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People who can improve their learning speed frequently achieve seemingly impossible feats. Like finishing a 4-year college course in a year, or learning 9 languages. Impressive, right? Obviously, those are extreme cases. Nevertheless, increasing your learning speed, even by a little can have some great long-term benefits.
- Your business or career will grow faster.
- You can outsmart your competitors.
- You’ll have the ability to make yourself an invaluable asset.
So without further ado, let’s discover how you can learn super-fast and get ahead.
Later, we’ll dive into some of the different techniques you can use to help accelerate your learning. For now, let’s take a brief look at the various stages of learning you go through when you study. Knowing a little about them might help you decide which approach you want to try.
The stages of learning
We begin learning things from the moment we’re born. We learn new things every day, and without consciously thinking about it we’ve used at least one of the three stages of learning to acquire knowledge and skills. Let’s define the three stages of learning we’ve used to learn things efficiently.
- Cognitive learning
This kind of learning happens when people are constantly supported and are shown and told what they need to do, the brain becomes fully engaged in the learning process,
2. Associative Learning
This stage of learning happens when two unrelated elements (a behaviour linked to a particular sight, for instance) connect in our brains through the process of conditioning. This is when you start to understand the requisite skills involved and start to be able to perform them more consistently, whether you’re learning Japanese or learning how to drive a bus.
3. Autonomous Learning
At this stage, learners can acquire knowledge by independent effort and study. They can develop the ability to think critically and ask questions and decide for themselves whether they need mentors or instructors. Learners now can adapt their learning as needed.
When you’ve decided what you want to learn, found your preferred learning style, and comprehend the different stages of learning, you’ll be ready to engage in active learning. This is when you put both your practical and theological knowledge into practice, in a way that helps accelerate your learning.
Let’s take the example of learning to play the piano to illustrate the point.
You decide you want to learn how to play the piano.
Regardless of whether you choose to work with a piano teacher, or learn from video tutorials and books, it will be imperative that you have access to a piano so that you can practice regularly and improve your skills. Combining theoretical knowledge with practical application is a winning formula. It can help you learn anything you want, from riding a bike or learning the piano to coding.
It’s now easier than ever before to educate yourself on your own terms with the advent of platforms like SkillShare, YouTube, and Brilliant, so there’s no time like the present to learn something new without affecting your work or social life too much. If you choose to take the self-learning route, it might be a good idea to find a friend who’s more knowledgeable about the subject than you, so you can be confident that you’re on the right track.
Ways to learn faster
I’ve brought together 6 methods you can use to speed your learning and comprehension. You can try each of them out. You might even end up using a couple of them in combination. Soon, we’ll cover spaced recognition, but let’s start with my favourite.
Deliberate practice is a way of breaking down a skill you want to learn into smaller parts and learning each one of those, before moving on to the next one, and by degree come to slowly master the larger skill.
Imagine you want to learn how to become good at Excel.
Here’s one of the ways you could break learning that skill down with deliberate practice.
- Learn the foundations of Excel.
- Learn how to use the formatting tools.
- Learn the various functions.
- Learn how to create and use pivot tables.
- Learn about macros and how to automate your work.
- Learn about the coding language behind macros, VBA.
Work on learning each of these aspects of Excel one after the other, making sure you fully understand one aspect before moving on, and you’ll master it soon enough.
That’s a much more effective approach to take than if you tried to learn all of it at once, you would likely get confused and dispirited. You may even give up. But by using deliberate practice to break what you’re learning into smaller chunks, you can give yourself every chance to succeed.
If you struggle with deliberate practice, you can find a mentor or coach to help guide you through it, or team up with some like-minded friends and help each other stay on task and encouraged.
