Learning is a process. For it to be productive and give predictable outcomes you must follow some strategies. There are many ways to improve learning, but the three strategies mentioned below works best for all situations. Before I talk more about them in this short blog post, if you have time then please go ahead and do the online coursera course on learning how to learn. This blog post is based on the ideas talked about in that course.
Essentially, there are two states in which the brain normally functions: Diffused state and Focused state. Diffused state helps in making sense of convoluted ideas, while focused state helps us in taking up new ideas. The way it works is that you learn something new and it remains in you temporary memory for some time. This will be lost if connections are not made with existing concepts or ideas in your brain. We lose almost 90% of whatever we study within the first month. To prevent this we should remember to use these two states of the brain better. To use a computer science analogy: you need to move things you have learned from your short term memory like RAM to your long term memory the hard disk. To do so, you can use these techniques which can help retain things in long term memory.
1. The Pomodoro Technique
Generally, when we are trying to study we can’t really focus for a long time at a stretch, i.e. we can not be in the focused state for a long time and due to distractions it is almost impossible to do so. This is true for everyone. The best thing to do, therefore, is to use a timer to remain focused for some time and then take a break and use that time to not think about the task. The optimal time for this happens to be 25 minutes for focused study with 5 minutes of break time. You can use any timer for this task: mobile phoned happens to be a major distraction so I would recommend against using them as timers. There is a timer in the chrome plugin that can help with this regard as it blocks distracting websites for 25 minutes and gives 5 mins for the break when the timer has started. you can also customize the block list and add websites that you are most likely to get distracted with. It is a free app on the chrome store click here to add it to the chrome browser.
2. Spaced Repetition
As discussed above we lose 90% of whatever we study within one month, the best way to stop this is to use a technique called spaced repetition. There are many ways to do this: you can make flash cards, use them for reviewing notes and once you have learned them, the cards goes back in the deck and the process keeps repeating. This is a very simple technique and helps you put the lessons into your permanent memory. This technique is especially useful when you need to learn Vocabulary for GRE or Formulae and Grammar rules for SAT and GMAT. There are free apps that can help make decks; these apps use highly sophisticated algorithms to help you remember things effectively. An example such an app is Anki; with this you can make your own study decks and use it as you see fit.
3. Physical Exercise
Though it seems bizarre that one might consider physical activity as a learning technique, you’d be surprised how much of a significance a regular, light exercise routine has to improving study time efficiency. There are many benefits to regular, light exercise; this includes improved oxygenation, hormone regulation, metabolism and cognitive functions. Exercising releases hormones that improve self confidence, focus and create a feeling of overall wellness and happiness. This puts you in a very good state of mind and lets you handle stress better, focus for longer periods and build long term memory more easily.
Though this is in no way an exhaustive list, there is substantial amounts of research evidence to suggest that those listed above are extremely effective learning tools.