Very recently I started realizing that I don’t recall most of the learning material that I have consumed. I have read many books, and taken several courses, each taking several hours. If time is money then it is like I have thrown down a suitcase full of cash into the furnace!
Although I think not everything is wasted, there is still some value even if you don’t recall everything. Each material has exposed me to available options, to what is possible and I can go back to them if I face something similar in life.
This made me analyze, what are the things that I learned that have really stuck with me and what was the reason behind it. This is the list that I have come up with:
Ask yourself: Why do I need this?
The biggest mistake I was making was that I was just picking up anything that piqued my interest at a certain point in time. It is not that you must not follow your curiosity but when it comes to solid learning it needs to be planned.
When you learn with a purpose you remain invested and also enjoy a bit more as this learning leads you to achieve some kind of a goal. For example, It is much easier to learn a new language when you want to use it to talk to a loved ( to be loved 🙂 ) one, than just learning any random language.
Choose comprehension over speed
I think everyone who is trying to learn, wants to do more per unit of time and would have tried – speed reading, and watching videos at 2x speed. This can be good if you want to just get a high-level overview of something or just want to test the waters. But If you want to build a deep understanding of the topic then only go as fast as what would enable you to build a clear mental picture of what you just learned.
For me, it helps when I can make a clear mental picture of what I am learning. Pause and rewind, flip back the page, and re-read but take as much time you need to understand and then move forward.
Observe yourself and understand when you need to take a break. If you have reached a stage where you can’t make a mental picture, Stop! Come back to it later.
Another way to know whether you need a break or not is to ask yourself a question – “What was discussed on the last page or in the last minute or so?” If you can’t recall, it means you have stopped absorbing. You are traveling but have gone down the wrong road.
The heading says it all so I will just go ahead and describe how I make notes.
- Follow the lead of the material i.e List down the main headings and subheadings from the material and write points worth noting per paragraph/page e.g. My notes from a book I read a long time ago
2. Use a flashcard app. I use AnkiDroid which syncs on your desktop as well as the web so pretty handy whatever platform you use. I usually make Q&A kind of flashcards. Using flashcards would be more work but at the same time, it will help you think more about the subject. The algorithmic repetition is also useful and the app will let you know when you need to practice.
Be open to re-reading
This one was especially difficult for me. I never like to revisit books, movies, and courses, the only exception is music. I can listen to a song that I like on repeat for hours and as a virtue of it, I remember an awful lot of songs.
This tells me that repetition is good, it is proven by science as well so nothing new that I am talking about. Re-reading can give you insights that you had earlier missed, things that were a little blurry can become more clear or it will reinforce what you had learned earlier.
I applied this to a couple of technical documentation (Laravel and Vue) and I was surprised by how much I had missed the first time. If you loved reading a book (or a course) for the first time, give it another shot after a little while, maybe you will love it even more.
This kind of goes back to the first point on the list, if you have a strong “why” you would most probably be learning something to apply. Even if you didn’t have a strong why and you have still muscled through the theory (reading/watching), it will be very hard to retain if you don’t practice. Putting what you learned to practice can’t be stressed enough.
If your learning material provides you with exercises or practicals to test out your knowledge, do not skip them. Also when you go through them, make them reviewable i.e. don’t just say this in your mind “The answer is XYZ” or “I know how it works”. Write it down or draw it, if you are lazy to do both of these, record your voice (almost all smartphones come equipped with that), and then match it with the answer keys if they are provided.
Also, build/perform something using your newly gained knowledge so that you can identify where your understanding has gaps and the real world will give you challenges that can be quite different from the sandboxed learning environment.
That is all, I hope it helps 🙂