Do you remember the last blog post you read? Can you recall more than its topic and a few key points? If we trust Ebbinghaus' forgetting curve, about 70 percent is already forgotten after 24 hours. Even if this data cannot be generalised, because too many variables are in place, the individual perception is often similar. How frustrating when we consider how much time and energy we invest in learning!
So, the question is obvious: How can we flatten the forgetting curve?
Repeating, marking or writing down – each of us has developed own strategies in the past to learn as efficiently as possible. Thanks to technological advances in recent years, neuroscience has been able to gain more insights into what really happens in the brain while we learn. Some hunches have been confirmed and many new insights have been added.
At mevolute, we have developed a “learning framework” based on this and are currently experimenting with its use in our trainings in order to anchor the learning results more sustainably in the participants’ minds. There are five steps that, in addition to the actual learning content, should help to anchor new knowledge in the long-term memory. I guide you through them:
1. Positive emotions: Handling feelings before starting to learn.
Guess what! It’s hard to learn when you’re in a bad mood. That’s not so surprising, we all know that after a conflict with the boss or a colleague we still play accusation ping-pong in our minds instead of being able to study receptively.
Neuroscience has been able to prove it: Emotions drive attention and attention drives learning, problem-solving and memory capabilities. So, if we know that negative feelings block learning, what can we do? We can make use of the approaches of positive psychology! For example, through journaling, a gratitude check-in and meditation or breathing techniques we enhance the ability to focus and hide the negative (at least for the moment).
So first, take five minutes to arrive and handle your feelings. We warm up before the sports exercise – and before learning too!
2. Goal setting: Defining a focus to channel attention.
Some people confuse learning with entertainment. Don’t get me wrong, of course learning can be entertaining. But the attitude of the learner is crucial! As Johann Friedrich Herbart (German founder of pedagogy as an academic discipline) stated at the end of the 18th century, learning is the self-responsibility of the learner. A passive consumer attitude towards the educator is not beneficial.
Defining goals helps us to get into an active learning mindset. In addition, something else extremely helpful happens along the way: the priming effect, neuropsychologically proven, supports us in subconscious information processing. By self-setting a personal question or goal we enhance the learning outcome while getting even more ready in our brain to absorb new knowledge. What is your question for this blog post by the way?
3. Build connections: New knowledge needs anchors in our brain.
Even when we learn something new, we never start from scratch. There is always an experience or related knowledge that we build on. The neuroscientifically proven plasticity of the brain proves that we are able to build new neuronal connections at any age. The information puzzle becomes more and more complete!
Through so-called elaboration techniques, we build up anchor points that prevent new knowledge from simply “rushing through”. That is why it makes sense at this point to take a few minutes to draw up a mind map or systems map. Freely associate which existing knowledge or related topics you want to link to with the new learning content. Don’t worry, there is no right or wrong here. The main thing is to work with some arrows and make as many connections as possible.
4. Prime time: Inhale your actual learning content.
You are all set now. Read your book, watch the documentary, listen to the podcast or lecture. New information can be absorbed, linked and processed in a focused way.
A short note: The story about the different learning types is a myth. So far, there is not enough scientifically backed data to prove that we are either “the visual type”, “the acoustic type” or “the haptic type”. Depending on the topic, environment or (life) situation, different approaches are ideal. Here, too, a little experimentation helps to find the optimal learning channel for the moment.
5. Dual repetition: Reflection in two ways to sustain new knowledge.
Closing the book and that’s it? Not quite. Directly after your learning content, it is worth investing a few minutes of your time to show the new knowledge the way out of the working memory into the long-term memory.
How do you do that? The best way is to use two different channels: the combination of verbal and non-verbal stimuli helps us to remember better and turns the narrow path to long-term memory into a wide data highway. Mnemonic techniques such as the method of loci can be used here. Or you can rebuild what you have just learned with a few Lego bricks. Your hands will remember!
Next steps: What’s different now? Take some action.
What, am I still not finished? Well, not yet. New knowledge has to be translated into new behaviours, that’s the only way to transfer theory into practice. What do you do differently from now on?
“Start small but smart” is the slogan here. Define concrete steps and give them due dates. Involve others. This creates a distinct growth mindset, which boosts continuous development. For example, you could start by talking about these five learning steps with your family over dinner tonight. Or you could try out the framework as soon as you read the next article.
Start small but start, so your dedicated learning time is well invested.