Studying and learning a new skill can be hard! Especially if it’s not something that comes naturally at first. Whether it’s learning to play guitar, revising for an exam or generally just being more productive at work.
I have collated some evidence-based techniques that can be used to help you make the most of your time, whatever you chose to do with it. Feel free to browse through the list and remember you can come back to this page at any time. It should be said that it is not necessary to use them all at once but most work great together!
Good working environment
I’m sure this is an obvious one but never underestimate a good working environment. Firstly, to be productive make sure you have figured out what makes a good environment for you. That could mean working outside or inside of your house, with or without others around you, do you like background noise or peace and quiet? Whatever your preference is, make time for yourself to be in that space.
A good working environment does not just have to mean physically though. It can take a while to learn a new skill and it can take up time and resources like your energy. Make sure to take care of yourself and that you are in the right mindset to start learning something new.
Once you have prepared yourself, found the environment you will be most productive in, or found a teacher (if needed), you can move on to goal setting.
You may have heard the expression; how do you eat an elephant? The answer normally given is one bite at a time. The thing to remember is not to be overwhelmed when you are faced with a seemingly impossible task. You can do this by setting small, much more achievable goals for yourself. With goals in mind, you know exactly what you want and where you want to work towards. For example, if you want to learn about a subject, pick a specific topic or a subsection. Make it a point to work on smaller sections that will contribute towards the bigger picture.
If you need help with this why not try using SMART goals?
Specific: Ask yourself the questions: who, what, when, where, and why?
Measurable: How will I measure progress? How will I know it is achieved?
Actionable/Attainable: Is the goal reasonable and achievable? Can this really happen?
Relevant: Why is achieving this goal important? Is the goal meaningful?
Time: When will the goal be achieved? What is the timeframe for achieving the goal? Do you have a deadline?
Pomodoro technique and spaced repetition – Small but often!
~ Did you know the word ‘Pomodoro’ means tomato in Italian? ~
As well as being named after a delicious sauce, Pomodoro is a technique that you may or may not have heard of before. Francesco Cirillo created the Pomodoro Technique in the late 1980s. As a university student, he used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to organise his study schedule. The technique has since become fairly popular.
This method consists of working/learning/doing for a certain period of time and then taking a small break. For example, studying for 25 minutes and resting for 5 minutes. Then repeat the process. Sounds simple enough right? You can change the timer to suit your individual tolerance. There are several apps that can do this for you or even YouTube videos you can put on in the background.
~Tip: in your 5-minute break why not try doing something physical such as light stretching, talking to someone, having a toilet break or having a small study snack? Make sure you are still listening to your body (This can be linked to pacing masterclass Micro breaks and Activity analysis).
The basis for spaced repetition research was laid by Hermann Ebbinghaus, who suggested that information loss over time follows a forgetting curve, but that forgetting could be reset with repetition based on active recall.
Spaced repetition is about repeating the activity that you are trying to learn but at different spaced-out intervals. For example, if you wanted to learn to play an instrument, you could choose to practice twice a week for 2 hours. This has been proven to be more beneficial in the long run when learning new skills or content. It is a much better way for learning information instead of just ‘cramming’. Cramming information, e.g. the night before an exam, means this information may stay in your short-term memory for a short while, but won’t be very useful long term. There are also several apps that you can download to set reminders for your next study interval.
This repetition method works great with goal setting. As with goal setting, if you want to learn about a subject, pick a specific topic or a subsection and you could repeat learning about this subsection by spending 1 hour every couple of days reviewing, for a few weeks. The more you learn, the more natural it will become and the more retention of information.
Generation effect and hypercorrection method
In short, this method requires you to test yourself on your current knowledge, before you start to try and learn anything new… and of course, I know what you are thinking… ‘I’ll do it wrong!’. But that is ok! The point of this technique is designed to get your brain thinking and be more creative. Doing this prepares you to remember information later, this is linked with something called the hypercorrection method.
The hypercorrection method can be explained, as your brain correcting wrong information to the right information. When you make a mistake on some type of general information, and later find out you were wrong, you are more likely to remember the right answer. Just make sure to always follow up with finding out the right answers or the right way to do the skill. For example, if you are trying to learn to swim a different stroke, you can film yourself doing the activity and review, compare and contrast with someone else who has mastered it already.
~Tip: Don’t be too hard on yourself! It can be really disheartening to know that you aren’t that good at something and easy to put yourself down, but don’t give up! Remember this is only the start of your journey and people progress at different times.
Active recall involves retrieving information from memory by testing yourself. Research has shown that retrieving information and data from our brains not only strengthens our ability to retain information but also improves connections in our brains between different concepts.
Ways to use active recall:
- Pre-test yourself – Generation effect
- Stop and recite – Once you have read, listened to or seen a task be done, stop and repeat. This could be physically doing something, saying it out loud or by writing it down.
- Ask or create questions and immediately review – Meaning you create questions to review straight after a session of learning the new skill.
- Mind maps! – Can help you see the bigger picture, especially if you are a visual learner
- Teaching – If you can’t teach it to someone you probably don’t know it well enough.
- Flashcards – Can help with memory reinforcement
Finally, positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement occurs when a certain behaviour results in a positive outcome. This makes us likely to repeat the behaviour in the future.
Sometimes positive reinforcement occurs quite naturally. For example, when you hold the door open for someone, you might receive praise and a thank you. That affirmation serves as positive reinforcement. It makes it more likely that you will hold the door open for people again in the future. In other cases, someone might choose to use positive reinforcement very deliberately in order to train and maintain a specific behaviour. For example, if you study for a test and receive good grades or if you practice a few chords and can then play a chorus.
You can use this by practicing a topic and rewarding yourself when you get the answers right.
What kind of learner are you?
Another thing you can ask yourself is what kind of learning style suits you best. This can help you identify ways you could better learn a skill depending on your needs. You can take this quiz to find out .
I hope you find these techniques useful, do let me know if you can think of some I’ve missed! If you’d like to know more please check out the YouTube Video’s linked below.
- Spaced repetition in learning theory
- 12 ways to Active Recall in 12 minutes
- The 9 BEST Scientific Study Tips
About the Author:
Hi, I’m Charlie. I’m a 3rd year Occupational Therapy student, Currently attending Coventry University. I always try to have a positive outlook on life and count the things I am grateful for every day. My motto is ‘Try something new every day and challenge yourself’ and often this does involve me being pushed out of my comfort zone (But!… I have learned that’s not always a bad thing!). Let me know what you think! Feel free to get in contact with me by emailing me email@example.com I would be happy to chat about people’s experiences with long-term conditions and working with healthcare professionals.