Learning Skills and Strategies

Learning requires many separate skills working together to be effective. This page will present and discuss many of those skills.

At King's View Academy, the Best Predictor of Academic Success is Engagement.

The concept of Engagement has also been expressed in other ways, such as focus, trying, paying attention, doing your work, etc... Learning requires that the learner is giving that which is being learned attention. For some learners, listening to music blocks out other distractions, while for other learners the music itself is a distraction. In both cases, if the music diminishes the attention that the learner can give to the content, it thus reduces the potential to learn. As humans are constantly learning, we all have acquired learning skills, and in many cases the most basic set of learning skills only requires attention to the subject at hand for learning to take place.

Behaviorists believe that learning is about conditioning your response to a stimulus from your environment. In classical conditioning a stimulus which elicits no response from the learner is paired with a response that elicits an actual response, so that eventually the formerly neutral stimulus becomes a conditioned stimulus (the stimulus is the action designed to elicit a response in the learner). For example, a dog salivates when it sees or smells food (the food is the stimulus and the salivation is the response). When a bell is rung everytime food is presented, the dog eventually (after presented repeatedly) associates the bell with the food, and salivates as a response to the bell. With operant conditioning, the stimulus is presented after the response. For example, reprimanding (stimulus) a child after he/she swears (the response).

With this approach to learning, the learner is passive and can be manipulated purely based on presenting the appropriate stimulus at the appropriate time.

For example, if something motivates you, or bring you pleasure, you yourself can associate that with something that you find difficult (like reading, or studying) with the intent of making the difficult thing easier. Like pleasant music, or a tasty drink. Additionally, removing those factors that make things difficult would effectively make those things more pleasant. For example, rather than studying with a short deadline, which causes anxiety, study earlier with no anxiety-causing short deadline.

How to Learn (10 Techniques)

1. Elaborative Interrogation

A method involving creating explanations for why stated facts are true. The method involves concentrating on why questions rather than what questions and creating questions for yourself as you are working through a task. To do this yourself, after reading a few paragraphs of text ask yourself to explain “why does x = y?” and use your answers to form your notes. This is a good method because it is simple, so anyone can apply it easily. It does however require enough prior knowledge to enable you to generate good questions for yourself, so this method may be best for learners with experience in a subject. The technique is particularly efficient with regard to time, one study found that elaborative learning took 32 mins as opposed to 28 mins simply reading.

2. Self Explanation

A technique that is useful for abstract learning. The technique involves explaining and recording how one solves or understands problems as they work and giving reasons for choices that are made. This was found to be more effective if done while learning as opposed to after learning. Self explanation has been found to be effective with learners ranging from children in kindergarten to older students working on algebraic formulas and geometric theorems. Like elaborative explanation, self explanation benefits from its simplicity. Unlike elaborative learning, self explanation was found to double the amount of time spent on a task in comparison to a reading control group.

3. Summarisation

An old staple, tested by having participants summarise every page of text in to a few short lines. Summarising and note taking were found to be beneficial for preparing for written exams but less useful for types of tests that do not require students to generate information – such as multiple choice tests. Summarising was rated as being likely less beneficial than other methods available but more useful than the most common methods students use – highlighting, underlining and rereading.

As you might have guessed, I personally find summarising to be very effective – my love of taking notes is probably what drove me to blogging in the first place. I love the function of being able to “ctrl-f” or search my notes folder for the fact that’s on the tip of my tounge. Since starting blogging I love that I can throw a phrase I’m after in to Google along with ‘neurobonkers’ and instantly have the relevant fact in front of my eyes. On a vaguely related note – some have suggested that the ability to Google spontaneously is destroying your memory – but based on the evidence I can’t say this is a view I agree with.

4. Highlighting and underlining

The runaway favourite technique of students was found to perform spectacularly poorly when done on its own under controlled conditions. It seems pretty intuitive that highlighting alone is ineffective for the same reasons it is so popular – it requires no training, it takes practically no additional time and crucially, it involves very little thought above the effort taken to simply read a piece of text.

