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Learning how to learn — understanding the way your brain works for effective learning

It was in the fall of my final year in high school when I heard this phrase uttered by my professor. As we were sitting in his office, talking about how we could improve the way we live and work, he mentioned this phrase. This underrated skill was something he believed should be taught in schools as he had met too many students who, while very hardworking, would be spending way too much time poring over their books. They would subsequently forget what they learnt soon after. To this day, his words still strike a chord in me.

How does one go about learning how to learn? After all, learning seems like a rather intuitive skill by itself. If we do it every day in school, then what’s the point of taking the extra time in our already busy lives to think about something we have been doing for the most part of our studying? Besides, what else is there to know?

There are surprisingly many things that are not common knowledge, such as key concepts in the way our brain processes and stores information. These aforementioned key concepts apply to everyone, because in one way or another, you will have to involve information that is new to you. Whether you are a high school student or a guitarist, there is much to be said about the skill of learning.

Cue Barbara Oakley, a professor who has studied and discovered the best way to learn, according to how our brains function best. Her work has been so significant that she has written not one but two books focusing on how to learn. In her book, Learning how to learn, she explains the mechanisms of the brain taking in new information and processing it in the different modes of thinking. Here are a few that she explains are critical for learning:

1) There are two modes of thinking that the brain constantly uses and switches back and forth.

The diffuse mode, and a more intense practice mode. The diffuse mode allows for abstract thought while the practice mode calls for vigorous thinking of many ideas.

Being aware of the diffuse mode and intense practice mode, and consciously switching back and forth helps us form better connections between ideas that may be hard to grasp at first. Brilliant people like Thomas Edison have relied on this trick to come up with solutions.

2) Understanding procrastination can help us avoid it.

Rather than doing a particular task with the end goal in mind, focus on the process instead. Doing that reduces the discomfort that more often than not leads to procrastination. For example, rather than thinking of finishing that math problem set, focus on working on the topic for 30 minutes.

Her book, learning how to learn, describes more aspects of learning and helps advise us against the pitfalls that one may face. There is much potential that we can harness from observing what is advantageous to us, and this can apply to more than studying in the curriculum. Learning how to learn helps us take a step back and learn how to be more flexible. In TECO Education, we’re here to help you take a step towards better studying and effective learning.


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