The UCLA magazine has an interesting quick read on how to learn better, covering work by the Psychology Department’s R Bjork. Yes, this is a shameless plug for the Psych department where I earned my Ph.D. In a nutshell (or cranium as the case may be):
- Space the learning. Don’t try to cram it in the night before, look at the material a couple of times, maybe a few days apart.
- Work it. The harder the brain has to work at something, the more likely we are to remember it, so try to recall, don’t just immediately look it up online. Push yourself.
- Recast it. Summarize what you’ve heard or seen in your own words, ideally just after. This is more effective than just transcribing what you’ve seen (see #2!)
- Move around. If you usually read/study in one place, move to another from time to time. The very experience of a change of scene can aid learning.
- Switch it up. If you are studying something complex, it is useful to move across concepts rather than studying straight through on one and then moving on to another. Making the brain do those mental jigs and jags stimulates it and embeds the learning. For example: don’t study just the next set of verbs in a language then later the next set of nouns, mix back and forth.
- Test yourself. Sorry but it appears to be true: being put to the test galvanizes the brain. Dr. Bjork: “When you’re tested, you do more than just reveal what you know; you make that information more recallable in the future”. So there is a strong benefit of testing.
Since I’ve recently taken up golf and studying Italian, I can vouch for the efficacy of these tools. Ciao, baby.