I’m a sucker when I find something that makes my life easier, and I hope better.
Over the holidays, I read a new book called “How We Learn,” by Benedict Carey, that blows to bits some assumptions about learning and suggests how to do things differently to learn better, which is essence of creativity (doing things differently to get better)!
The book confirmed some ideas I’ve used for years but it also raised new ideas, useful for teachers like me, but also for aggressive learners in any field at any age. Want to learn a new language? Or a new sport? Want to prepare better for a presentation? Or improve your memory? The secrets are here.
I'll mention just three.
1. Rehearse more than “study”
When you want to learn something new, Carey suggests spending about 30% of your available time taking in information, whether reading, memorizing, hearing, or doing. Then, you should get into rehearsing, reviewing or reciting what you need to know. Such “self-testing” is one of the best ways of learning.
So how does this apply in business? Think about a presentation you’ll give. You’ve got the content, maybe you’ve included some visuals (excellent idea), either pictures on slides or through stories you tell. Now spend double that amount of time on “rehearsing” in your mind, in front of the mirror, or with others. You want to reach the point where you “own” the talk in your mind and body, not in your notes.
2. Mixed practice works.
Learning something well demands mixing up the methods, the pace, and the predictability. Don’t just do finger drills on the piano. Play an easy piece of music as well. Don’t hunker down for two hours to read a difficult financial report you need to understand before your meeting. Start early, read it in chunks of time, 20 or 30 minutes. Take a break, let it sink in, then return to it. As Carey says, if you want to learn, “spacing” beats cramming (shouldn't we all know that from experience!?).
Build in unpredictability as well. He talks about kids who triumph in practice and fall apart during a performance, partly because we can control practice (usually) and may be unable to in a performance, whether on the field, in a concert hall, or in an annual meeting. So build in the “unexpected,” as well as the controllable as you learn.
3. Interruptions can be good thing.
Apparently, our minds “like” to finish tasks (sounds like a Type A person) but we actually learn better when we interrupt the process. If we stop “in the middle” of a big or difficult learning task, our brains will continue processing, mulling and letting ideas sink in. So when you’re working on a tough problem, stop in the middle rather than always pushing to the end. Let your unseen, unconscious mind wrestle with it while you do something else, and watch the aha moments come.
Hope this makes you a better, faster, more effective learner. I’m working on it!