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7 Learning Techniques That Transformed My Life

Learning how to learn is as important as learning itself. The following learning techniques can help us become better life-long learners.

1. Spaced Repetition

Spaced repetition is a scientifically proven method of remembering concepts in a more efficient way. If we review something we learned enough times in a particular interval of days, we are much more likely to remember the material than if we didn’t try this method.

For example, let’s say we learned 30 new English words for the SAT on Day 0. If we review the 30 words the next day, we retain about 80% of the words. But just before we’re about to forget those words, the forgetting curve resets and goes back to the top of the graph. When we review the words again the next day, we find that we still retain about 80% of the words we learned. The next time we review, for example, on Day 6, we reset the curve again. By this time, we are pretty familiar with the words we learned so our intervals should get longer and longer. There is a popular flashcard software called Anki, which uses an algorithmic approach to adjust the learning curve.

Retrospective Revision Timetables are another helpful technique. Usually when we receive the syllabus for a new class, we look forward and plan ahead to see the topics we need to spend time studying on for the following semester. This is known as a prospective revision timetable. However, a retrospective revision timetable works when we look back at the topics we've learned throughout the course. Using a timetable like this as we are preparing for a test can help us identify our strengths and weaknesses by looking back and seeing which subtopics gave us the most trouble and prioritizing weak topics to study.

2. Focused Thinking and Diffuse Thinking

I learned this technique from a website called ModelThinkers. Focused thinking is concentrated, conscious and relatively predictable. For example, focused thinking happens when we are reading something or solving a problem. On the contrary, diffuse thinking happens when we are relaxed. It occurs subconsciously, which results in surprising connections. For example, while going on a walk, taking a shower, or staring out the window, you might suddenly have an “Aha!” moment.

The main takeaway is that if you are struggling with a difficult problem, it’s better to take a break and let your brain work on it subconsciously.

3. Atomic Habits

An atomic habit is a regular practice or routine that is not only small and easy to do but is also the source of incredible power. It’s a component of the system of compound growth. Habits that seem small at first will compound into remarkable results.

For example, if you learn 10 new words of a language every day, you’ll learn 3650 new words in a year. Even if you study half an hour a day, you can reach a high level of understanding in a semester or a year. The plateau of Latent Potential shows that if you stick to your atomic habits, you might think the results are linear. However, in reality your growth will be exponential.

4. Time Blocking and Deep Work

Time blocking is a time management method that divides your day into blocks of time. Each block is dedicated to accomplishing a specific task, or group of tasks, and only those specific tasks. Instead of keeping an open-ended to-do list of things, you can start each day with a concrete schedule that lays out what you’ll work on and when.

Shallow work such as sending emails is the busy work that is urgent but not important to achieving your long-term goals. On the contrary, deep work creates new value, improves your skill, and is hard to replicate, such as programming, reading, and researching.

Time blocking promotes deep work because deep work is work that puts you in the flow, and is usually done in a distraction free environment.

5. The Feynman Technique

Richard Feynman was a physicist. He has a famous quote: “If you want to master something, teach it. The more you teach, the better you learn. Teaching is a powerful tool for learning.”

Through teaching, you will naturally discover logical gaps in your knowledge of a subject. For example, you can choose a topic and explain it simply to an imaginary friend, and see the gaps you notice as you try to explain it. So you will realize your blind spots and find the parts that you think you understood but actually you didn’t.

6. The 80/20 Rule

The 80/20 rule (Pareto Principle) states that 80% of the outcomes derive from 20% of the inputs. It has been proven true in many aspect of life. This rule also applies to learning. When we are learning a new concept or studying for a test, we can try to identify the 20% of the material that covers at least 80% of what we need to understand.

7. Active Studying

Active studying is a technique that can help us study smarter, not harder. Simply reading and re-reading texts or notes is not effective. What you need is active studying with these tips:

  • Create your own study guide. Formulate questions, problems and write complete answers

  • Create your own concept maps or diagrams that explain the material

  • Create your own quiz

  • Study in terms of question, evidence, and conclusion

    • What is the question posed by the instructor?

    • What is the evidence that they present?

    • What is the conclusion?

  • Condense and re-state the content in one or two concise sentences

  • Compare and contrast. Then explain confusing concepts to yourself

    • How would you differentiate between _____ and _____?

    • What makes ____ similar and different from ____?

  • Seek concrete examples of abstract ideas

    • How does this concept work in different situations / scenarios?

    • How can you apply this concept in real life?

  • Generate a list of contributing factors

    • How does this element contribute to the whole?

  • Determine the importance of different elements or sections

  • What is the significance of this section?

  • Design an experiment

    • If possible, what experiment can you make to demonstrate or test this information?

  • Build a model and use it to teach the information to others

    • How can you create a model and use it to teach this information to others?

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