Absorbing and understanding new information is a challenging, but worthwhile process. If you want to become a more effective learner, we have five practical tips to help you.
1. Create a study station
Ideally, your study station should be a relatively quiet space with good lighting, a supportive chair, and all the study materials you require. This could include pens, paper, textbooks, highlighters, notes, and more. Your study station can be as basic or as elaborate as you need it to be, so long as it’s equipped with everything you need in order to learn. Eventually, you will start to associate the space with learning, and studying will come more naturally to you in that space.
2. Set goals to stay motivated
Procrastination is the big, common obstacle to effective learning. With limitless distractions, dips in energy, life’s unpredictability and loss of focus, it can be difficult to stay consistently motivated. Setting goals and incentives for yourself can help increase and maintain motivation.
Remind yourself why you’re learning what you’re learning and keep that goal in mind. Write it down and then set smaller, more attainable goals to mark your progress in achieving it.
3. Find your best learning method, and practise it
There are many different learning methods and techniques. Some people learn using colours, images and mind maps; others find music and hearing information to be more helpful.
Find out whether you have a predominantly visual, verbal, auditory, or sensory memory, and then study accordingly. Try different techniques. Ask someone to test you on the information you need to know. Try explaining or describing a concept you’ve learnt in your own words. Teach it to someone else. You might even learn more effectively in a study group.
4. Examine your lifestyle
A healthy lifestyle is integral to effective learning. Getting enough sleep, exercise and nutrients can make a big difference to your physical and mental energy levels, which affect the way you learn.
Nutritious foods and snacks
Nutritious foods and snacks include fruits, nuts and vegetables. Make sure that you eat regularly and have a decent breakfast in the morning, like oats or muesli, to keep yourself nourished and alert while you learn.
Go for a walk or a run – or stretch or dance – to get your blood flowing every hour or so while you study. This will rejuvenate your focus, particularly when you’re spending long hours sitting and reading.
Water and fresh air
An over-reliance on caffeine and sugar can negatively affect your energy levels and focus. While these can be helpful in the short-term, you should be careful not to overdo it. To keep your mental energy at its best, drink lots of water, get enough fresh air and take deep breaths.
5. Draw up a schedule
The mind learns more effectively when it’s alert and not tired, so schedule your study sessions well in advance. It can be helpful to use a big calendar – stick it up on a wall and highlight your study times. In this way, you lay out a detailed study plan, and you know in advance how long your study sessions will be. By structuring your time, a study schedule helps you avoid the tendency to cram information and sacrifice sleep. Time management is critical to becoming a more effective learner.