“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” - Albert Einstein
Continuing to learn impacts every facet of our lives. Whether it’s learning a new skill to make you a more-rounded individual or encouraging your employees to learn so that your can business can improve, constantly learning is one of the most beneficial strategies that you have at your disposable.
At this time in history, it is easier than ever to learn whatever you want to learn about. You don't have to wait for the library to open. At 2 am - or anytime day or night - you can research whatever you want to. You don't have to have a set of encyclopedias. You don't have to wait to find a teacher. Even granny can search on line and figure out how to hook up her own computer or T.V. if she wants to. (Don't use this statement as an excuse not to help your granny. I'm just sayin'.)
While there’s no debate on why learning is so crucial, there are multiple ways that you can become a more effective learner. I’ve found that the following six ways happen to be the most powerful.
1. Challenge Yourself
Nate Kornell, an associate professor of cognitive psychology at Williams College who studies learning strategies, informs Laura Entis on Entrepreneur that what we mistake is that we equate performance with how much we are learning. “In reality, these two metrics are often in direct opposition,” Entis writes.
For example, if you join a gym and start lifting 10-pound weights you’re probably going to find that challenging. So, you switch down to 5-pound weights and suddenly your workout is easier. Since the weights are lighter, it’s obvious why lifting the 5-pound weights were easier. But, that doesn’t mean that it was a better workout than the lifting the 10-pound weights.
"The same thing happens with learning – when it's easy, you feel like you are learning more," says Kornell. In reality, "you actually learn more when what you are learning is something with which you are struggling."
If you don’t challenge yourself and take risks, "You reach a plateau where you don’t experiment and you don't practice new techniques because you’re satisfied," says Kornell. "The people who achieve the most in life are the ones that aren't satisfied with 8 out of 10; the people who don't stop until they are a 10 out of 10."
2. Find Your Preferred Learning Style
We all learn differently. Some of us are visual learners, while others learn best by doing or listening. Knowing and understanding your preferred learning style while helping you absorb information more quickly and effectively is important.
You can use this Learning Style Inventory to gain a better idea of which type of learner you are. If that doesn’t help, you can always use multi-sensory techniques like reading aloud which will benefit visual and auditory learners.
3. Practice, Practice, Practice
“It is difficult to overstate the value of practice. For a new skill to become automatic or for new knowledge to become long-lasting, sustained practice, beyond the point of mastery, is necessary,” writes Daniel T. Willingham, associate professor of cognitive psychology and neuroscience at the University of Virginia and author of Cognition: The Thinking Animal.
Willingham adds that practice increases our memories, helps develop skills, and is required if you want to become an expert in a particular field. For example, if you want to become a drummer, the more you practice the amount of grey matter (in the brain) increases. Also, muscle memory increases.
In short, practice is a vital component of the learning process.
4. Schedule a Time For a Learning
Jeff Cobb, founder of Mission to Learn, says that “when it comes to achieving focused learning goals, our minds appreciate regularity and rhythm.” He suggests that you set aside “a specific time each day, ideally, always in the same place – to devote to your learning activities.” You also should remove “distractions like e-mail and your cell phone during this time and focus your attention on your learning goals.”
If you’re having trouble setting-up a tight schedule, build buffers into your schedule so that you can remain productive. These buffers include allowing more time for travel, not scheduling too much throughout the day, and outsourcing some tasks.
According to research published in “Learning by Thinking: Overcoming the Bias for Action through Reflection,” it’s been found that reflecting on experiences can improve learning because it builds confidence in achieving goals.
Monique Valcour suggests in the Harvard Business Review that to “ensure continuous progress, get into the habit of asking yourself questions like ‘What have I learned from this experience?’ and ‘What turned out differently than I expected?’
Furthermore, the leaders “who demonstrate and encourage reflection not only learn more themselves, they also spur increased contextual awareness and reflective practice in others, thereby laying a foundation for higher levels of learning agility in their teams and organizations.”
6. Improve Your Study Mindset
Think about the times that you’ve stressed out or have been going through a personal crisis. Do you think that you were able to learn something new? As John M. Grohol, Psy.D. writes, “Sometimes you can’t ‘force’ yourself to be in the right mindset, and it is during such times you should simply avoid studying.” In that case, revisit your studies “when you’re not focused (or obsessed!) by something else going on in your life.”
However, you can improve your study mindset by taking the following steps;
- Think positively whenever you study.
- Avoid catastrophic thinking like “I’ll never understand this!”
- Avoid absolute thinking, such as “I’m such an idiot,” and focus on how you can improve.
- Stop comparing yourself to others.
How have you become a more effective learner?