The other night while studying I tweeted out the first six words that came to mind as I thought to myself “How can I retain this better”. The concept is really quite simple and I find myself doing these steps for everything I am trying to learn and retain. While everyone learns *best* a certain way, everyone also learns more by being around the material more. I don’t feel I need to explain how to find what way of learning works best for you. Nor am I going to pretend to have a clue how people learn or retain better in any sort of scientific way. I’m simply going to explain my view on my six word study method.
Read, watch, listen, learn, discuss, do!
It’s a simple mantra that you can think about every time you start studying a topic. In fact, you already learn all of these ways throughout the day. The concept here is to apply all six of them to every topic you are focused on studying.
This action seems rather self explanatory as reading is well, ‘fundamental’. There is text for just literally anything you could ever want to learn available to you instantly via the very medium you are reading this on. A quick Google search or Wikipedia discovery will leave you with plenty to read. Not to mention the print and eBooks available on any given topic. However, reading is one of the biggest complains you hear from people trying to learn. I always hear, “I don’t like to read” or “It takes to long to read a book” or “I get bored and distracted reading”. So now that I’ve told you what reading is let me get to my point. “Read” doesn’t have to mean read a book. For example, what I am studying right now has a simple hash tag others have been using to tweet little snippets from their studies. Since we already share a common theme, having a column in Tweetdeck for this hash tag gives me quick, couple sentence learning moments where I can either go “Oh I didn’t know that I should look it up” or “oh yeah, I remember running into that issue/concept”. The point here is, it’s not reading a book and falling asleep with it smothering your face as you nod off. It’s quick 5 seconds bursts of reading that can make a huge impact.
We do this all the time to learn information. Most of us have turned on the weather channel and watched the news. I know a lot of my fellow peers are geeks like me and enjoyed shows like How It’s Made and Mythbusters. A lot of us have ran to a demo at a hardware store to learn how to do a DIY repair at home or on our car. Often we go to Youtube to learn how to do things. Many industries have also moved to Video on Demand and computer based interactive training. These are all great learning materials but there is another quick way to learn by watching. Watch those around you studying the same thing. While this doesn’t work for all areas a lot of actionable areas it does. For example, I often step in colleagues offices to watch how they get something done. This not only gives me a chance to learn but also can help to transition into some of the other learning habits. Besides, we’ve learned a lot of our personal actions from watching our friends and families as we grew up.
While not the most prominent form of learning these days, at least not directly in the way it used to be most of us have been caught listening to the news on the radio. We’ve all been caught paying attention to the sounds of the television even when standing in the other room without a line of sight to it. Of course, you can always listen to lectures, audio books, or seminars at events and discussion groups. Most of us have time to burn on our commutes that we could spin up a podcast about the topics. To keep it interesting listen to a loose podcast or conversation about the topic. If it’s a bit more like friendly banter it’s not as dry to listen too. However, to get to the quick action, listen to others around you on the same topic. If you are at work and learning something in your own time that others do, listen. If it’s at school, join a study group, or listen to side bar conversations in the hallway. I know it sounds trivial but most of the time we don’t take simply listening to noise around us as an option for learning and retention.
If you are still reading at this point I am guessing you are going. What an idiot. A study strategy with “Learn” as one of it’s actions. Isn’t studying the same thing as learning? In my opinion, no! I fear that the concept of studying alone has been ruined by the shear number of quizzes and tests throughout our lives in the real world. The hardships of making it through high school, a college degree, an HR interview, getting your drivers license, or any of the likes require you to study to pass a test. Unfortunately, most of the time we do just that. Study to pass a test and then let the knowledge slide. So when I bring up learn as an action for studying. It’s to do just that. Learn! Learn what you know, learn what you don’t know, and learn how to retain it. To test if we’ve learned it or memorized it we can use the next action.
This has to be my favorite way of determining weather I’ve truly learned something or if I’ve just memorized a fact. Also, it often times is the most fun. In fact, it lets you LISTEN and LEARN at the same times. Sometimes it even leads to WATCHing some DO something. If you can confidently (without second guessing your though processes while speaking) explain what you are studying and learning to someone you have most likely not just memorized a fact. If you simply say, it works because it does without actually being able to explain it, you’ve got room to improve. To me this is the most fun. If I’m right, I’m helping someone else learn, if I’m wrong, I get an opportunity to learn from someone else. And it’s all revolving around the topic I am studying. The best part is I have these all the time with what I like to call Coaster Challenges or Scotch Talks. A colleague of mine will stop out for a drink (orange juice of course) after work and because of their eagerness to learn, and mine to validate what I’ve learned, we will often draw out a diagram on a paper coaster (or napkin) and challenge with a question about it. We then get to discuss and learn. To me it’s just fun.
This is simple. Do it. You are learning something. Maybe you are learning to build a dog house. Go do it. Anyone can learn a theory. Not everyone can accomplish what the theory is covering. I guarantee you that you have glanced through the instructions for something quickly and went “I got this, just do this then that, easy peasy”. Only I know you ended up missing a step and back tracking, struggling through it. Repetition in doing a task is a very good way to help it set in. If you think about it, you’ve gotten very good at tightening up those laces on your shoes, so much in fact you can do it in the dark without any thought process. That’s because you’ve fully learned how to do it, and have done it enough that you’ve got it down pat. If you are studying anything there is opportunity to do it. Ask a psychology student, I bet you they will tell you they sit in coffee shops and apply the principles they are learning.
For the Too Long Didn’t Read of this article (yes I’m being mean and putting it at the bottom, you are trying to learn better): You can take small actions constantly to help learn and retain information. If you do these consistently and consciously it should help you learn and retain better.