I started this article knowing I wanted to call it Learn Smarter, Not Harder. I wasn’t so sure what to add next and wanted to try a list thing like many articles I’ve recently read do. So I added: 5 ways to maximise your learning output. Then I read another article which said that lists are not the way to go…and so I replaced ‘the list’ with Or how to Maximise Your Learning Output. Perhaps this will change yet again before I reach the end of the page. Or perhaps I will just put nothing.
The fact is I am still learning.
And I need to learn fast because everything keeps changing so quickly.
The question is: how do I do that when I already have so many other things pulling on my time? Do I just need to push harder?
Do I just need to push harder?
Traditionally learning was seen as something you do in school when you are young and free from responsibilities before heading out into the world of work.
We all know how far gone that image is. To keep up with the ever changing systems and demands of work and life today, we absolutely need to keep on the learning trail.
The thing is, in such an attention-challenged environment, how do we design and deliver learning programmes that not only reach the target but also produce effective results?
As I said in the outset, I’m going to avoid going down the path of lists. I’m also going to avoid giving you the key ideas you hear over and over again such as the need for learner engagement, motivation and use of technology.
Instead, I am going take you somewhere different.
I want to share with you some of the dark secrets of learning, some of the deep secrets of learning, some of the hidden secrets of learning.
We will be going behind the scenes of learning.
Discover how to learn smarter without actually having to learn harder
Yes, by taking a sneak peek at how we actually learn inside our heads, we can discover how to learn smarter without actually having to learn harder.
Learning is often described, among other things, as the acquisition of knowledge. We can look at our brains as the recipient of that knowledge, like a vast warehouse storing that knowledge.
In real life, for a warehouse to work, it has to be organised, and for many of the largest warehouses they have highly sophisticated systems to pinpoint exactly where everything is and make it easily retrievable. The question is, in our brain, is our incoming knowledge automatically organised into easily retrievable compartments? The simple answer is no.
At times cramming knowledge and indiscriminate learning can be similar to filling that warehouse with no attention to where anything goes. True, you’ve learnt it and you possibly even remember learning it, but remembering exactly what you learnt when you need it can be no different to looking for a needle in the haystack.
When it comes to improving your memory, it is often recommended to associate what you need to memorise with something else. To make a connection. The same is true when learning. Connecting your new knowledge with something you already know is similar to labelling it and telling your brain that those two things go together. Recalling one of those things may stimulate recollection of the other, after all, they have been classified together.
And it doesn’t stop there. Improved recall is not the only advantage of learning through association. Let’s take a look at something really cool.
Imagine you are learning a brand new process with ten distinct steps. At least that is how it is being presented to you. Now if you want to learn through association, as you listen to the new information being presented, you should also be scanning what you already know to see if you have already learnt something vaguely similar. Chances are you have.
Now comes the fun bit.
Align the new process you are being taught with the information or process you have just recalled. Today is your lucky day because you notice that despite the processes being for two different sectors or systems, they both share eight out of ten steps. What does this mean? It means you can reduce your learning process and learning time by possibly up to eighty percent!
Instead of memorising each of the ten new steps as if they are all brand new, you realise that you have already learnt eight of them through your previous knowledge. So by making this association, all you need to learn now is three things: that it is the same as the other process you know and that, for example, steps 6 and 9 are different and how so.
Not only have you reduced your learning time and labelled the process for more rapid recall, you have also demonstrated that you understand what you have learnt and made it ready for immediate implementation.
How cool is that! After all, why learn something as brand new when in fact you have already learnt something similar once if not many times previously? This will streamline your knowledge making it
compact, accessible and most importantly, ready to use.
It’s time to learn smarter, not harder.
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