7 cheats to better learning


According to a 1993 study that Malcolm Gladwell cites in his bestselling book, Outliers, it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert at anything. 10,000 hours can seem like a long and tedious time for anyone, not to mention slightly discouraging. Time and effort are obviously necessary ingredients for success. While we can’t be absolutely sure about success taking 10,000 hours, there is definitely going to be infinite amounts of learning.

Here are some tips and tricks you can use to become a better learner:

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Be clear about your learning goals

Write down what you want to learn and why you want to learn it. It’s important to be very specific about this. If you want to learn to write better, be clear about your purpose. Is it because you want to score better in your English tests, or is it because you want to pen your own novel? It is only when you know what you want to learn, you will be able to understand the avenues you need to take.

Break it down into achievable chunks

Barbara Oakley, professor of engineering at Oakland University and co-creator of the ‘Learning How to Learn’ course on Coursera, believes that ‘chunking’ is, by far, the most effective way to learn.

In one of her Quora sessions, she explained, “When you are problem-solving or taking a test, if you have ‘chunked’ the material well during your preliminary studies, you can easily draw a neural chunk—that is, a procedure or concept—to mind. Once you’ve got that chunk in mind, you can then draw up other chunks you’ve mastered, so you can put concepts together to solve even complicated problems that you haven’t seen before.”

Learn from experts, not just books!

Do not restrict yourself to just your books. Learn from experts everywhere. Go out for coffee with a friend or a co-worker who's already good at the skill you're looking for, or watch a film that follows an expert's journey. In fact, you can also sign up for online courses by experts in your subject of interest. There are multiple options for online courses, even for professionals. Startups like GreatLearning help working professionals develop new competencies to achieve career transitions and growth.

Research and practice

The right ratio between research and practice should be one-third to two-third. Dan Coyle, author of The Talent Code and The Little Book of Talent, explained his famous ‘Rule of Two-Thirds’ as follows: "Our brains evolved to learn by doing things, not by hearing about them. This is one of the reasons that, for a lot of skills, it's much better to spend about two-thirds of your time testing yourself on it rather than absorbing it. If you want to, say, memorise a passage, it's better to spend 30 per cent of your time reading it and the other 70 per cent of your time testing yourself on that knowledge."

Follow the 20-hours rule

Josh Kaufman, author of bestselling books like The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business and The First 20 Hours: Mastering the Toughest Part of Learning Anything, believes that it takes 20 hours of focused, deliberate practice to get good at anything.

He explains that people tend to hit "the frustration barrier" and feel disheartened that they aren't improving quickly despite committing a lot of time and effort. Committing at least 20 hours of dedicated practice is the best way to ensure that you survive the frustration barrier.

Set deadlines

According to Parkinson’s Law, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Hence, the trick is to set deadlines for yourself and track your progress effectively. You can opt for the Pomodoro technique, a time management technique based on periods of distraction-free work followed by short breaks.

Pay attention to sleep and nutrition

According to the Brain Plasticity Theory, all important structural and organisational changes in our brain take place when we're asleep. Without adequate sleep, we have a hard time learning something new because our brain doesn't have the opportunity to review and "absorb" the new information.

Nutrition also plays a vital role in our learning. Avoid processed food and high sugar food as they tend to make you feel lethargic. Switch to healthy food rich in fibre as it helps in improving the cognitive functions of the brain.

Do you have anything interesting to add to this list? Leave us a comment below!


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