Learning is complicated! To truly learn – that is to understand and retain new information – you may need to first learn about learning itself. Research has found that many low-achieving students show “substantial deficits” in their awareness and use of learning strategies. This suggests that academic struggles and dropout rates among young people are at least due in part to a learning skills gap, rather than a gap in specific subject mastery (like reading or math).
Teachers are good at instructing us on facts like names and dates, but as a society we place little emphasis on teaching students efficient strategies that can be used to learn any new material. Think of it like a toolkit – when you’re studying something new, especially something challenging, what can you reach in and pull out to help you conquer subject matter successfully?
We’ve put together a few toolkit ideas for you below. The next time you find yourself studying a new topic, try following one or more (more is better!) of the methods described below, even if they seem silly, obvious, or like they won’t make a difference. Stick with it and you’ll be amazed at the results!
1. Think back to what you already know
When starting out with a subject, think back to what you already know about it or similar subjects. This will get your brain juices flowing, ready to make connections with new information.
2. Discuss the subject with others
Summarizing, paraphrasing, or explaining what you’re learning to someone who knows nothing about the subject challenges you to put learned concepts into your words, bettering your memory and understanding.
3. Draw pictures or diagrams
Drawing pictures, diagrams, or charts to visually represent text can help you better understand the relationships between and among the concepts you’re learning. Doodle away!
4. Make up your own questions
They say the best way to learn something is to teach it, so why not teach something to yourself? Make up questions to challenge your understanding of the material. If you have a study partner, even better – make up questions for each other!