We read, we forget….we re-read, we – yes, you guessed it – we forget it all over again. It’s a cycle of learning that affects most people blessed with an average memory. Is there an end to this cycle?
You bet there is! Definitely.
Beginning with this first part of a four part series about enhanced learning techniques, you will learn over the course of the next four weeks the only note taking system that simultaneously improves retention, recall and activation of new knowledge; the memory enhancement tricks used by record breaking super minds like Dominic O’Brian and Tony Buzan; the speed reading techniques that will get you reading 800 words per minute plus; and how to recognize your own learning style and use it to enhance your ability to learn.
This first part of the series explains my personal 10 step guide to learning and note taking which developed over many years of study, work and reading of the many books about the mind, memory, learning and creativity by world famous specialist authors such as Tony Buzan, Dominic O’Brian and Roger Von Oech.
As you read this guide you will notice there are brightly colored fact boxes spread about the pages. They contain snippets of information, tips and tricks that will help you to learn the main contents of the article. I recommend you read them.
Treat this guide as you would a theme park – you can go straight for the biggest and most thrilling roller coaster ride before you head over to the dodgems or you can find your way around in an orderly manner. If it suits you, skip the sections you already understand. But, please, before you decide your route, plan it a little: make a mental note of what you already know about learning, memory and recall then take a few seconds to scan your eyes over each page of this guide as you come to them, from top-to-bottom, from bottom-to-top, to pick out keywords and the bits that jump out at you before you read them more fully. This is not a novel so go grab the spoilers!
For those of you who want to skip the introductory pages and jump right in at the deep end, the 10 step guide to supercharged learning begins on page 9
The very foundation of any educational system is the belief that we can learn and recall the subjects taught in class yet surprisingly few schools offer class time to the most important subject of all: the subject of learning how to learn. It is one of my biggest wonders that at no point in my formal education, from preschool to University, was I ever officially taught how to learn, how to efficiently work with my brain, how to develop my brain or even how to teach my brain to work with me.
I was in my mid to late teens and at college when I stumbled across a few books by Tony Buzan, Dominic O’Brian and other authors who taught me the memory retention, recall and activation tricks that aid rapid learning. These tricks are employed by successful learners, good educators and the most creative and influential people known to humanity. Those tricks include:
You have to try harder to keep a fact learned when you are interrupted midway between learning it.
- Speed Reading
- Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)
Those books discussed everything from the best music to listen to while learning through to the optimum conditions for a good learning environment. They even discussed the different learning and thinking styles had by each and every one of us. We are all unique and what works well for you might work less well for someone else, if it works at all. We will look at those conditions as this guide progresses.
This short guide to effective and quick learning will teach you enough of what I’ve learned and developed since I began my journey into learning to enable you to master most subjects in a quarter of the time it would take you were you to passively learn them. Notice that word “passively”, it is an integral part of non-learning.
Passively, the adverb of Passive
- to be acted upon by an external agency
- to be not active or operating
- to be inert
- to be receiving or enduring without resistance
- to be submissive
Actively, the adverb of active
- to be involved in
- to be engaged with
- to perform
- asserting that the person or thing represented by the grammatical subject performs the action represented by the verb
Think of any story that you remember well. I bet it is one that really fired up your imagination when you first learned it. If it is really clear in your mind then I further bet that it had, and maybe still has, some special significance to you. Lessons that are taught as stories and stories that force you to engage your imagination and your senses are more easily remembered than those that make you sleep.
You should actively engage with any subject you wish to learn. If you are passive, you will forget it or, worse, you will understand little of it. When you are active you will create strong memories and a good working model of the subject hence a solid understanding of it.
The brain is a habitual and logical creature. It likes patterns. It hates gaps.
- 1, 2, 3, 4, _, _,
- a, b, c, d, _, _,
How hard was it to gag your urge to fill in the blanks?
