Learn Effectively, Say your thirtieth birthday is approaching, and as a sign of this new level of maturity, you’ve decided to add a bit of value and refinement into your life. You’ve toyed with several ideas, including becoming a wine connoisseur, a poet laureate, a yoga instructor, a ukulele player, or a juggler. You finally settle on learning a new language, Korean. You are inspired and sprint at maximum effort for three or four weeks. Then your energy and enthusiasm dwindle, and by week five you’ve learned enough Korean to order badly at a restaurant and offend the regulars. So, you decide to take up the ukulele. A month later you’ve learned to play a poor rendition of Happy Birthday. Bored and disenchanted, you quit again.
So, the question becomes, how do you become an effective learner and expand your horizons?
1. Assess the value of what you are considering learning
Assessment is a very important first step. Learning something new requires the expenditure of time, attention, effort, and energy, and in most cases, money as well. Before you invest in learning something new, determine if it is something worth your effort. Two questions you should ask yourself:
- How will this new knowledge or skill benefit me and what purpose will it serve? If the skill will not meet a need or serve a real purpose in your life, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should abandon learning about it–it should, however, dictate the amount of resources the endeavor should consume.
- How badly do I want to learn it? Again, the answer to this question will help you adequately budget how much time and energy you should give to the activity, or decide whether it is even worth the time and energy.
Sometimes, we lie to ourselves about what we want, or we think we want what others have. The key here is to assess why you want to acquire that knowledge or skill, then determine if you REALLY want it.
2. Set realistic goals
Establishing realistic learning goals is a major key to effective learning. When learning something new, 100 percent mastery is a lofty and oftentimes unrealistic goal. The brain works best under an optimal amount of stress, but not under copious and burdensome amounts of stress. The level of stress must be high but manageable. Setting a goal of 80% mastery of a new skill is the sweet spot. It is challenging yet doable. Success fuels motivation, while failure kills it. Allowing yourself room to fail, while still setting high learning goals, is the best way for learning optimization to occur.
3. When your learning plateaus, move on
Once you hit a mental plateau and your learning has considerably slowed, your brain is ready to tackle something new. The most effective way to take advantage of the brain’s malleability is by learning something that is related to what you were previously learning. The brain naturally organizes and categorizes information, and “chunking” previous learning with new learning is the most effective way to attain and maintain new knowledge and skills. For example, if you were taking a public speaking course, you could then transition to taking acting lessons. When information is studied so that it can be interpreted in relation to other things you already have in your memory, learning becomes so much more powerful.
4. Multitasking is the enemy
Multitasking, in its true sense, is a mythical beast. It simply doesn’t exist. Research shows that it is impossible for the brain to simultaneously work on multiple tasks at once. Instead, the mind constantly switches between the tasks and their contexts, spinning only one plate at a time. Multitasking is a highly inefficient way of going about getting things done. In fact, the brain’s inability to focus on two processes in tandem is precisely why texting and driving are forbidden. Effective and efficient learning occurs quickest when there is 100% focus.
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