How To Get (Even) Better At Learning

How To Get (Even) Better At Learning

by Rudy Bier in career
Medical Devices is a field where constant learning is a requirement of success. 

However, how good a learner are you? You are degree educated and possibly post grad qualified too with an impressive IQ. Your smarts are what got you through school and university and into this industry full of other bright minds.  

However, is this belief in your innate intelligence holding you back from being even better at your job? Alternatively, is your concern about having a lower intrinsic intelligence level than your peers blinding you to your potential to outstrip them? 
In both cases, quite possibly.  

Intriguingly, studies show that people who put real thought into the process of learning — who practice and strategize about how to be a better learner— will master skills and information 15% more effectively than those relying only on their innate intelligence to learn. 

How well you learn is not necessarily based on how intelligent you are. How strategically you approach learning is often the determinant of your success. 
So here are some tips on learning how to get EVEN better at learning. 

1. Be critical about your own thinking. 

Critical thinking about someone else’s theory is one thing. However, being critical about your own thinking process and level of understanding is something else entirely.  

We often think we understand a topic when in truth, our level of understanding is sketchy. Albert Einstein is attributed with the quote that ‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough’.  

Moreover, when we don’t understand something fully, it’s very unlikely we’ll ever master the concept, and there’s an excellent chance we’ll forget the new information altogether or misremember it when explaining it to someone else.  

Most of us don’t spend enough time thinking about our thinking. We settle for a cursory knowledge of something and move onto the next topic. We settle.  

The ‘greats’ of science do not settle for anything less than a comprehensive understanding that allows them to make the next cognitive leap.  

So get better at this meta-cognition by asking yourself:  

  • How well do I really understand this topic?
  • Could I explain it to an undergraduate or high school science class?  
  • Do I need to practice this skill or competency more before moving forward to the next thing?  
  • Do I have enough background information to truly have an informed opinion on what I’ve just learnt?  

Start noticing when you’re thinking becomes a bit ‘woolly’ or lazy, and you’ll soon notice your thought process become sharper, and your memory for the things you learn becomes much more retentive. 


2. Know what you want to learn and set goals to make it happen.  

Your mind is always going to be more receptive if you go into a situation focussed and knowing what it is you want to learn.  

When you sit down and read a paper out of interest only, it is a different learning experience than when you have some ‘skin in the game’, such as when the information is relevant to your own research, or you are going to have to brief your team leader or client later.  

Of course, some learning is inadvertent - you couldn’t have known what was in the journal article before you read it, for example — but when you are tasked with mastering a new skill or body of research, it helps enormously to come up with a strategy on what you want to learn, how you are going to learn it, and set goals along the way.  

3. Allow the information to sink in at leisure (or while you sleep) 

Why is it we have all our great ideas when we’re in the shower, out for a walk, or in that hazy moment between wakefulness and sleep?  

The brain needs times of relaxation to sort through and file the information we pour into it, so ensure that you aren’t working all hours of day and night as you will become less effective at high cognitive tasks.  

Schedule calm times and take breaks between 1-hour study sessions, and you’ll find you learn more effectively.  

Remember, sleep is imperative and has been proven to consolidate memory, so ensure you’re getting enough sleep. 

As this study reveals, you should sleep between learning sessions to maximise the impact. 

4. Learn actively, not passively (and put down the highlighter) 

Most of us have been guilty at some time or another of reading and, highlighting information as a way to remember something; unfortunatley this doesn’t always produce the results we want. 

A better way to learn is to make notes ‘in your own words’ so your brain is forced to engage with the information and to then discuss it with someone soon after learning it. 

If there’s no-one around to talk to, risk looking a bit foolish and have a discussion out loud with yourself. 

5. Mix your study ritual up a little 

It’s not uncommon to feel that we ‘learn better’ in specific environments or with certain instruments. You might have a favourite studying spot at the library or work, or a favourite pen and paper to write with or a new app on your ipad. These become your learning traditions, where learning takes place in a comfortable, predictable environment.  

The problem is, with comfort comes complacency. When you mix things up a little, your brain will immediately be more alert. 
So find a different library or a different desk, study at a different time of day, or use a pen and paper instead of a computer to work on a stubborn problem.  

Which of these learning strategies do you already utilise? And which tips can you start implementing today?  

Until next time,  


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