Let us begin your adventure into supercharged learning by furnishing you with a few premises that will help defend you against the foes that keep you from realizing your learning potential:
- There are as many ways to learn as there are human beings
- Every human has his own unique knowledge base
- Every human has his own unique set of experiences
- Every human interprets new knowledge and new experiences uniquely and relative to his current knowledge and experience set
It’s all about tailoring
The better a subject and its learning resource is tailored to your personal knowledge, experience and learning style the quicker you will learn more about that subject.
You are unique
Say it out allowed: “I am unique.”
Say it and believe it.
Your experiences, the knowledge you have absorbed throughout your life coupled with your personal abilities make you a very unique individual. Your uniqueness makes you special and valuable. Every opinion and thought you have about any subject is valid from your own viewpoint; they may not be right, but they are, nonetheless, valid.
An important part of learning is that you feel comfortable enough to express your thoughts and have them challenged without getting embarrassed and without becoming aggressively defensive. We all make mistakes and we learn through those mistakes.
Remember the saying “Monkey hear, monkey see, monkey do.”?
We all learn differently. Some people prefer to be hands on, some prefer to be told how to do something and others prefer to watch something being done.
Your uniqueness comes at a price:
- you have your own learning style
- you have your own thinking style
- you have your own learning pace
The way you learn and how quickly you learn are unique to you based on your own knowledge, experience and preferences. You might prefer hands-on learning where others prefer to watch things being done, some prefer to be told how to do things and still others prefer to learn by thinking about things. Few people use one learning style exclusively and we often favor different learning styles when learning the same subjects.
When you read any document, you have the final say in how it is read. You can tailor your reading style to make an author’s writing style suit your learning and thinking style.
The four main learning styles are known as:
Visual learning means to learn through watching, auditory learning means to learn through hearing, contemplative learning means to learn by thinking and kinesthetic learning means to learn by doing.
Thinking styles are similar. Some people think with images, others with words and sounds, some internalize movement, yet others use whispery thoughts. There are as many different ways to think as there are ways to express ourselves; and, usually, we use a combination of thinking methods to form a synergistic style.
There is no right or wrong way to learn and think that is common to everybody. Most people use a mixture of learning and thinking styles and every unique individual favors a particular learning and thinking style for different subjects and under different conditions.
Do you recall the last time you watched a car turn a corner?
Think about it for a moment, relive the event in your mind then describe it.
Now consider your thinking style: are you using words and images? Which thinking style is most dominant?
When most people learn something new they quickly forget what they tried to learn.
There is a pattern to what people memorize during any learning session. They tend to remember,
- items from the beginning
- items that are made to stand out
- items that relate to their current knowledge and experience
- items that are of particular importance to them
- items that make them feel
- items from the end
And the optimum length for any study session to yield best results varies from student to student and subject to subject. Some of the many factors that affect a lesson’s success include
- The student’s prior knowledge and experience of the subject
- The suitability of the teaching style to the student’s learning style
- The student’s health
- The student’s feelings toward the subject
- The student’s feelings toward the teaching medium
- The suitability of the learning environment for the subject
- The suitability of the learning environment for the student
Learning is both an emotional and physical task
It is easier to remember something that is striking and distinct than something that is not.
It is easier to recall an event when our emotions are stirred back to how they were when we first experienced it and when our physical actions mirror our actions during the event.
My own experience tells me that lessons that involve a lot of reading should be short whereas lessons with little or no reading can be long. When I learn through reading I study in 40 to 60 minute sessions. When I learn something practical like driving, plastering or drawing I practice for many hours and remember almost everything done. You need to work out your own preferences from your own learning experiences.
The methods of learning and retention that work best are the ones that get you to think about the subject, make you associate the lesson with currently held knowledge and experience, provide key points that help hook new knowledge onto old knowledge, provide motivation for learning them, properly introduce themselves and their key points, are given in the right environment, make you ask questions and get involved, and that are arranged in a manner that is logical for the subject being taught.
