We spend a lot of our lives learning, but we never really learn how to learn. As it happens, I recently came across a book called “How We Learn” by Benedict Carey, which synthesises the latest thinking on just that. The book feels a bit padded out, so can be read quite quickly, but it has some great points, the main ones are:
- Learning happens all the time, not just at your desk. Don’t undervalue haphazard learning and don’t think that the library is the optimal place to learn.
- Building on the above, the more varied your locations and times of day that you learn the sharper and most lasting the memory of the material you’re learning.
- Sleep is very important for learning. “Deep sleep” which occurs in the early part of your sleep is essential for consolidating memory, while the latter part of sleep is essential for creative thinking and motor skills.
- It’s better to split your study time into smaller blocks of time than one long block. This helps re-engage with the material and makes it easier to memorise.
- Self-testing is one the most powerful study techniques. It’s twice as effective as cramming and much better than verbatim copying of notes (better to write your notes from memory and test to see how accurate they are)
- Distraction can help you solve a tough problem. That means checking Facebook may even help as it allows your subconscious to solve the intractable problem that is now “offline” in your mind.
- Start early on tough projects and give yourself breaks on them to allow your mind to mull on the project. This is much more effective than waiting to start the project later when you think you’ll have everything in place to start.
- Mixing learning skills is better than concentrating on learning just one skill. The mixing makes you less context dependent and it sharpens your powers to discriminate when to use the skills. So use art to help you learn a language and so on.
All kind of makes sense.