The speed of learning will depend on the way you formulate the material. The same material can be learned many times faster if well formulated! The difference in speed can be stunning! ..
The rules are listed in the order of importance. Those listed first are most often violated or bring most benefit if complied with!
There is an underlying assumption that you will proceed with learning using spaced repetition, i.e. you will not just learn once but you will repeat the material optimally.
The process of self-teaching and learning is entirely different to what we experience when we are taught by others because in the latter we are not responsible except to do the work and hand in assignments on time.
When we take charge on things that truly interest us, there is a force at play that I think is even more stimulating and powerful than could ever be emulated in the classroom.
“There is a force at play more powerful than could ever be emulated in the classroom.”Those who have demonstrated tremendous success in various fields, whether sportsmen, artists, scientists and mountaineers, have been shown to have dedicated significant resources to self learning and building up knowledge and skills throughout life.
Step 1: The Rules of Formulating Knowledge in Learning
- Do not learn if you do not understand Trying to learn things you do not understand may seem like an utmost nonsense. Still, an amazing proportion of students commit the offence of learning without comprehension. Very often they have no other choice! The quality of many textbooks or lecture scripts is deplorable while examination deadlines are unmovable.
If you are not a speaker of German, it is still possible to learn a history textbook in German. The book can be crammed word for word. However, the time needed for such "blind learning" is astronomical. Even more important: The value of such knowledge is negligible. If you cram a German book on history, you will still know nothing of history.
The German history book example is an extreme. However, the materials you learn may often seem well structured and you may tend to blame yourself for lack of comprehension. Soon you may pollute your learning process with a great deal of useless material that treacherously makes you believe "it will be useful some day".
- Learn before you memorize Before you proceed with memorizing individual facts and rules, you need to build an overall picture of the learned knowledge. Only when individual pieces fit to build a single coherent structure, will you be able to dramatically reduce the learning time. This is closely related to the problem comprehension mentioned in Rule 1: Do not learn if you do not understand. A single separated piece of your picture is like a single German word in the textbook of history.
Do not start from memorizing loosely related facts! First read a chapter in your book that puts them together (e.g. the principles of the internal combustion engine). Only then proceed with learning using individual questions and answers (e.g. What moves the pistons in the internal combustion engine?), etc.
- Build upon the basics The picture of the learned whole (as discussed in Rule 2: Learn before you memorize) does not have to be complete to the last detail. Just the opposite, the simpler the picture the better. The shorter the initial chapter of your book the better. Simple models are easier to comprehend and encompass. You can always build upon them later on.
Do not neglect the basics. Memorizing seemingly obvious things is not a waste of time! Basics may also appear volatile and the cost of memorizing easy things is little. Better err on the safe side. Remember that usually you spend 50% of your time repeating just 3-5% of the learned material [source]! Basics are usually easy to retain and take a microscopic proportion of your time. However, each memory lapse on basics can cost you dearly!
- Stick to the minimum information principle The material you learn must be formulated in as simple way as it is only possible. Simplicity does not have to imply losing information and skipping the difficult part. Simplicity is imperative due to the way the brain works. There are two main reasons for which knowledge must be simple:
Here is a striking example:
- Simple is easy
By definition, simple material is easy to remember. This comes from the fact that its simplicity makes is easy for the brain to process it always in the same way. Imagine a labyrinth. When making a repetition of a piece of material, your brain is running through a labyrinth (you can view a neural network as a tangle of paths). While running through the labyrinth, the brain leaves a track on the walls. If it can run in only one unique way, the path is continuous and easy to follow. If there are many combinations, each run may leave a different trace that will interfere with other traces making it difficult to find the exit. The same happens on the cellular level with different synaptic connections being activated at each repetition of complex material
Ill-formulated knowledge - Complex and wordyYou might want to experiment and try to learn two subjects using the two above approaches and see for yourself what advantage is brought by minimum information principle. This is particularly visible in the long perspective, i.e. the longer the time you need to remember knowledge, the more you benefit from simplifying your items!
- Repetitions of simple items are easier to schedule
I assume you will make repetitions of the learned material using optimum inter-repetition intervals (as in SuperMemo). If you consider an item that is composed of two sub-items, you will need to make repetitions that are frequent enough to keep the more difficult item in memory. If you split the complex item into sub-items, each can be repeated at its own pace saving your time. Very often, inexperienced students create items that could easily be split into ten or more simpler sub-items! Although the number of items increases, the number of repetitions of each item will usually be small enough to greatly outweigh the cost of (1) forgetting the complex item again and again, (2) repeating it in excessively short intervals or (3) actually remembering it only in part!
Q: What are the characteristics of the Dead Sea? A: Salt lake located on the border between Israel and Jordan. Its shoreline is the lowest point on the Earth's surface, averaging 396 m below sea level. It is 74 km long. It is seven times as salty (30% by volume) as the ocean. Its density keeps swimmers afloat. Only simple organisms can live in its saline waters
Well-formulated knowledge - Simple and specific
Q: Where is the Dead Sea located?
A: on the border between Israel and Jordan Q: What is the lowest point on the Earth's surface?
A: The Dead Sea shoreline
Q: What is the average level on which the Dead Sea is located?
A: 400 meters (below sea level)
Q: How long is the Dead Sea?
A: 70 km
Q: How much saltier is the Dead Sea as compared with the oceans?
A: 7 times
Q: What is the volume content of salt in the Dead Sea?
Q: Why can the Dead Sea keep swimmers afloat?
A: due to high salt content
Q: Why is the Dead Sea called Dead?
A: because only simple organisms can live in it
Q: Why only simple organisms can live in the Dead Sea?
A: because of high salt content
- Simple is easy
Step 2: Top 10 Memory Improvement Tips
Another great way to increase your recall is to occasionally change your study routine. If you are accustomed to studying in one specific location, try moving to a different spot during your next study session. If you study in the evening, try spending a few minutes each morning reviewing the information you studied the previous night. By adding an element of novelty to your study sessions, you can increase the effectiveness of your efforts and significantly improve your long-term recall.