The 10 step guide to supercharged learning that is outlined over the next few pages of this guide binds together all the aforementioned characteristics of a good lesson and enables you to convert most lesson types into one that suits your personal learning and thinking styles.
The next 3 installments of this series will compliment this 10 step guide by showing you the memory aids that will help you to soak up information as easily as a sponge soaks up water and to recall information as quickly as Google retrieves web pages. The second installment will teach you advanced memory techniques; the third installment will teach you the speed reading techniques that will take you to 900 plus words per minute without any loss of comprehension; and the fourth installment will more fully explain the differences between learning and thinking styles.
As with any other subject, it is for you to decide how much of this part of the guide you choose to read, interact with and absorb. The learning style that your brain prefers is the only factor that determines whether the method of learning I am about to share with you is right for you. It works for me and similar methods work for others. I encourage you to try it and modify it to suit you – your needs, your experience and your knowledge.
The 10 Quick Steps to Supercharged Learning
The basis of this method can be applied to most lesson types. It works whether a lesson is taught through a television documentary, an audio tape, a book, a teacher in a classroom, a group discussion or any other medium. However, because it is being taught in a form that you have to read, it is written under the assumption that the lesson to be learned is in a written format such as a book or pamphlet; it is for you to workout how you can apply it to other lesson formats.
The brain creates memory maps
The more senses that are involved in their creation the more ways you have to follow those maps
Go and grab yourself the following three items:
- Something to write with
- Something to write on
- Something to read
Whatever you choose to write with must be something you are comfortable with. It can be a pen, a felt-tip, a crayon, a pencil or anything else you choose – just be sure you can write clearly and easily with it. For the method I am about to share it is best for you to choose several pens of various vivid colors.
The something to write on should be white or lightly colored and A4 sized or bigger. It must give you room to express yourself freely.
Let’s play a game!
I’m going to give you a word and you are going to write down the first word that pops into your head when you read it. Then, you will write the word that your word conjures into your mind then the word that that word brings to mind and so on…
The something to read should be something you want to learn, preferably a short text of around two thousand words. If you are struggling to find something, use this guide as your subject material or try one of these wikipedia articles:
If you choose to use an audio tape, DVD or some other method of instruction then I suggest you choose something that can be broken into 40 minute segments.
The method of learning is simple:
- Recall what you already know
- Assess what you want to learn
- Discover what you want to learn
- Associate what you have learned with what you already know
- Recall what you have newly learned along with what you already know
The method is easily remembered as the acronym RADAR and is split into 10 easy to follow steps. Get your pen (or pens) and paper ready and be prepared to supercharge your learning style.
Let’s play another game!
This time I will give you a word and you will write down everything that that word reminds you about.
Step 1 – What Do You Already Know
This is the brainstorming step. It activates the knowledge you already have about your subject, encourages your conscious mind to communicate with your subconscious mind about your subject and helps to provide memory hooks that new information can latch on to.
Imagine you are doing a word association test where every item relates to a central keyword or phrase that describes your subject:
- Take a piece of paper
- Turn it on its side so that you are looking at it landscaped
- Write the subject title in the middle of the page and draw a circle around it
- Around that keyword, write short keywords and phrases about the subject. Draw lines to connect the central word with each satellite word, concept, fact, quote and soundbite etc…
- Follow the path each new addition takes you to and draw lines to connect additional words, phrases and concepts to their parents
- Be creative: use vivid pictures and different ink colors to reinforce ideas
- If your mind is blank, draw a few lines leading from the central subject word and watch as your mind finds something to fill them with.
The end product will look like a map; and that is exactly what it is: it is a map of your current knowledge about the subject. Call your masterpiece a mind map, spider diagram or anything else. Strictly speaking it is not a mind map. I call it a knowledge map and that is what it will be known as throughout this guide. I will explain more about mind maps in the next installment of this series.
