How can you become a quick learner if you’re a slow learner?
If you’re think you learn pretty quickly, can you learn even quicker?
Here’s the fact:
Yes, you can. And there are plenty of scientific studies that say so, too.
Try these 9 useful techniques, starting today…
1. Improve Your Focus and Time Management Skills
Studies have shown time and time again that multi-tasking, or not focusing completely on what you’re learning, makes you learn less, retain what you
do learn for shorter periods, and ultimately, learn at a slower pace.
However, being able to fully focus on a task is a skill that is rapidly declining in today’s world full of electronics and advertisements.
One way to improve your focus is to use the popular Pomodoro technique. Of course, this works best when you’re working independently, like when you’re studying or working by yourself.
The technique helps you focus and learn better by breaking your learning time into manageable chunks of time (known as “sets”). Each set typically lasts for about 25 minutes, and you use a timer to set the start and end times.
How to do it:
- Set a timer (Here’s an online timer to use) and work on your task (i.e., study) until the time is up.
Eliminate possible distractions. Mute your cell phone, step away from the computer, close Facebook, put a sign on your door that says “Come back in __ minutes”, etc.
When the time is up, put a checkmark on a piece of paper. If you have less than 4 checkmarks, take a short (3-5 minute) break. Repeat Step 1.
- After you have 4 checkmarks, take a longer break – between 15-30 minutes. Then, if you want to continue, reset your check marks to zero, and start all over again.
Why This Works
In addition to eliminating the multi-tasking and reducing distractions, it helps you get around Parkinson’s Law, which says that “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion”.
Basically, if you give yourself 3 days to complete a project, Parkinson’s Law says that you’ll take 3 days to finish it.
Give yourself 8 hours to finish the same project, and you’re likely to focus, get to work, and finish it in 8 hours.
Since it’s hard to fully focus our attention on any one thing for an extended period of time, dividing your time into 25-minute chunks of time and using that time to completely focus helps you become a quick learner.
2. Fix Your Beliefs
There have been so many studies showing the power of beliefs and thoughts on performance.
Carol Dweck, PhD, became very popular when she published research that showed how students that had a “growth mindset” (believing that they could increase their intelligence) actually increased their intelligence, whereas those who believed that intelligence was something you were just born with (not changeable) did not improve on tests or performance.
It boils down to the fact that whatever it is you believe (or think), it’s likely that that will become your reality.
Your brain always wants to prove itself to be correct. If you believe “All people are evil”, you will subconsciously notice all the evil things people do in the world while simultaneously not noticing all the good that people do.
Use this to your advantage. Here’s how:
If you think, “This is too hard. I’ll never learn this”, change it to “This is nothing. I can learn this quickly and easily”.
And back it up, too. Think of a time in your life when you learned something quickly and easily. Find more examples from your past, too.
Convince yourself of how capable and easily you can learn things when you want to. The evidence is already there – just take some time to remember and find it.
3. Do It
There are two parts to “Doing it” that will help you become a quick learner.
Actively move and participate
I like scientific studies (can you tell?), and once again, studies show that actively participating – doing – makes you learn faster and retain information longer than if you passively sit and read a book or watch a video or listen to a lecture.
So, find a way to make whatever it is you’re learning into an active activity.
Here are some tips:
Turn what you’re learning into a song and sing it, chant it, and dance around while singing or chanting it.
Grab some playdough or some paper or some scraps (or paper clips even!) that are laying around the house/office and build a model to illustrate what it is you’re learning.
Draw a picture to illustrate the ideas you’re learning.
Assign one idea to each body part.
For example, say I want to learn the steps of the Krebs cycle, which looks like this:
I am right-handed, so I start with my right hand.
My right hand is “pyruvate” (step 1). And I learn about pyruvate. Now when I look or move my right hand, I think about “pyruvate” and all that accompanying info.
Then I move to step 2: Acetyl-CoA. Acetyl-CoA is my right arm. When I look at or think about my right arm, I remember “Acetyl-CoA” and the info that goes with that.
And I do that, moving around my body, assigning steps of the cycle to body parts.
There are lots of different memory tricks and mnemonic tricks you can use, so do an Internet search, find some that work for you, and use them.
The point is to turn info from just words and ideas flowing AT you into real things that you can use or manipulate or act out or DO. Employ this tip, and you’ll be a quick learner in no time.
We usually stop ourselves from learning new things for one of two reasons:
“This might not work”
People like to be right, and they tend to want others to see them favorably.
Sometimes, when faced with a new task or with learning something new, we’re afraid that we’ll fail, that we’ll be embarrassed, that we’ll be perceived as ‘stupid’ or ‘inept’ or a host of other negative labels or feelings.
“This might work”
Humans are beings tend to love comfort and familiarity.
When you learn something new, things might change, and change can be scary.
