The concept of learning is defined as “a process which results in a relatively permanent change in behavior or potential behavior”. Generally, we can say that learning occurs when the learner:
Makes New Connections
You make new connections or strengthen old ones in your brain when you learn something – in a very literal sense. How your brain works has everything to do with your neurons (brain cells). What’s even more interesting is the role that emotion and repetition play in learning.
The brain is an incredibly powerful “pattern matching” device, so it constantly searches for connections between what it is experiencing right now and what it has experienced in the past.
Our remarkable ability to perceive situations in a way that takes shortcuts has allowed us to function in today’s world. This can also cause us to misidentify or misread certain sensory cues, which is why optical illusions can catch us off guard.
Basically, what you ‘know’ and what you ‘don’t know’ can create a kind of emotional tension within you. Imagine yourself holding a rubber band between your hands. On the one hand, you have to learn new information, and on the other hand, you have what you already know. As you pull your hands apart, there is more tension created as the difference between ‘what is new’ and ‘what is known’ grows. The resistance that has been described is called ‘dissonance’. When there is too much dissonance, the mind may reject the new learning or experience. Learning something reduces the tension between ‘new’ and ‘known’, allowing us to gain a deeper understanding.
Direct, personal relevance and value reduce the risk of new information being rejected. As a result, interest, desire, curiosity, and utility (usefulness) are all factors that contribute to learning.
In terms of learning and memory, stick-ability is directly related to the use of new information or the practice of new skills. As a result, practice, rehearsal, and rote learning play an important role. Applying new knowledge (know-how) and techniques (skills) is very important.
Then, what are some practical steps that can be taken to make personal learning more effective?
Identify what you want to learn.
To put it another way, recall what you already know about a particular topic and decide on relevant and meaningful questions that will take you from what you know to what you want to know. Questions motivate learning!
Put value on what you want to learn.
Make sure you have a clearly defined reason or personal value in wanting to learn something. That could come from the fact that you are simply interested or curious or because you need to learn something as a stepping stone to the desired goal.
Organize your learning.
When learning, I like to use tools such as mind-maps to record what I’m learning. Simply reading new information does not enhance learning for most people. Reading and transforming that information into something different (keywords, bullet points, mind maps, affinity diagrams) is the most effective way to understand new ideas and concepts.
Make learning an emotional and sensory experience.
Concentrate on the learning experience and become immersed in it. Learning happens when we see, hear, do and think. Make the effort to see, hear (talk), use, and reflect upon what you have learned.
Connect new ideas with what you already know.
Make connections between your current knowledge and the new material.
Share what you have learned.
A good way to learn is to teach someone else. When you teach, you must explain, and explanations rely on (or test) understanding.
Keep reviewing what you have learned.
As much as 80% of what you have learned will be forgotten in 24 hours if it is not reviewed. This is why cramming does not enhance long-term memory or learning. Identify what you already know before beginning a ‘learning session’. At the end of each learning session, re-read your notes or mind maps; at the end of the day, reflect on what you have learned. Keep reviewing until you feel that you truly understand what you have learned.
It is important to remember that learning is not always fun – it’s about emotional engagement.
The role of emotions in influencing attitudes, values, beliefs, and behavior cannot be underestimated. Learning must be relevant for it to have meaningful context and an emotional connection that engages our mind.
A brain’s natural function is to learn. Many of us put barriers in the way of ourselves as learners. You can overcome self-limiting beliefs or barriers that come from the expectations and agendas of others.