It’s worth remembering that this study only assessed research examining highlighting/underlining as a stand-alone technique. I’d be interested to discover how effective highlighting is when paired with other techniques.

5. The keyword mnemonic

A technique for memorising information involving linking words to meanings through associations based on how a word sounds and creating imagery for specific words. Much research has found that mnemonics are useful for memorising information in the short term in a range of situations including learning foreign language, learning people’s names and occupations, learning scientific terms etc. However, it seems the keyword mnemonic is only effective in instances where keywords are important and the material includes keywords which are inherently easy to memorise. The review cites one study for example that required students to use mnemonics to memorise English definitions that were not well suited to keyword generation – the study found that the control group outperformed the group using mnemonics. More worrying – it seems that though the keyword mnemonic has been found effective for aiding short term recall, it has been demonstrated to actually have a negative effect when compared to rote learning in the long term. So, the mnemonic might be useful for remembering definitions the week before an exam but it doesn’t seem to be much use when used in any scale as a long term memory aid.

6. Imagery for Text Learning

Experiments asking students to simply imagine clear visual images as they are reading texts have found advantages when memorising sentences, but these advantages seem much less pronounced when longer pieces of text are involved. Interestingly, visualisation was found to be more effective when students listened to a text than when they read text themselves, implying the act of reading may make it harder to focus on visualising. A major problem with imagery research is that most researchers instructed one group to visualise but did not follow up to see if they actually did. One experiment that checked afterwards found that some participants instructed to imagine did not, while some participants in the control group reported using visualisation on their own accord. It is therefore likely that imagery could be a more useful technique than this evaluation currently demonstrates – it is certainly an easy technique to use, so there is little harm in trying. Perhaps more interestingly, imagery research has found that drawing does not seem to improve comprehension and may indeed actually reverse the benefits of imagery. Finally, though imagery is reported to be more versatile than the keyword mnemonic, it has also been found useful only for certain situations. For example, imagery was not been found to be effective to help students answer questions that required inferences to be made from the text, nor was it been found useful for answering questions about a passage on the human heart.

7. Rereading

Overall, rereading is found to be much less effective than other techniques – however the research has drawn some interesting conclusions. Massed rereading – rereading immediately after reading - has been found more effective than outlining and summarising for the same amount of time. It does seem however, that rereading spaced over a longer amount of time has a much stronger effect than massed rereading.

8. Practice Testing

This is where things get interesting; testing is often seen as a necessary evil of education. Traditionally, testing consists of rare but massively important ‘high stakes’ assessments. There is however, an extensive literature demonstrating the benefits of testing for learning – but importantly, it does not seem necessary that testing is in the format of ‘high stakes’ assessments. All testing including ‘low stakes’ practice testing seems to result in benefits. Unlike many of the other techniques mentioned, the benefits of practice testing are not modest – studies have found that a practice test can double free recall!

Research has found that though multiple choice testing is indeed effective, practice tests that require more detailed answers to be generated are more effective. Importantly, practice testing is effective when you create the questions yourself.

So how can you apply this research? Students can create flash cards (or even use free software to do this). Alternatively students can use a system such as the Cornell note-taking system (Example PDF) which involves noting questions in a column next to their notes as they learn. This finding looks like wonderful news for MOOCS which typically use intensive practice testing as a primary method of teaching. The finding is also great news for students – as practice testing actually takes up much less time than other methods such as rereading, which practice testing far outperforms!

Try it yourself: Can you name and explain two methods of self-testing?

9. Distributed Practice

Have you ever wondered whether it is best to do your studying in large chunks or divide your studying over a period of time? Research has found that the optimal level of distribution of sessions for learning is 10-20% of the length of time that something needs to be remembered. So if you want to remember something for a year you should study at least every month, if you want to remember something for five years you should space your learning every six to twelve months. If you want to remember something for a week you should space your learning 12-24 hours apart. It does seem however that the distributed-practice effect may work best when processing information deeply – so for best results you might want to try a distributed practice and self-testing combo.

