I need to learn something and apply the knowledge to everyday life. I'm a front-end developer so it's important that I am always learning and advancing my knowledge. You can apply much of these strategies to other subject areas.

Don't learn from one source.

I'm very much a visual learner to begin with but need books to understand the core concepts. I don't learn by watching other people but I like to see how they solve problems. In other words, I don't neatly fit into any one box. I've found that many other people are like this so it's much better to learn from a variety of sources than say, one book.

An example in front end development learning would be to use Code Academy, Treehouse, and research which books would be suited to your needs then go through all of these materials in sync. Say a chapter of book 1, a chapter of book 2, a course on Treehouse and finally a course on Code Academy. All of these will satisfy each learner type and you will be repeating each concept 4 times. This will help reinforce core concepts into your memory. These tips will help you figure out what type of learner you are.

If you don't understand a concept, Google or youtube it before moving on.

Learn in an environment where you are free to make mistakes

This is really important. Applying pressure or stress into the learning mix can be a suitable scenario for some people, for example, learning on the job. For most people however, it's an ineffective process and core concepts of the subject matter are skipped and/or misunderstood. If you are free to make mistakes, you are more compelled to learn the subject more throughly and gain a much better understanding.

As an aside to this, find a space that suits you. Some people prefer coffee shops for the noise, but I personally prefer a quiet space without distractions. Find your space where you are free to learn and won't be distracted.

Procrastination

The dread of carrying out a task takes up more time and energy than actually doing the task itself. We procrastinate about things that make us feel uncomfortable or have an outcome we are scared of.

Try to reward yourself with relaxation or an evening of tv or games. This is very important. You must allow yourself guilt free time to relax.

Pomodoro focus

The Pomodoro technique will help to keep you focused and on track. It's the best time management technique I have used.

Outline 3 tasks or 3 pomodoros a day. Don't worry about completing the tasks, just complete your 3 pomodoros.

If you find a task overwhelming or you are putting it off, try saying "I'll do 1 or 2 pomodoro sessions" and focus on completing that. If that doesn't work, try breaking down your task into smaller tasks.

Try and stick to a timetable when studying as this will help build a habit. I often study as soon as I get home from work.

Practice and Repetition

Practice everyday but remember to take time out. Remember to rest. Don't over work yourself. Reading for 1 hour with a rested brain will serve you better than reading for 3 hours with a tired brain. Your brain needs sleep.

Repetition helps you to firm up what you want to remember before the ideas fade away. Repetition helps you to make connections between core concepts or ideas.

Recalling

Recalling the material you are learning helps you learn it much more effectively than just simply rereading it.

Read over a concept and then look away and try to recite what you have read. Do this a few times until you have a clear understanding of what you are reading.

Create problem solving exercises and keep the solution out of sight. Work at solving these problems without referring to your solution. Work on a few of these each each day until you understand each concept fully.

A trick I often use is to find quizzes related to what I am learning. I will do two or three quizzes throughout the day to test my knowledge and I always do a quiz just before bed.

Books

When learning with books, it helps to glance over the chapter prior to reading it. Look more closely at the titles, photos and graphics, then read the chapter summary and any exercises.

This helps with recall and also helps you to get a clearer picture once you start going through the chapter.

You can also apply this to tutorials online.

Memory tricks

Visualisation is a great way to remember information. A little difficult with code but something I used to help me remember math.ceil and math.floor in javascript was my living room. I essentially created a memory palace and each room would house different properties, functions expressions and statements. Find your own memory palace and build on it.

Writing and saying what you are trying to learn seems to enhance retention. With quizzes or questions, I tend to read them aloud to better understand what is being asked. When I am trying to problem solve, I go through the steps and speak them out loud.

Just before you to go sleep, go over something that you are trying to learn then in the morning, go over the material again. This helps to solidify concepts into memory without you having to do much at all.

Now go learn!

Learning is the best skill you can learn and I am always looking for more productive ways to better soak up new knowledge. If you found any of the above useful let me know in the comments or if you have anything that has worked for you, share!

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