29 Sep Have to master a new job skill? Learn how to do it faster.
Carving out time to learn new job skills on top of your existing job responsibilities can be a challenge. So making the most of limited learning opportunities is essential.
“More learning is happening outside classrooms these days than in any classroom,” says Robert Bjork. He is a psychology professor and co-head of the Bjork Learning and Forgetting Lab at UCLA. “Knowing how to learn effectively is the ultimate survival tool.”
Here are eight ways you can learn and retain more knowledge more quickly:
Use flash cards or a similar device that forces you to retrieve the information you’ve studied. “That very act of testing yourself and retrieving information is about the most powerful learning activity we know,” Bjork says. “It doesn’t just reveal if the information or procedures are in your memory. It makes it much more recallable in the future.” It’s much more effective than merely reading and re-reading information.
Space out your learning
While you may be tempted to block out a large chunk of time to learn something, it’s better to break it out into small sessions. According to Bjork, coming back to the information in a few hours is better than doing so right away, and coming back to it the next day is even better.
Expand your practice intervals
“With the first learning, you need to practice retrieval fairly often,” says Henry Roediger. He is co-author of “Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning” (Belknap Press, 2014). “As you get to know the information better and better, you can wait longer and longer until you practice again.” Roediger, a professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, has his students study state names and capitals, and tests them periodically throughout the semester. “I get them to learn them all,” Roediger says. “And I tell them, ‘If you practice this once a month for the rest of your life, you’ll know these forever.’”
Switch between study topics
Research shows that if you need to study different related areas – such as different piano pieces, scales or arpeggios – it’s better to mix up your study of the different areas. In the same amount of study time, you’ll learn more. “People’s intuitions tell them that they should work on one thing until they’ve learned it, and then go on to another component, but that’s far from optimal,” Bjork says.
Be attentive when learning the material initially
“The example I give is when you are introduced to someone and a minute later you can’t remember their name,” says Zach Hambrick, a psychology professor and head of the Expertise Lab at Michigan State University. “You think, ‘Oh, I forgot their name already.’ You actually didn’t forget it. You never encoded it in the first place.”
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