The learning process can be slow. In this post, we explore 10 simple techniques that can help you master a new skill quickly — whether you’re picking up a new skill, trying your hand at a hobby, or exploring an interest.
We all learn slightly differently. However, you prefer to learn — there’s something for everyone in the list of simple techniques below.
If you’re working on a new skill, you can’t underestimate the power of putting pen to paper. While you might type faster than you write, noting down important points can improve your understanding of the subject matter.
According to a 2014 study at Princeton University, handwritten notes can help you to listen more actively, enabling you to extract the key takeaways and recall the information later on.
2. Take regular breaks
While it may sound like counter-intuitive advice, taking regular breaks can help you to learn more quickly. Recent research published in Current Biology suggests that, when you’re learning a physical skill, most improvements take place during the breaks between practice sessions.
Learning in short bursts over a longer period of time encourages your brain to hold on to information, as it encounters it regularly. Taking a break every 15 minutes or so can be immensely effective, but studying consistently over a few months helps too, rather than cramming right up to a deadline.
3. Say it out loud
According to a study from 2010, speaking aloud can improve memory function. For example, we tend to remember our conversations more clearly than our thoughts, as the latter were not spoken out loud.
Since speech improves memory, you’re likely to learn things more quickly if you discuss them with a colleague or friend. However, you can achieve the same effect on your own by writing small summaries of your learning material and reading them out loud.
4. Take a test
There are plenty of studies which show the timeless method of self-testing to be a valuable tool when learning a new skill. Try finding example test questions and quizzes around your chosen topic (or write your own) and answer them without checking your books. This will speed up your learning in two ways:
When you answer a question right, you strengthen the memory of that information and your confidence grows.
When you get a question wrong, you remember your error. Next time you encounter that question, you’re more likely to recall the correct answer.
5. Teach someone else
Also known as the protégé effect, learning by teaching is a great way to master a new skill or subject. Teaching a peer will force you to break the information down into small, manageable chunks, so a fresh pair of eyes with no prior knowledge can comprehend it.
This method is especially useful for auditory and kineasthetic learners, as explaining or demonstrating your knowledge helps to reinforce your own understanding. You might also encounter some areas you don’t feel confident teaching — so you can identify which topics you need to spend more time on too.
6. Switch it up
You may also find that changing your learning methods as you go can help you to learn faster. For example, try adding alternative methods of learning to your routine on different days, so you don’t end up repeating the same practice again and again.
You could spend one session reading about your chosen skill and writing up the key points, and another creating a presentation to deliver these points to someone else or watching a how-to video on YouTube. Changing your learning methods like this should help to keep you interested, and also encourages you to plan your learning.
7. Start somewhere familiar
When starting a new topic, you might find it easier to understand if you relate that information to something you already know. By attaching new theories or facts to a concept you already understand, you’re treating it as an extension, which will make you more likely to remember it.
For example, if you’re learning a language and you know a few simple words or phrases already, try and use any new vocabulary in conjunction with those terms. You might know how to say “hello” in French, so you could learn to ask, “how are you?” as a natural follow up, rather than a different, unrelated question.
8. Use mnemonic devices
Mnemonic devices are another handy learning technique, which involve creating a pattern or association that helps you to recall specific information. These devices can take the form of just about anything — from songs and poems to acronyms or visualisations.
Mnemonics can seem a bit complicated at first, but it’s likely you’ve used them often in the past without realising. For instance, singing the alphabet, remembering North, East, South and West as ‘never eat shredded wheat’, or spelling ‘necessary’ by thinking of a t-shirt with one collar and two sleeves.
9. Get plenty of sleep
That’s right — getting a good night’s sleep has a significant effect on how well you retain any information you learned on the same day. Research suggests that there’s a direct link between REM sleep, Slow Wave Sleep and the strengthening of memories, so if you’re sleep-deprived, your memory could be negatively impacted.
While it might be tempting to cram in a few extra hours of revision or practise before bedtime, it could be a wasted effort if you’re sacrificing sleep. How you spend your time when you’re not learning can be just as important as your chosen learning methods.
10. Take a short course
A short course is a great way to pick up a new skill quickly. Learning from an expert is always an advantage, and teachers can often identify your own learning preferences and adapt their style to suit you.
Plus, short courses are often designed with fast learning in mind. Many of these techniques will already be implemented into the curriculum of a short course, backed up with a plethora of information about your chosen skill.
There’s never been a better opportunity to try your hand at something new, and with this list of simple learning techniques, you’ll be making steady progress in no time. For more articles and advice about careers, learning, and personal development make sure to visit our blog.