7 Ways to Become More Effective at Learning

By , December 5, 2012 11:02 pm

“You are the product of your learning. Everything you know, everything you can do and everything you believe, you have learnt.” 

Peter Honey, Author and Speaker.

“I love learning, but I want to read and learn everything.  I feel overwhelmed with all that I want to do, and would like to work out how I can get a better balance with the time I spend learning and doing everything else, and how I should maybe plan how and when I learn.” – A Coaching Client.

I was asked this week for coaching advice from someone who loves to learn, but she was overwhelmed with learning and frightened of becoming obsessed with the feeling of not knowing enough.

The feeling of not knowing enough is common, and it’s reinforced by the abundance of tools and information that is readily available today. Many of us buy learning materials without really having any plan of how we intend to use them. They gather dust on the shelf, as we rush back to our reactive and often chaotic busy lives.  

There’s so much information and inspiration out there, especially with instant access to content just a credit card click away on the Internet. It’s easy to be drawn into buying every book and online workshop available.

You end up with information overload and overwhelm.

You may have invested money in your learning but you’ve forgotten about  two other important key investments: Your time and your attitude towards learning.

Here are some tips on how to apply your learning instead of becoming a victim of Shelf Help Overwhelm!

1. Plan your learning – Set clear learning goals. What do you want to learn? Why do you want to learn it? What difference will it make to you personally or/and professionally? How important is it for you to learn and apply this knowledge/skill/behaviour? Set time in your schedule each week for Personal Development time. THIS IS IMPORTANT – Give it HIGH VALUE on your agenda (Or you won’t do it!). Choose to learn from one resource at a time. E.g. Read one book (not several books and an online programme all at the same time!).

2. How do you learn best? – Improve your own learning efficiency by understanding how you learn.  I use Honey & Mumford’s learning styles to explain how people can best learn. Using all four styles will ensure that your learning is effective:

  1. Have an experience (Activist) – Jumping in and trying it out – Seeking the challenge and having a go.
  2. Review the experience (Reflector) – Standing back to think, gather data and ponder.
  3. Conclude from the experience (Theorist) – Assimilate facts, theorise and pull together themes.
  4. Plan the next step (Pragmatist) – Seek out and try new ideas and applying a down to earth practical approach.

We all have a preference for one of these in the cycle. If you only learn using your preference, you’ll miss opportunities to learn quicker because you haven’t used the whole learning cycle: Do, Reflect, Conclude and Plan. Use a learning log to ensure that all four elements of learning are covered…

3. Create a learning log – Create a simple learning log or journal to help you apply what you’re learning as you go. Answer these four questions: 1. What was your learning experience? 2. Reflect on the experience – What were you thinking and feeling during the learning? 3. Did you specifically learn?  4. How do you intend to apply this learning to your life/work? (What is your first step?)

4. Use it or lose it! – If you only read it once, you’ll forget it because your brain will eliminate the neural pathway, unless you keep using it. If you want the new information you’ve learned to stick, then you have to make learning a continuous practice (Practice makes permanent). Look for opportunities to keep practicing and rehearsing the information. Re-visit your notes, make an audio to remind you of the key points. Refresh your knowledge.

5. Use multiple ways to learn – Don’t just read books. Engage your senses by listening to podcasts or an audio. Look for verbal and visual ways to learn such as drawing a mind map, watching a video or sharing your knowledge with a friend or an accountability partner. Using different parts of the brain helps you to learn at a deeper level rather just relying on memory recall.

6. Teach other people what you’ve learned – When I learn something new I translate it into my own words, this helps me to understand the information. I then apply it to my coaching or training classes or I might even write a blog post about it! Sharing what you’ve learned with others helps you to imbed the new knowledge in your brain. You help other people in the process!

7. Apply what you’ve learned – Reading and researching is only part of the process, putting new knowledge, skills and behaviours into practice is one of the best ways to learn. Make what you’ve learned real by using it in the ‘real’ world (not just holding it in your head). If you’ve learned about being assertive, then try it out at work or home. Do it imperfectly then use your learning log to build on the experience for next time. Little and often – practice it regularly, form a new habit.

Be deliberate about your learning – Plan, Do, Review, Conclude!

4 Responses to “7 Ways to Become More Effective at Learning”

  1. Great stuff Elaine, I could have done with this reminder a few months ago when I was starting my blog, but in general I need to apply some of this more. I do tend towards gathering as much data as my head can hold, struggling to make use of it effectively and then gathering some more!

    Have a great Christmas
    p.s. Out Christmas tree went up on the 2nd too :D

  2. Maxine says:

    Great Blog Elaine,
    it’s as though it were just written for me :-)
    Thank you.

  3. Elaine says:

    Hi David!

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. It’s so easy to get swept up by all the marketing claims and gathering so much data!

    Have a beautiful Christmas! :)

  4. Elaine says:

    Hey Maxine!

    How weird is that?!

    You are so welcome! See you this weekend! :-)

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