Variety Is The Spice Of Good Learning

Another incredibly useful trick is to introduce variety into our learning methods. Whether this be shifting our physical locations while learning or reading about different topics simultaneously, variety helps our brain absorb information into our long-term memory much more effectively than when we stick to one topic and study it in one physical location throughout. This is because information is often context-specific.

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Another well-researched and documented approach to learning can be summarized easily: mix it up!

William E. Hockley found in a:

You’re also more likely to make connections, remembering, for example, that you learned XYZ when on the sofa that rainy morning, and ABC the following day outside in the sunshine. You remember it more easily because you can recall the sound of the birds at the time, and the feeling of the deck chair against your legs. It’s not quite a photographic memory, but it brings you closer to the moment you first learnt the material.

As you study, switch things up and involve as many senses as possible: gentle, varying music in the background, a different beverage or snack each time, some incense one day and a hot water bottle the next… These are all cognitive breadcrumbs to help you find your way back to the learned material.

What about the “Mozart Effect” or the claim that listening to Mozart during study will somehow improve recall? Plenty of research has been done into the effects of different kinds of music on learning, some of it conflicting. If you’re trying to concentrate hard and memorize, silence may be best, so it might work to have white noise in some earphones if you’re in a place where traffic, coughing and sneezing, or random noises could interrupt your flow.

k Perham and Joanne Vizard in:

Much of the effect of including elements like music or varied environments while learning has been put down to the feeling state induced by such things. When our brains are flooded with dopamine and we are relaxed and calm, we are more likely to be able to focus and learn. To this end, you might choose to include a meditative practice or other pleasing ritual into your study plan.

a clear and receptive mind. A:

This is no surprise to anyone who has tried to learn anything while stressed, low on sleep, depressed or distracted. If your brain is constantly running off in all directions and distracted by its own chatter, there’s far less mental energy available for focusing on learning what’s in front of you. In addition to helping to quiet your mind, meditation can support emotional self-regulation, strengthen your body-mind connection and connect you to your overarching goals and intentions for learning.

The brain is a complex thing; it doesn’t operate linearly like a computer, and sometimes the connections it makes don’t follow the logic they “should.” However, you can take advantage of your brain’s natural creativity, plasticity and connectedness. Use mnemonics, analogies, storytelling or jokes to help cement ideas in your memory—the more colorful, outrageous or even rude the association, the more you’re likely to remember it.

Add dimension and flavor to your learning so you have more nodes to draw connections between. If you’re learning about a certain historical period, listen to the music of that era while you study, imagine soap-opera-like dramas between the key characters and relate them to your own friends and family. You might even find movies and TV shows that are set in the same era, and watch them to help yourself visualize that era better. Create mind maps, comics, doodles, songs or puns to help link ideas together.

By using emotion and variety, you give your brain a richer and more dynamic stimulus—if you only remember one thread from this complex patchwork, you can pull on it to more easily recall the entire thing. Relate information back to yourself, back to emotive or personally relevant topics, back to the context you’re studying in, to anything that means something to you. Your brain will always remember and prioritize things that appear to be more pertinent and meaningful.

Finally, consider “interleafing,” which some research has suggested is more effective than learning in fixed “blocks” where you study only one type of problem at a time. Interleaved practice essentially means you mix up study materials, problems tackled and methods in a single study session. For example, you don’t merely read through a chapter on one algebraic operation and then complete a practice run of twenty problems using that operation, but rather practice a range of problems of different kinds.

This may work best if you first study in blocks to become familiar with the basics, but as soon as you’re able, start mixing things up to encourage more nimble problem solving—i.e. teaching your brain not only to solve problems, but also to recognize the difference between different problems and how to solve them. It’s a little like a dynamic CrossFit training day rather than a session that focuses solely on one muscle group.

rch by Doug Rohrer et. al. in:

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