Learning new topics or skills requires a lot of time and effort, overcoming challenges that are different for everyone, and it can make us uncomfortable and frustrated. However, according to Dr Justin Sung, a former medical doctor and full-time learning coach, consultant, education author, and social entrepreneur it's also something that any student can become better at by using certain clever and creative techniques or approaches to studying based on the scientific research.
Dr Justin Sung has worked with thousands of students to improve their learning outcomes. In one of his YouTube videos, he shares some of this experience, telling about 5 most fundamental elements of efficient learning that can be applied to any student's or learner's studies. Although there're other, more familiar techniques like spaced repetition and flashcards, getting these basics right can help build a solid foundation for academic success.
Step 1: Priming or Pre-study
In cognitive psychology, priming is a process when an individual’s exposure to a certain stimulus influences his or her response to a subsequent stimulus. For example, if you are presented with the word 'film', a bit later you will recognize the word 'actress' much faster than the word 'dog' because these two words related to film industry are closely associated in your mind.
In education, priming effect is used to enhance learning by preparing students to receive a new material in ways that make subsequent studying more effective. For example, to introduce a new piece of information, at the beginning of a lesson a teacher can preview slides, or ask students questions related to a new topic.
You can apply priming to your own studies the following way. Quickly scan the new material first and get a general understanding of the topic at hand (for example, by reading the headings, looking at the relevant diagrams and images, etc). At this point, you need to try to grasp the big picture without getting into any details. This will allow you to easier and faster master the key and more difficult concepts pertaining to the new material later on.
Step 2. Active learning
In order to learn efficiently, a student needs to be actively engaged in a new lesson, or be focused when receiving new information. The simplest way to be a more active and engaged learner is to ask a lot of questions about the new topic. You don't need to verbalize them, but they have to be meaningful, i.e. starting with 'Why', 'How', or 'How come'. It will help you to make important connections between different concepts and have deep understanding of a topic.
Step 3. Revise within 24 hours of your studies
According to Dr Justin Sung, you will have better learning outcomes down the line if you revise the new knowledge as fast as possible (preferably at the same day because postponing it makes it less beneficial).
Step 4. Revise better
It's also important to revise in a way that will allow you to better consolidate new information. Dr Justin Sung recommends making your revision notes as non-verbal and free-flowing as possible to reflect your thinking process. One way to do that is to take everything you have learnt so far and present it drawing something like a mind map (i.e. visually organise information into a hierarchy, showing relationships among pieces of the whole). To create such a diagram, you need to group things into categories, combine ideas and concepts in a meaningful way that makes most sense to you, and emphasize the main points (for example, by using different colours and doodles).
Step 5. Pre-exam revision
And, finally, to be successful at the exams, make your pre-exam revision as challenging as possible, forcing yourself to actively retrieve information from memory and put it in a meaningful context. Instead of re-reading notes for example, you can draw diagrams, doodles or mind maps, or imagine yourself to be a teacher who explains a topic to an imaginary student.
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