There is however a major catch - do you ever find that the amount of studying you do massively increases before an exam? Most students fall in to the “procrastination scallop” – we are all guilty at one point of cramming all the knowledge in right before an exam, but the evidence is pretty conclusive that this is the worst way to study, certainly when it comes to remembering for the long term. What is unclear is whether cramming is so popular because students don’t understand the benefits of distributed practice or whether testing practices are to blame - probably a combination of both. One thing is for sure, if you take it upon yourself to space your learning over time you are pretty much guaranteed to see improvements.

10. Interleaved Practice

Have you ever wondered whether you are best off studying topics in blocks or “interleaving” topics – studying problems of different types in a slightly more haphazard fashion? Unlike the other methods discussed above, there is far less evidence to go on. The research that has so far been conducted seems to suggest that interleaving is useful for motor learning (learning involving physical movement) and cognitive tasks (such as maths problems) – where benefits of up to 43% have been reported. It also seems that like distributed practice; interleaved practice seems to benefit longer term retention:

Source: https://bigthink.com/neurobonkers/assessing-the-evidence-for-the-one-thing-you-never-get-taught-in-school-how-to-learn

Original Source: https://journals.sagepub.com/stoken/rbtfl/Z10jaVH/60XQM/full

Article can be downloaded from here.

How to Learn (4 Methods)

Method 1. Absorbing and Remembering Information

1. Break down what you’re learning into manageable chunks. If you try to absorb everything there is to know about a topic all at once, you’ll soon find yourself overwhelmed. Whether you’re reading a chapter in a history textbook or trying to learn how to play the piano, focus on one piece of information at a time before moving on to the next. Once you’ve mastered each piece, you can work on putting them together into a coherent whole.

  • For example, if you’re reading a chapter in a textbook, you might start by doing a quick skim of the whole chapter or even just scanning the chapter headings to get a sense of the content. Then, do a close reading of each paragraph and try to identify the key concepts.

2. Take notes while you learn. Taking notes can help you engage more fully with the material you are learning, making it easier for your brain to understand and absorb it. If you are listening to a lecture or an explanation of a topic, jot down the key points as you listen. If you’re reading, write down key words, summarize important concepts, and make note of any questions you have about the material.

  • Studies show that taking handwritten notes is more effective for most people than typing your notes on a computer. When you write your notes by hand, you’re more likely to focus on the important points rather than trying to write down everything you hear or see.

Tip:If you like to doodle when you take notes, go for it! It may actually help you focus on what you’re hearing.

3. Summarize information you have just learned. Summarizing is a good way to test your knowledge and help clarify your understanding of a subject. After learning something new, whether you heard it in a lecture or read about it in a book, take a moment to write a brief paragraph or a few bullet points summing up the key points.

You can also try summarizing the information verbally. If you’re working with a teacher, they can give you direct feedback based on your summary to help you determine whether you understand the concept correctly.

For example, you could say, “So, to find the area of a rectangle, I multiply the length by the width. Is that correct?”

4. Keep your learning sessions brief and frequent. Instead of spending hours of your time studying a single subject each day, spread it out into multiple sessions of 30-60 minutes each day over the course of a few days or weeks. This can help prevent you from getting burnt out, and will also ultimately help you retain the information better.

  • Spacing out your study sessions can also help you overcome procrastination. If you devote a little time to a particular task or subject each day, it will feel less overwhelming in the long run, so you’ll be less tempted to put it off.

5. Use multiple learning modes. Most people learn best if they combine different techniques, or modes of learning.[7] If you can, combine different learning approaches that tap into all your senses. For example:

  • If you’re taking a lecture course, try taking notes by hand and also recording the lecture so you can play it back while you study. Reinforce your knowledge by doing the appropriate readings and using any available visual aids (such as graphs or illustrations).
  • If possible, try to actively apply the knowledge you’ve learned, as well. For example, if you’re learning to read ancient Greek, try translating a short passage on your own.