Grow learning trees with meta-learning
Whatever you want to learn, don’t just pick a course and dive in. Build a learning tree first. Think of it as a diagram with a trunk and branches and (eventually) leaves. Others call the same sort of thing a learning map, but I think it’s nice to visualise it as a tree. The purpose of doing this is to help you reach the outcome you’re working towards as fast as possible. The fancy name for building learning trees is meta-learning. In his book, “Ultralearning”, Scott Young discusses meta-learning and cites many immensely successful people, including Elon Musk and Gabriel Weinberg as being among those who use it. Meta-learning is all about figuring out what you can do to accelerate the learning process.
Here’re three steps to building learning trees that will help you flourish and learn super-fast.
Build the trunk and main branches first
Think of learning a new skill as if it were like navigating a building in search of treasure. If you know the shape and structure of the building better than others, you’ll be able to take the fastest route to get to where you want to be and find the treasure.
Now you can apply the same principle to topics you might be learning.
Learn the structure of the topic to enable you to understand it more quickly.
You can learn the structure of the topic by drawing a table with three columns. Label these, concepts, facts, and procedures. Concepts are the fundamental principles, theories, and academic or formal terms that you need to understand to comprehend the topic. Facts are often laws, statements, or techniques. These are the things you must know and remember about a topic. Procedures are what you must do to get better at the topic. They boost your skill, knowledge level, and practical know-how.
Here’s how to figure out what goes in each column.
- Identify all concepts, facts, and procedures and write them down.
- Rank the items in each column, according to how challenging they are and how important they are to your goal. Assign each item on your list and impact factor.
- Bring together all the resources relevant to each concept, fact or procedure.
When you’ve done this, you’ll have a good knowledge tree for the topic. You’ll be able to see the obstacles you will face and come up with the best ways to overcome them. If you try to view knowledge as a tree, you’ll be able to see that you must first understand the basic principles (the trunk and main branches) before moving on to the leaves (the details). Without having sound comprehension of the main principles the leaves have nothing to hang onto.
Find out where to start and what to leave out
The B.E.E. (Benchmark, Emphasise and Exclude) method will help with this.
Collect highly rated resources — bestselling books, top-quality online articles, bestselling online courses, and highly recommended university courses.
Download prospectuses and syllabi, then zero in on areas with maximum overlap.
Emphasise and Exclude:
Create a customised curriculum, to help you meet your personal goals. You can do this by keeping what’s important to you and cutting out what isn’t. For example, if you want to develop an app, it’s more important to focus on app development and leave out theories of computer science.
Meta-learning is not linked to our genius or talent. It’s a skill anyone can learn to increase their learning speed and by extension their productivity. if you are a fast learner then your long-term productivity is sure to increase steadily as you acquire more knowledge and skills throughout your life. So use learning maps to help you understand the most pertinent sections of your topic more quickly than you would otherwise. As with everything, the more you use meta-learning, build learning maps and visualise learning as a tree, the more efficient you will become with meta-learning, and your productivity will steadily increase. You’ll have an edge on your peers and workmates who have not yet discovered the magic of meta-learning.
Mastering the skill of speed reading may help you get to grips with meta-learner all the faster. More on that in a bit.
First though, let’s talk about the Feynman method.
The Feynman technique
The physicist, Richard Feynman, came up with a technique you can use to acquire deep knowledge. Here are the steps.
- Write the name of the subject you want to study down on paper.
- Write your explanation of the subject down as if you were explaining the concept to a child who is unfamiliar with it. Force yourself to use simple language, free from jargon, and double-check that it makes sense. Children have a shorter attention span than adults, so you should also aim to make it as brief as possible.
- Identify gaps you have in your knowledge of the topic.
When you’ve explained the subject on paper, you should be able to spot which parts you don’t fully understand yourself. Were there times during your explanation where you started to ramble? Those are likely your weaker points.
Then you can strengthen your weak areas, going over those specific parts of the subject that you are weakest on.
Then all you need do is repeat steps 1 to 3 until you’ve mastered the subject. Simplify complicated parts as much as possible. A good way to cement your knowledge is to formalise your notes into a script and read them out loud as if giving a presentation to an audience.
