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How to enhance your brain’s ability to learn new things

Making it stick

learn new things

Why is it that so often you go on a training course but what you’ve learnt just doesn’t stick. For a few days afterwards you think you’ve got it. But a month later and you’re back to square one.

Is it the quality of the training? The trainer? Is it because you’re forgetful? Or stupid?

Nope. It’s because of how the brain works when it takes in new information.

And knowing that means we can take conscious and deliberate steps to enhance the likelihood of embedding what we’ve learnt. Of making it stick.

Whether you’re the student or you’re training or mentoring other people, here are some useful techniques to improve the effectiveness of learning.

Understanding your learning style

I’ve been delivering assessor training recently (in face-to-face workshops, using flipcharts, discussions, role-plays etc). But not everyone has been able to attend on the day. Some have, instead, been briefed on the assessment approach just before cracking on with their assessor duties.

Feedback shows a big difference between those who attended the face-to-face sessions and those who did not – in terms of how well they’ve embedded the learning:

Those who attended the training were more confident in their decisions, were able to challenge and question their own and others’ assumptions better, were more consistent in their scores with other assessors and needed less support from the facilitator.

Why?

Because we all learn new things in different ways. We all have a preferred learning style.

I’ve talked about the four learning styles identified by Honey and Mumford in a previous blog, but more recent research suggests there are many more learning styles to choose from:

  1. Visual (spatial):You prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding. E.g. you might draw a mind map or an image
  2. Aural (auditory-musical): You prefer using sound and music. E.g. you might make up a rhyme or use rhythm to anchor information
  3. Verbal (linguistic): You prefer using words, both in speech and writing. E.g. you might create a mnemonic or script
  4. Physical (kinesthetic): You prefer using your body, hands and sense of touch. E.g. you might want to use role-play to embed ideas
  5. Logical (mathematical): You prefer using logic, reasoning and systems. E.g. you want to understand the reasons behind ideas, you might explore the links between various systems, and note them down
  6. Social (interpersonal): You prefer to learn in groups or with other people. E.g. you might learn best in a workshop situation
  7. Solitary (intrapersonal): You prefer to work alone and use self-study. E.g. you might keep a reflective learning journal, take time out, be clear about your learning goals and what you want to achieve.

Take a minute to consider how you would go about memorising this list. Perhaps you’d create a series of doodles/icons to represent each style (visual = an eye/glasses) or a mnemonic (Vera And Vernon Played Lacrosse So Superbly!). Will you do it by yourself or will you talk it through with someone else?

The method you choose suggests your preferred learning style.

Research shows that this style not only guides the method you use to learn. It’s also how you ‘see’ experiences, how you recall information and determines the words you use.

Some people have a dominant style, others might choose different styles according to the circumstances. Chances are you’ll have felt that more than one style resonates with you.

Each learning style uses a different part of the brain. For instance, the temporal lobes process aural content while the occipital lobes handle visual information.

To maximise our learning, it’s important that we identify our preference (this online test will help you find yours) and ensure we apply it when learning. But it’s also hugely valuable to incorporate other styles into our approach to learning. The more styles we use the more parts of the brain we engage and therefore the more likely we are to retain the information.

That’s why my face-to-face training is delivering better results than people being briefed on the day. Clearly the latter group have not had space to discuss and explore the materials with other learners prior to using them.

By tapping into all of the learning styles, the face-to-face sessions are not just appealing to individual preferences but also providing a richer, deeper learning experience for everyone.

For more on this visit www.learning-styles-online.com/overview/

How can we retain the information we’ve learnt in the long term?

Research shows that when it comes to moving what we’ve learnt from our short to long term memory, essentially, practice makes perfect.

Rehearsing what you’ve learnt and testing yourself at a later date are techniques that help to embed learning. However, studies suggest that self-testing immediately after studying doesn’t work. Instead you need to review material periodically over time.

For more on this: www.human-memory.net/types_long.html

Practising self-efficacy

A key element of effective learning is believing you can do it.

Many people believe intelligence is fixed. And this attitude can harm their ability to learn new things.

If, instead, you recognise that the brain is always developing and growing (it doesn’t stop after babyhood) and that by taking in new information and learning new things you’re adding to the neural connections in your brain, this will have a positive impact on your ability to learn. Carol Dweck calls this a growth mindset – the belief that effort is what counts, not innate levels of intelligence or ability.

Her research also suggests trainers and mentors should offer praise in a way that encourages a growth mindset – avoid comments on innate ability and emphasise instead what learners did well to achieve their success.

For more on learn new things :

https://www.stanford.edu/dept/psychology/cgi-bin/drupalm/cdweck

bps-research-digest.blogspot.com/2008/10/self-belief-boosts-problem-solving.html

Research continues to provide fascinating insights into how the brain takes in and processes new information. It also gives us practical ways to enhance our own learning. Take these tips with you into your next training session to help you get the most out of it.

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