Learning new skills or knowledge can be challenging, especially if you have to follow strict rules or guidelines. Sometimes, the best way to learn is by doing, experimenting, and making mistakes.
This is what the famous inventor and entrepreneur Richard Branson meant when he said, “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.”
But how exactly does learning by doing work? And what are some of the best strategies to learn anything faster and better?
How to Learn Anything Faster: 5 Effective Strategies
In this article, we will explore 5 effective methods that are backed by neuroscience and psychology research. These methods are:
- Active learning
- Spaced repetition
- Retrieval practice
1. Active Learning
Active learning is a process of engaging with the material you are learning, rather than passively absorbing it. Active learning can involve asking questions, summarizing, explaining, applying, or creating something based on what you learned.
Active learning helps you to deepen your understanding, retain more information, and transfer your knowledge to new situations.
The benefit of active learning is that it activates multiple brain regions, such as the prefrontal cortex, the hippocampus, and the cerebellum which are involved in executive functions, memory formation, and motor skills, respectively.
By stimulating these regions, active learning enhances your cognitive abilities and improves your neural connections.
A study by Freeman et al. (2014) found that students who participated in active learning activities in STEM courses had higher exam scores and lower failure rates than those who received traditional lectures.
The researchers estimated that active learning could increase student performance by 0.47 standard deviations, which is equivalent to raising a C+ grade to a B.
Some examples of active learning activities are:
- Taking notes by hand, rather than typing or copying.
- Making flashcards or mind maps to review the key concepts.
- Teaching someone else what you learned, or explaining it to yourself out loud.
- Solving problems or exercises that require you to apply what you learned.
- Creating a project or a product that demonstrates your learning.
2. Spaced Repetition
Spaced repetition is a technique of reviewing the material you learned at optimal intervals, rather than cramming it all at once.
Spaced repetition helps you to overcome the forgetting curve, which is the tendency of human memory to decay over time.
By spacing out your reviews, you can strengthen your memory traces and consolidate your learning.
The advantage of spaced repetition is that it exploits the spacing effect, which is the phenomenon that information is better remembered when it is repeated over a long period of time, rather than a short one.
The spacing effect is explained by the theory of memory consolidation, which states that memories are initially fragile and susceptible to interference, but become more stable and resistant to interference over time.
A study by Cepeda et al. (2006) found that students who spaced out their reviews of foreign vocabulary words over 56 days had higher retention rates than those who reviewed them over 14 days or 28 days.
The researchers calculated that the optimal spacing interval for long-term retention was 10-20% of the desired retention interval.
For example, if you want to remember something for a year, you should review it every 1-2 months.
Some examples of spaced repetition tools are:
- Anki, a flashcard app that uses a spaced repetition algorithm to schedule your reviews.
- SuperMemo, a software that pioneered the spaced repetition method and offers various courses and materials.
- Quizlet, a platform that allows you to create and share flashcards, quizzes, and games.
- Duolingo, a language learning app that uses spaced repetition to help you learn new words and phrases.
Interleaving is a technique of mixing up different topics or types of problems, rather than studying them in blocks or categories.
Interleaving helps you to improve your discrimination, generalization, and transfer skills, which are essential for learning complex and diverse subjects.
The benefit of interleaving is that it challenges your brain to switch between different mental modes, rather than relying on the same one, eventually forcing you to pay more attention, make more connections, and apply more strategies, thus enhancing your learning and problem-solving abilities.
A study by Rohrer and Taylor (2007) found that students who interleaved different types of math problems had higher test scores than those who practiced them in blocks.
The researchers suggested that interleaving helped the students to learn how to select and apply the appropriate formula for each problem, rather than relying on the previous one.
Some examples of interleaving strategies are:
- Studying different subjects or topics in a random order, rather than following a fixed sequence.
- Practicing different skills or techniques in a varied manner, rather than repeating the same one.
- Solving different kinds of problems or questions that require different approaches, rather than similar ones.
4. Retrieval Practice
Retrieval practice is a technique of recalling the material you learned from memory, rather than re-reading or re-watching it.
Retrieval practice helps you to enhance your memory, comprehension, and metacognition skills, which are crucial for effective learning and performance.
The advantage of retrieval practice is that it activates the testing effect, which is the phenomenon that information is better remembered when it is tested, rather than restudied.
The testing effect is explained by the theory of memory reconsolidation, which states that memories are reactivated and updated when they are retrieved, making them more accessible and durable.
A study by Roediger and Karpicke (2006) found that students who tested themselves on a passage after reading it had higher recall rates than those who restudied it or did nothing.
The researchers also found that the testing effect was stronger after a week than after a few minutes, indicating that retrieval practice enhanced long-term retention.
Some examples of retrieval practice activities are:
- Taking quizzes or tests that assess your knowledge or skills.
- Answering questions or prompts that require you to recall or explain what you learned.
- Writing summaries or outlines of the main points or arguments of what you learned.
- Using the Feynman technique, which involves explaining a concept in simple terms, as if to a child.
Feedback is a process of receiving information or guidance about your learning or performance, either from yourself or from others. Feedback helps you to identify your strengths and weaknesses, correct your errors, and improve your outcomes.
One of the advantage of feedback is that it provides you with the opportunity to learn from your mistakes, rather than repeating them.
Feedback also helps you to monitor your progress, adjust your strategies, and set your goals, which increase your motivation and self-regulation skills.
A study by Hattie and Timperley (2007) proposed a model of feedback that consists of four levels: task, process, self-regulation, and self.
The researchers argued that feedback should address three questions: Where am I going? (the goal), How am I going? (the progress), and Where to next? (the action).
They also suggested that feedback should be specific, timely, and actionable, rather than vague, delayed, or irrelevant.
Some examples of feedback sources are:
- Self-assessment, which involves evaluating your own learning or performance, using criteria, rubrics, or checklists.
- Peer feedback, which involves exchanging feedback with your classmates, colleagues, or friends, using comments, ratings, or reviews.
- Expert feedback, which involves receiving feedback from your teachers, mentors, or coaches, using grades, scores, or advice.
- Automated feedback, which involves using technology or software to provide feedback, using algorithms, analytics, or artificial intelligence.
Learning by doing is not only a fun and engaging way to learn, but also a powerful and effective one. By applying the 5 strategies discussed in this article, you can learn anything faster and better, and achieve your learning goals.
Remember, learning is not a passive or linear process, but an active and dynamic one. You don’t learn by following rules, you learn by doing, and by falling over. And by getting up, and doing it again.
What are some of the things that you want to learn by doing? Share your thoughts in the comments below.