6. Discuss what you are learning with other people. Talking about what you’re learning can help you gain new perspectives or make connections that might not be obvious just from reading or studying on your own. In addition to asking your teacher or fellow students questions, share your own perspective and understanding of what you’ve learned.

  • Teaching other people is a great way to solidify your understanding of a subject. It can also help you identify areas where you can improve your knowledge. Try explaining something you’ve learned to a friend, relative, or classmate.


Method 2: Staying Focused While You Learn

1. Take frequent breaks while you study. If you find your focus wandering, try breaking your study time up into 25-minute sessions with 5-minute breaks in between. This is called the Pomodoro Technique. Using the Pomodoro method will keep your brain sharp and help you focus more deeply.

  • During your breaks, don’t focus on what you’re studying. Try meditating or visualizing a relaxing scene instead.

2. Get 7-9 hours of high-quality sleep each night. Being well-rested can help you stay focused and energized while you study. However, sleep also plays a key role in learning and remembering information. Go to bed early enough that you can sleep for 7-9 hours (or 8-10 if you’re a teen). You can also get better sleep by:

  • Turning off bright screens at least half an hour before bed.
  • Establishing a relaxing bedtime routine. For example, you might read a chapter of a book, listen to some peaceful music, or take a warm shower.
  • Making sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and comfortable at night.
  • Avoiding caffeine and other stimulants up to 6 hours before bedtime.

3. Eat brain-boosting foods. Eating nutritious, energizing foods can help you stay alert and absorb information more effectively. Start the day with a nutritious breakfast, like a boiled egg, a bowl of oatmeal, and some fresh fruit. While you’re studying, snack on brain-friendly foods like blueberries, bananas, or a little omega-3 rich salmon.

  • Make sure to stay hydrated, too—getting enough water can help you fight fatigue and stay focused.

4. Find a quiet and comfortable study environment. Studying in a noisy, uncomfortable, or poorly lit area can make it harder to concentrate and absorb what you’re learning. Different people learn best in different environments, so experiment with studying in a variety of places and see what works for you.

  • For example, if noise tends to distract you, try working in a quiet study room at the library instead of at a table in a crowded coffee shop.
  • Look for a study area where you can sit and spread out comfortably, but don’t get so comfortable that you fall asleep. You may want to avoid studying on a couch or in bed, for example.

5. Put away your phone and other distractions. It’s easy to get sucked into social media apps and games or to keep checking your email when you should be studying. If your phone or another device is distracting you, try switching it off or putting it somewhere out of reach (like inside your bag or a desk drawer). You can also use productivity apps, like BreakFree or Flipd, that limit your ability to use your device during work or study hours.

  • Avoid studying where there’s a TV that might distract you.
  • If you find yourself tempted by time-wasting websites on your computer, try installing a browser extension like StayFocusd to help keep you on task.


Method 3: Assessing Your Learning Needs

1. Evaluate what you do and do not know. Metacognition, or the ability to recognize what you do and do not know, is an important part of learning. Reflect on the subject or skill you are trying to learn about and ask yourself, “What do I know about this topic? What do I not know or fully understand yet?” Once you’ve identified areas where you still need to improve your knowledge or understanding, you can focus your attention on those areas.

  • One good way to evaluate your knowledge is to quiz yourself on the material. If you are using a textbook or taking a course that includes self-administered quizzes or knowledge checks, take advantage of them.
  • You could also try writing a brief explanation of the subject. This exercise will highlight the knowledge you already have, but may also help you identify weak areas in your knowledge.

2. Take the VARK inventory to understand your learning style. While most people use a combination of approaches when learning, you may find that you work best as a Visual, Auditory, Reading and writing, or Kinetic learner. Once you understand the learning modes that work best for you, you can adjust your study style accordingly. To identify your primary learning style, try taking the VARK questionnaire, here: http://vark-learn.com/the-vark-questionnaire/?p=questionnaire.