Why does this technique work so well?
Teaching is a mutually beneficial process. You’re not only educating those you are teaching, but are also educating yourself. By explaining what you’ve learned, you’re partaking in one of the highest forms of learning. You can use the Feynman technique on whatever you’re currently learning. It’s a fantastically easy way to discover whether you just know a definition or fully understand an idea.
You can quickly identify your weakest areas, then you can focus on improving those areas and filling the gaps in your knowledge. By doing that, you’re learning process becomes extremely efficient and productive. If you can use language that a five-year-old can understand, it’s a good indicator that you fully understand the concept you’re explaining.
It’s time to look at spaced repetition.
Spaced repetition is a sure-fire way to learn effectively. It involves going over information we’re learning, frequently at first, then less often. This reflects and combats the fact that once you learn something you gradually forget it, with the forgetting happening fast at first, then levelling off. Using spaced repetition, you can remind yourself of information.
When we repeatedly expose ourselves to new material we keep having to access it from our memory again and again. If retrieve that information often enough, it really makes it stick.
Here’re the steps:
- Within a day of taking in new information, make notes and review them. When you review your notes, read them but then cover them or look away and try to remember the most important bits.
- When a day has elapsed, try to recall the information with as little reference to your notes as possible.
- Over the next couple of weeks, try to recall the information every day, or at least every 36 hours. You should only look at your notes as a last resort.
- A fortnight after your first attempt to learn the new material, study it all again. This lets your brain process concepts and helps the information stick in your head.
Spaced repetition done right can really boost your learning speed.
Some learners gather information about their performance and the skills they have to leverage, then use them both to enhance their learning styles and approaches. In other words, they create feedback loops to help themselves improve and spot weak areas.
Here’s how you can create one.
- Put what you’ve learned into practice.
- Measure your performance and actively collect information about it.
- Analyse your performance and identify where you can improve most and make whatever adjustments you deem necessary. Then put what you’ve learnt into practice once again.
You can keep going through the steps to find your weak points until you’re satisfied you’ve become proficient at a new skill or fully understand what you’ve been trying to learn. Creating a feedback loop or two may be just the thing you need to enable you to learn more effectively and waste less time.
Next, let’s explore speed reading.
Nowadays, most of us spend hours reading content no matter what type of work we do. If you’re a slow reader, you’re obviously at a disadvantage whenever you need to get something into your head quickly.
Luckily, there are some proven ways to speed up both your reading and understanding.
Here are three things you could try to start with.
Silence your inner monologue
Inner monologue (AKA silent speech) is a very common trait among readers. It means you are speaking the words in your head as you read. It’s one of the biggest things preventing you from increasing your reading speed. This tendency means that most people’s reading speed is akin to their talking speed. It makes sense then, that to read faster you have to stop reading every word in your head.
Remember, you often don’t need to say every word in your head to understand what you’re reading. Give it a go. You’ll probably find your brain does a pretty good job at filling the gaps.
Nail the main points first
You can use scan reading to your benefit before you read the whole thing to understand it, especially when doing surface research or reading a self-help or self-improvement book. You might read the introduction and the first and last paragraphs of each chapter, for instance.
This will prime your brain for learning so that you’ll be better able to read and recall what you read. You’ll probably read the book faster than if you hadn’t warmed up your brain by skim reading first.
This one’s obvious but true. If you read more, you’ll get faster. That old chestnut about practice didn’t become a cliché for nothing, after all.
So, if you want to learn how to read faster… read, read and read some more.
Whatever your situation in life, learning new skills and knowledge and making use of what you’ve learnt to improve your own and others’ lives can make you feel really good. It can also give you an edge in professional environments because if you’re consistently able to master new stuff fast, you’ll more likely to be a more proactive and productive worker.
So, regardless of whether you find deliberate practice, meta-learning, or creating feedback loops the right way for you to learn super-fast and get ahead, make sure you enjoy the ride!