Learning is an eternal topic for everyone, no matter which field you are engaging in. I highly admire the guys who produce excellent performance in any specific domain. It needs patience, and hours and hours will be spent on practice. Aside from tenacity, there must be something related contributing to their success.

Two books changed my perspective of learning. The first one is The Art of Learning telling a remarkable story of personal achievement and inspires me with a series of principles for improving performance in any field. The other, Learn Better, demonstrates that how we learn can matter just as much as what we learn.

Stimulated by my preparation for IELTS recently, I think it must be rewarding to summarize my strategy of learning, active learning or conscious learning. Most of ideas come from the above books, and I put them into practice again and again proving their effectiveness.

Before I learnt how to learn, I read materials repeatedly so that I could memorize information about dates, facts and details. Sometimes, I marked the contents that I supposed to be important. I never tried to construct a system for learning, which should be done before you step in an unknown area.

Learning needs plan, review and focus. If you learn how to learn, you will master professional skills more efficiently and deeply.

Why We Learn

Learning is a long-term process. You cannot stick to reading or writing if you lose the motivation to do that.

Finding what it means to you is the first step to grasp any skills. In our mind, we treat the world with a framework of meaning. None is willing to do something they regard as pointless.

Motivation, motivation, motivation. Why do you learn programming? Why do you learn English? For an increase in salary or a permission to another country? They all make sense.

The sense of value is the ultimate incentive to learn. But the value does not knock the door itself, we must find or create one initiatively.

Many methods can be adopted to create values. Rewards, curiosity and environment, they are very helpful for us. Internal motivation cannot be neglected, and sustains much longer.

Value is a system, propelling people to think how it benefits to me. Sometime, we refuse the values given by others instinctively. For example, we may not be happy pushed by parents to study after school even knowing it’s good for us.

Follow the natural instincts and find the significance by yourself.

What We Learn

For most of us, the facts do not matter. What really matters is how we think based on these facts. To be precise, how we master the new knowledge and skills effectually, how we capture key points, and when we should store information with our brains rather than computers.

Learning is a process of understanding how all components of a system work together and the relationships among them. In other words, you need solve an unstructured problem.

Now you may know why listening to a lecture, searching on the Internet or watching a video on Youtube does little help. You cannot expect these knowledge will burn into your memory like that.

Namely speaking, a graph about specific domain should be drew in our mind. The nodes of it represent components and the edges means connections between them. When you learn something new, this graph changes gradually with new nodes and edges added or old nodes modified.

How We Learn

In order to build a graph, various measures can be applied. It’s clear to classify them according to the type of operation on graph. Forgive me for the inclination to categorize, I am an Engineer and it’s an occupational habit, which you may find is succinct and eloquent.

Construct More Nodes

Learning is an intelligent activity meaning the more actively you participate in, the more knowledge you will gain.

When you read a snippet of information, try to answer these questions: What kind of thing does it describes? What point does the author want to convey? Is there anything ambiguous?

Even a node is set up, it is still isolated. Attaching it to the graph make it easy to find and memorize. Link between two nodes means you connect them together, opening the door to deduce from one to the other.

Is there any analogy that can help me grip this idea? How does this concept relate to other fields or other topics? You should ask these questions over and over again when you are in touch with a novelty.

Take learning for example, we should link why we learn and what we learn, because knowing the meaning will stimulate our desire to learn.

It is easy to forget that acquiring professional skills requires conscious self-awareness. We need to ask ourselves: How do I know? What do I know? Have I verified what I have mastered?

Positive Feedback

Positive feedback is vital for learning to achieve effective monitoring. Here are some tips:

  1. Criterion is crucial to help us evaluate our performance. Once a criterion is set up, you must use it periodically.
  2. There is irrefutable evidence that self-testing can improve learning outcomes and even increase the effectiveness of self-test by 50%. But students rarely use this method, they would rather read the book again. The extraction exercise is often referred to as the “test effect” because it is a question of “what has just been learned”.
  3. Recording errors you made is another self-reminder. It is useful to pay attention to the current situation with diary or work log. Understanding why we make mistakes and where we are wrong need recall of our own thinking process. This feedback is especially important in improving professional skills.
  4. Evaluation or corrective action from the outside is a more powerful feedback. In general, helpful feedbacks from others will provide some guidance to help us improve.

Feedback for monitoring means we have to discard the mechanical mode and ask ourselves: Am I doing this right? Am I making a mistake? Can I do better? When we track and record our performance, our behavior patterns will become clearer.

You may find your friends who lose weight effectively and do not rebound for a long time are those who are good at tracking how much they eat and how much they weigh.

Deliberate Exercise

As time goes by, the effect of feedback will weaken, which requires people to put more effort to understanding. Here comes deliberate exercise.

The exercises that many people have are not real exercises. Because they don’t use specialized practice methods or any kind of learning methods. A large amount of research show that there is no necessary connection between the time spent on so-called exercise and the actual learning effect.

Deliberate exercise, a targeted action, aims at monitoring activities of learning content. Clear recognition of which specific capabilities need to be upgraded is momentous before any exercises. Otherwise, you are doing useless work.

In order to practice deliberately, we need to break expertise down into fragments, each of which can be applied with a targeted action.

The comfort zone of learning activities needs to be adjusted frequently, practice needs to be a little harder, and progress is always sought to ensure that each learning practice can barely be completed in the struggle.

If you do more in some exercises, the brain will think that “this is important content”, so automatically form a strategy to improve processing power.

Practical Application

Our learning activities will be more effective as we continue to enrich our expertise and apply what we have learned with concrete examples. When we apply knowledge to new situations, this knowledge becomes more integrated as part of a complex knowledge system. Applying knowledge to practice motivates us to treat knowledge as part of an entirety.

Improvisation is a method of effectively applying professional skills. This approach encourages people to delve deeper into this field, master the essence of knowledge and establish the inner connection of cognition.

Debate is also a way of using knowledge to develop skills. It is another form of improvisation that repeatedly exercises an idea and a concept forcing us to conduct causal arguments and prompt us to think logically.

Teaching others can also benefits us sharply. Telling our understanding of the topic, we use our own language to elaborate on the important connotations we believe, and thus deepen our understanding of this topic.

Summary

In conclusion, Learning is a proactive thinking activity, there is no comfort zone for good learning activities.

Never stop asking yourself, why, what, and how? Be conscious and be active.