  • Visual learners absorb information best from visual sources, such as maps, graphs, diagrams, and images.
  • If you’re an auditory learner, you may benefit the most from listening to lectures or verbal explanations. Talking out loud about what you’re learning can also be helpful.
  • Reading and writing learners do best when they read information and write about what they are learning. Focus on taking notes and reading about the topic you’re interested in.
  • Kinesthetic learners absorb knowledge most effectively when they actively put what they’re learning into practice. For example, you may learn a language better by speaking it than by reading about it.

3. Identify your learning strengths. Learning strengths are similar to learning styles, but they focus more on your specific skills and areas of intelligence. Try taking a test like this Strength Assessment to figure out what your key intelligence strengths are: http://www.literacynet.org/mi/assessment/findyourstrengths.html. You can then adapt your learning methods to your areas of strength.

  • For example, if you score high in body movement intelligence, you may find that you retain and understand information better if you take a walk with a friend and talk to them about what you’re studying.


Method 4: Applying Critical Thinking Skills

1. Ask questions about what you are learning. To really engage with what you’re learning, it’s important to do more than just absorb and remember information. As you’re learning, stop and ask yourself questions. Exploring these questions and looking for answers will help you gain a deeper understanding of the material.

  • For example, if you’re reading about a historical event, you might ask questions like “Why did this happen? How do we know what happened—what kinds of sources do we have? How might things be different today if this event hadn’t taken place?”

2. Look for connections between concepts. When you’re learning about a topic, try not to view it as a series of unconnected pieces of information. Instead, look for ways that ideas and information relate to each other and to your own knowledge and experiences. This will help you put the things you learn in context.

  • For example, maybe you’re studying how physical anthropologists use skeletal material to understand how people lived in an ancient society. Think about how your own activities might affect what a future anthropologist or archaeologist would see if they discovered you—e.g., would they notice wear and tear on your elbow joints because of your tennis hobby?

3. Examine sources of information critically. Don’t accept everything you hear, see, or read at face value. When you’re learning, consider where the information comes from, how reliable it is, and whether it is current or outdated. For example, you might ask yourself:

  • “What evidence does this author provide to back up their major arguments?”
  • “Is this information up-to-date?”
  • “What are the sources for this information?”
  • “What are the qualifications of the person presenting this information? Do they have any agendas or biases?”
  • “Are there alternative interpretations of this issue that might also be valid?”

4. Try to identify key concepts in the material you are studying. Whether you’re looking at a full course in a particular topic or just focusing on an individual lesson, try to pull out a few key themes and concepts. Doing this can help you organize your thoughts and define your focus as you learn and study.

  • For example, if you’re taking a class on American history, you might find that themes of American identity and diversity come up again and again. Consider how the information you are learning in the class relates to these themes.


References within this Source:

  1. https://medium.com/learn-love-code/learnings-from-learning-how-to-learn-19d149920dc4
  2. https://learningcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/taking-notes-while-reading/
  3. http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1882127,00.html
  4. https://www.npr.org/2016/04/17/474525392/attention-students-put-your-laptops-away
  5. https://medium.com/learn-love-code/learnings-from-learning-how-to-learn-19d149920dc4
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  7. https://www.duq.edu/about/centers-and-institutes/center-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-and-learning/discover-your-learning-style
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  11. https://www.health.com/food/10-foods-that-boost-concentration
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  13. https://www.wgu.edu/blog/improve-online-study-environment1712.html#close
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  15. https://www.duq.edu/about/centers-and-institutes/center-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-and-learning/discover-your-learning-style
  16. http://www.institute4learning.com/resources/articles/multiple-intelligences/
  17. http://www.literacynet.org/mi/practice/engage-bodymovement.html
  18. http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/how-to-study-and-learn-part-one/513
  19. http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/how-to-study-and-learn-part-four/516
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