The brain works on multiple tasks at the same time. It likes to stumble around and recall bits of information as and when a subject path leads to them. Your usual role is to direct your brain to that information. On this occasion, your role is to let your brain roam freely and to direct you to take notes of whatever it digs up. Only redirect it when it gets sidetracked from the original subject.
Step 2 – Scan It
Quickly scan your subject resource. Our eyes are good at following objects so use that natural skill to help you scan the pages – run your finger or hand up, down and across the pages to trick your eyes into scanning them rapidly. Scan the page as quickly as you can while still being able to grab keywords and concepts. Look for the spoilers – the bits that tell you who did what, when, where, how and why. You are learning the subject not reading a novel for entertainment – you are allowed to skip to the end; hell, you can start at the end if you want, just make sure you only scan the pages at this stage, you will read them more thoroughly in a few minutes.
This step applies to resources other than documents too:
- If your subject resource is an audio book or movie, scan any cover notes that accompany it
- If it is an audio file, you should use the fast forward button and skip between sections, stopping only to listen to 2 or 3 second sound bites
- If it is a movie then you should play it at 2, 4 or more times the regular play speed
- If it is a teacher or discussion group then you should request an overview of the lesson before the main part of it begins
Step 3- Ask Questions
Quickly work out what you want to learn from the subject resource then close your eyes and phrase a few questions for it. Write them down if you need to. This is important whether you are reading a text document or receiving a lecture. Get your mind looking for knowledge – motivate it to stay tuned and awake.
Step 4 – Add to Your Knowledge Map
Spend 2 or 3 minutes updating your knowledge map. You will impress yourself with how much you have just learned and recalled simply by scanning and questioning your resource.
Step 5 – Scan it Again
Your mission is to absorb keywords, concepts and images to hook new knowledge on to. Skip back and forth between sections when you recognize relationships between them. This will help you get a better overview of the subject.
Step 6 – Read it
You have recalled the knowledge you already possess, you have developed an overview of the subject and given yourself hooks to latch new knowledge on to, so go ahead, read the text, watch the video, listen to the audio book or let your teacher speak.
Regularly summarize what you read, hear, observe and contemplate. Do this mentally. If you make physical notes then use keywords not complete sentences. The idea is to summarize without impeding the learning mindset created in the previous steps.
Step 7 – Relax
Find somewhere quiet to sit or lay down for 20 minutes and let your mind play with the information it has just soaked up. If you meditate then this is a good time to do so.
Step 8 – Total Recall
Create a new knowledge map to help you consolidate, recall and activate your new knowledge with your old knowledge.
Step 9 – Relax Again
Go and do something else for two to four hours. This is a vital stage of your learning process. The mind needs time to organize and play with information without being impaired by conscious mental blocks. Let it do its work while you play.
Step 10 – Recall and Review
Mentally recall the subject matter then review your new knowledge map. You will recall more details than you did when you created it. Add those details to your map.
Review your knowledge map again after 24 hours, 1 week, 1 month and 6 months. The more you use your new knowledge, the less you need to review your map. However, the more you review it, the less you will forget it.
Ongoing Activation and Recall – Teach It
Question yourself about what you know. If it helps, imagine you are a teacher and visualize a student, a group of students or even a younger or older version of yourself and discuss the subject. This is a great way to communicate with yourself and discover contradictions and gaps within your own knowledge.
This brings us to the end of the first part of this four part series about advanced learning techniques. The next three installments have already been written and will be released at a rate of one per week over the next three weeks.
Next week’s installment is called The Tricks of Record Breaking Memory Holders and discusses some of the most important and easy to remember memory and recall enhancement methods used by world record breaking memory holders. More importantly, the methods explained are the ones that will enable you to develop your own mnemonics.
In the meantime, if you want to follow your own path then I highly recommend you checkout a few books by Tony Buzan, Dominic O’Brian and Roger Von Oech. Remember to select your location to get a better delivery price.