Do You Know How to Learn Well

Do you know how to learn well?  How much time is being wasted?

Perhaps in school, we had some good habits and  grades reflected our mastery of learning the topics.

In school, however, it was a matter, mostly, of learning from a textbook, memorizing and regurgitating it on in an exam.  In college, it was a matter of regurgitating the information gathered in a paper and on exams.  However, except for certain subjects such as the sciences or some of the arts programs, there was no hands on practical application of what had been learned.

Into adulthood and onto the job, slowly but surely  life became rushed as responsibility upon responsibility was piled into your life.  But we still had to learn new things to keep up.  There were no exams.  There were reports to do – the difference – application. More and more, rushing through things became the norm.

Combine “rush” and “learning” and there’s a recipe for “skimming”.  Skimming in the sense that when in a classroom or seminar, there is a tendency to text, answer emails on the laptop or surf the net, think about solving the problems at work or at home and to be, therefore, not really present. 

Present, attentive and understanding the application of what is being taught are absent in most of today’s learning experiences.  See the man running with the books – that’s how most people’s minds are sitting in a room – how well is it working?  The books are flying off the pile aren’t they?  And that’s knowledge acquired through the maze of thoughts going through a brain while trying to absorb something new – it won’t happen (books flying off the pile) or some information will be retained, however, the chances are the knowledge will have to be reviewed.  What will this man have to do?  Back track – he’ll have to go back and pick up the books that fell along the path – a waste of time and energy.

In terms of wasted time, it’s tremendous.  Why?  Generally, learning in adulthood is related to an application – something required on the job such as new software or new systems or changes in the company.  If a person is not paying attention in the learning environnment, then it will have to be learned again some other way – by wasting colleagues’ time, wasting time trying to plow through it with a manual, making errors and having to correct the errors, possibly getting more and more confused because the questions were not asked, a step was missed, or simply no real learning was possible because of the distractions which were taking up the attention required to learn.

So, how do you learn well and stop wasting time?  Here are   some tips:

  1. prepare the brain just prior to the lecture, seminar, training, etc. by calming it down.  A calm brain works well.  We need to take an attitude of acceptance that today, between such and such hours, we need to pay attention and absorb as much as possible without any distractions.
  2. gather the material needed:  course outline, two or three pens, paper to write on, bottle of water, lunch if required or a snack (we do get so hungry when we’re learning, don’t we?) and any other material required for the course.  Shut off  cell phones or PDAs or laptops at least an hour before the training and put them away in a zippered part of your bag so the access will be more difficult.  It’s a good idea to take that time to look at the course outline, read something about the program or the books or learning material sent to ahead of time. 
  3. arrive early and finding a seat we like to set the “atmosphere“. 
  4. pay attention, make notes, ask questions, get as many details as possible.  One of the things we don’t do is ask enough questions because we think that when we’re asking about details, we’ll seem foolish. In actual fact, others will likely appreciate the question being asked – they have missed it or it’s a good review.  We should make sure we understand what is being taught so at breaks, we can use the time to  write a couple of paragraphs about what you have learned.  Anything we’ve missed will become evident.  We can then ask the questions during or after the break to make sure we have a thorough understanding.  The more ways we absorb the information, the better –  auditory (listening to the instructor), tactile (taking notes), visual (drawing diagrams or visualizing it in the mind, notes, reading), recitation (writing a paragraph or more about what we’ve learned to see if there are any gaps in our learning) and any other techniques that work particularly well for our style of learning. 
  5. apply the knowledge as soon after the learning as possible.  The sooner we can apply new knowledge, the easier it will be to use.  Use it or lose it!


Lorraine Arams

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