Something to reflect on: what is the best way to learn? (Covid series: 11 of 15)
No matter how much or how little you have studied in the past, you have experience of learning and as such will no doubt have an opinion as to the best way to learn. You may find that a quiet room is the best environment, or you may like the library, or a coffee shop with earphones plugged in to block out the background noise. Hopefully you will agree that there is no one-size fits all answer when it comes to the physical conditions.
So how about the technique of learning? Is there a ‘right way’?
There is no simple answer because different people respond to different techniques. However, there are tactics that can be employed to give yourself a better than average chance of turning knowledge gathering into understanding.
In this post we want to focus on a method called Reflective Learning, or Reflective Practice. This is of particular relevance to those people looking at professional development, as the focus is on learning and improving from trying and doing.
These days, it is fashionable to talk about ‘flow’, a state of mind in which you find yourself happy because you are able to carry out an activity without finding it too challenging or easy. You become absorbed in the task, losing awareness of outside distractions and even forgetting the time. But there’s a risk that this ‘flow’ becomes complacency and a desire to only tackle activities which match your skills. In other words, flow can be another word for ‘staying in your comfort zone’.
TRUE OR FALSE: When you’re learning a new skill, or aiming to improve a skill, you should aim to get all practice questions correct?
Did you answer true? You’re not stretching yourself enough… Don’t worry about getting things wrong, it shows you’re trying; it shows you’re willing to learn. We suggest that you aim to get 3 out of 10 practices wrong. Then reflect on what you did and didn’t get right. Use this reflection as a means to building your understanding and then try again. If you’re getting more than 5 wrong then you may need to ease off a little and build your skills up to the level you’re struggling with.
Reflecting on exercises doesn’t mean just finding out what the correct answer is. Try and think about the task you attempted in the context of your previous experiences and use this chance to build a new layer on your knowledge.
Reflecting can be an opportunity to collaborate with peers or mentors. Explain what you think you got wrong and ask for advice and if you’re able to offer support to others in the same way then so much the better.
Some tips on study techniques
If you find studying hard, you’re not alone. Lots of people find it really difficult so we hope that this article will help give you some tips on technique to make the journey as smooth as possible.
Make sure you manage your time and environment
Having an area that is comfortable, has lots of fresh air and good light is important when you’re studying but the key thing thing when you’re working towards an exam is making your studies a priority. This can be challenging when you have to think about your job as well, particularly as it will take time to learn everything you need to know.
Our tip is to look through the content to get a feel for the amount that there is, review the syllabus and spend time looking at old exam papers. Build an understanding of your own learning patterns: there is research that indicates that study lasting more than 40 minutes can become counter-productive, so remember to take a break after 30-40 minutes.
Whatever you do with your break, get up and move away from your screen - try and get some fresh air if possible.
If you’re studying for professional exams then you’re likely to find the process quite unlike school or university work. It can be a lonely pursuit if you don’t find the opportunities to access support. Help is available, but you generally need to take the initiative and find it yourself. We are about to re-launch our coracleonline shipping courses on the Learning Line and the built in social media style tools will provide a great opportunity for anyone studying to interact with mentors.
When it comes to the exam, don’t forget to answer the question
It is amazing how many times people believe they have answered the question and then don’t really understand where they went wrong. There are a few things that you can think about to help you avoid this common exam trap. T
he most frequent mistake is that despite having read the question, the response is not well tailored and precise. If your answer addresses the topic generally, rather than the question specifically you are going to lose marks. You may be keen to show off your knowledge, but keep it relevant to the question.
Find a family member or a work colleague and try teaching back. Explaining concepts to somebody else is a great way of finding holes in your logical understanding that you never suspected were there. Strictly speaking, teaching back means repeating a lesson back to your teacher to ensure you’ve grasped it, but anyone will do. If you can’t find someone to test your knowledge on, plan a lesson in your head or on paper or imagine how you’d explain a topic step by step to somebody unfamiliar with it.
Get some exercise!
Adding to the wealth of evidence that even a little exercise actually encourages the growth of brain cells and blood vessels around the brain, researchers at the University of Texas recently found that exercise improved short and long term memory.
By contrast, starving your brain or body can make it harder to learn. Don’t forget to drink water and eat foods that will keep your energy levels adequate during your study times.
Good luck with your studies.
This post is an update of the original from Coracle posted on 23rd January 2014.