Fortunately, learning and learning to learn well, will always be one of the most valuable skills in your personal and professional life. My point is to start building these skills as soon as possible, preferably when you are still a student.
Fast and effective learning is a skill for life and we could talk about it for days. However, to get you started here are 5 powerful tips on how to learn more, how to learn well and how to learn effectively.
1. The foundation: a productivity system
Let’s face it, without a solid foundation there is no way you can expect to build new skills and form new habits. My first tip therefore is to adopt a productivity system (like GTD). You need to develop the habit of consistent and effective note-taking, you need to have a clean, uncluttered desk to study at, you need a system for storing reference material and tracking your (learning) projects. I strongly suggest following this important tip, because it will make everything else (including learning) more efficient and effective. Speaking from my own experience: GTD by David Allen has provided this much needed foundation in my life.
You probably need or want to read a lot of offline and online material as well. But you only have so much time to do it. This is where my second tip comes in. Practice speedreading to read smarter and faster, while improving your comprehension! I have written about speedreading extensively but it boils down to: get to “know” the material you’re about to read, decide which parts of it you are going to read, and when you are actually reading: keep your eyes moving at a steady, perhaps increasing, pace without stopping at every word and definitely without ever rereading a single phrase. These tricks alone should double your reading speed very soon.
3. Think and work on paper
There is no question that pen and paper are the most underrated productivity and learning tools around. It will get things off your mind and make room for more creative thinking. Use your own shorthand and notational system to highlight important facts and actions in the material you’re learning. Condense, memorize and review the material you’ve learned by creating mindmaps. Forget about trusting your mind or your computer, think and work on paper to learn better and effectively.
4. Use multisensory techniques
This tip is all about discovering your preferred learning style and leveraging it to make learning more fun and more effective. You have to figure out for yourself if you are more of a visual learner, an auditory learner or a kinesthetic/tactile learner. Information will be absorbed by your brain much quicker and much more effective if you use your preferred learning style. To enhance your learning experience even further, combine your preferred learning style with the other ones. For instance, writing things down combines the visual and tactile learning styles. Reading things aloud to yourself combines the visual and auditory learning styles.
5. Allow your brain to absorb new stuff
Everybody has a certain learning rhythm. Some learn best in the early hours of the morning, others learn best late at night. Figure out which rhythm and time frame suits you best and use this to maximize your learning ability. However, you must frequently give your brain time to absorb the new stuff that you are learning. The best way is to “sleep on it” and the second best way is to take frequent breaks and do something completely different.