The people we label as successful don’t just know many things and have multiple skills out of nowhere. They use effective learning techniques that allow them to accumulate a lot in a timely manner, to constantly self-motivate, to monitor the mistakes they make, and to modify their strategy when they find it is unproductive.
Before we jump in, you can watch the video to this article here if you prefer:
Why would you want to become a more efficient learner?
If you manage to perfect your learning techniques you will find that you can apply them outside the classroom. The immediate goal may be to pass an exam or get a high grade. But the real goal is to sustain life-long learning.
At your next job, your learning techniques will help you acquire new skills, not be discouraged by the volume of information, stay motivated, and stay organised.
If I’ve convinced you that it’s worth improving your study and learning techniques, let’s see where to start.
Like this video, it helps a lot with the algorithm, and let’s jump right in.
What is the secret of efficient learning?
The secret of successful students is self-regulated learning.
Self-regulated learning consists of strategies and approaches that people use to learn by themselves, without external motivation.
The term strategy refers not just to the learning technique, but to the entire process from setting a goal to achieving it: you may have a good learning technique, adapted to the material, but lose motivation along the way. Or you may not have good time management and fail to achieve your goal.
Motivation is the internal process that gives behaviour its energy and direction.
One mistake is setting a target too far away. For example, if the goal you set is to finish uni, motivation will decrease along the way. But if your goal is to finish your next essay, or study one topic for your next exam, it suddenly becomes much more manageable.
Another mistake is neglecting the goal you have set and falling prey to disturbances, like e.g. noise in the library in the short term, or e.g. difficult interpersonal relationships in the longer term.
The key is not to lose track of the small goals that lead you towards the bigger goal.
When in comes to skill, there are 3 types of strategies: learning strategies, environmental strategies, and behavioural strategies.
Learning strategies are the methods you use to acquire knowledge. Underlining and re-reading are the least effective methods, as we talked about in the retrieval practice video ^ If you still find it hard to abandon underlining though, try turning the chapter title into a question. Then underline only what constitutes an answer to the question.
Environmental strategies: (1) establish a space for study where you are least likely to be disturbed, (2) try to work out when you need to work alone and when you need help: a partner, a teacher or an extra book or other more appropriate resource.
Behavioral strategies: Time management is the most important of the behavioural strategies.
Educators have found that there is a direct relationship between time management and academic achievement. Students who manage their time well also perform better.
But all of the above is useless without self-reflection.
As Prof. Myron Dembo writes in his book Motivation and Learning Strategies for College Success, “behaviour cannot be regulated or managed unless you are aware of it”.
Self-reflection means planning, monitoring, evaluating and regulating your thought-processes.
An important step to becoming a smart learner is the ability to monitor your knowledge acquisition, recognise when something has gone wrong and do something to improve the situation.
Self-observation and self-judgment are mandatory for improvement to happen.
>>> Read this article next to find out how to improve your learning techniques.