“Maybe I’ll get promoted, and then I’ll be in a position of power and have to meet and deal with new people“. “Maybe I’ll start to see things a different way, then maybe I’ll alienate myself from my friends“.
There are a lot of reasons why someone might not want to learn because it just might work out.
To stop yourself from procrastinating, it helps if you sit down and figure out why you want to delay taking action.
If it’s just because what you’re doing seems boring and mundane, find a way to make it interesting. Or do it first thing in the morning so you can get it out of the way.
If it’s something related to “this might work”, find the pain point and work out a solution that works for you.
For example, if you’re afraid of looking stupid in front of someone else, look at all the people in history who failed miserably (and publicly), but then went on to be the best in their field.
Find the evidence you need to prove your belief wrong, then choose to think or believe something that’s more empowering, like “Failure is necessary for success”, or “I have to get through (50?) failures before I will succeed….I can do that”.
Life is full of cycles. There’s good, then there’s bad; there’s failure, then there’s success; there’s birth and then there’s death.
It’s kind of like a pendulum that swings back and forth. You can’t just have one. You must experience both. That is life.
4. Figure out what type of learner you are, then employ those learning strategies
There are people who learn best through seeing, others learn best through hearing, and some learn best through feeling. You can find out more about that here.
Find out what kind of learner you are, then employ those strategies to learn new things.
It makes no sense to sit and listen to audio lectures on your iPod 20 times if you’re not an auditory learner and don’t remember things that you hear.
Here’s a test to help you figure out your learning style, along with tips to make the most of it to learn faster and easier.
5. Use Memory Techniques
There are a lot of different memory techniques and tricks that you can use to quickly and easily remember things.
I mentioned one (above) where you assign different elements of what you’re trying to learn to body parts, or objects laying around a familiar room, or buildings on a street you know well.
Then, when it’s time to recall what you learned, think of the body part (or object or building….). It does work!
Another one is to make up a story.
For example, say I wanted to remember something simple, like the name of a guy I just met. His name is Richard, so I make up a memorable story.
Richard reminds me of the story I heard about Richard the Lionhearted, so I imagine a crown sitting on this guy’s head.
I could even elaborate and come up with a long, convoluted story that I now associate with this guy’s clothes or how he walks, how he talks, etc.
Now when I see this guy, I’m going to automatically think of Richard the Lionhearted and remember that his name is Richard.
If you want to, you can do an online search for memory tricks. There’s a lot to choose from.
6. Reward Yourself
People do what they need to a lot faster and quicker when they know there’s a reward in store when they finish.
If you can hold yourself accountable (and be honest with yourself), set up a reward system for each step along the way.
Use small rewards for small accomplishments you make along the way, and create a big reward for when you complete your goal.
And of course, you’ll need a place to write down your goals so you can keep track of what you’ve accomplished as you go. I use Strides.
7. Teach Someone Else
One of the fastest ways to learn something is to try to teach it to someone else. If you learn something, try teaching it to a friend, or your child, or if there really is no one in your life, stand in front of a mirror and try teaching it to an imaginary class.
You’ll quickly realize any gaps that you’re missing, and it’ll help you learn it quickly.
8. Take Time to Reflect
Reflection is a huge part of learning.
It’s how your brain is wired, actually.
Your brain creates new neurons and new connections when you learn something new or make a new decision. If what you learn or what you decide turns out to be wrong, your brain suppresses those connections so that it has room for new connections and new learning. It’s a self-correcting organ!
Take time regularly to review what you’ve done and what you’ve learned from it. It makes learning “stick”, and it really helps you learn more.
9. Use the Pareto Principle
The Pareto Principle is an idea that Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) came up with when he observed that 80% of Italy’s land was owned by 20% of the population. Then he started looking elsewhere and found the same thing.
Then he applied it to other things, like economics, and found similar distributions. That’s when he came up with what’s known as the “Pareto Principle”, also called the “80/20 Rule”.
This can apply to learning, too.
When you’re learning, about 80% of the things you do are ineffective while 20% really pay off. The trick is to analyze what you do, find what really works for you, then cut out all the ineffective techniques and time-wasters.
When you learn something new, do you sit and try to memorize flashcards? Do you read and re-read your books? What do you do when you’re trying to learn?
Figure out the 20% that works well for you – the things you do that help you learn quickly and easily. Eliminate all those other techniques that are arduous, time-wasting, and don’t really help you learn, anyway.
What Do You Think?What are your favorite techniques for becoming a quick learner? Share in the comments below.
- Work on Focus and Time
Why This Works
- Fix Your Beliefs
- Do It
- Figure out what type of learner you are, then employ those learning strategies
- Use Memory Techniques
- Reward Yourself
- Teach Someone Else
- Take Time to Reflect
- Use the Pareto Principle