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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Hacking Knowledge: How to Learn Faster, Deeper, and Better in the 21st Century

From OEDb - The Open Educational Database

December 13, 2012

Are you a lifelong learner? Some great tips for kids of ALL ages.

One of the most valuable things you can ever attain in your life doesn't have a dollar value: it's knowledge. Whether you head to college, learn on the job, or just make a hobby out of exploring new and exciting topics, learning is one of the best things you can ever do for yourself, personally, professionally, or otherwise.

 So, why not learn to do it better?

We've collected some amazing tips and tricks (an update of our
earlier article, almost seven years old now) you can use to help you get the most out of the time you spend learning.

From study suggestions to brain hacks, these tips will help you learn faster, deeper, and better, no matter the subject.

Physical Health and Well-Being

Your brain is an organ in your body, and just like your heart and lungs, it needs you to be in good health to function properly. Here are some tips to help you maximize your learning power from a physical standpoint.

Eat breakfast. Studies have shown that skipping breakfast can impair your ability to learn, making you slower to recall memories, poorer at math, and overall cognitively less adept. So, to learn better, eat a hearty breakfast in the morning, especially if you're taking a test or heading to class.

Get enough sleep. Whether you get enough sleep can have a huge impact on how well you're able to learn. Researchers have found that not getting enough sleep impairs the brain's ability to remember new information. It can also make it harder for you to concentrate or be creative, and reduce your overall cognitive function. A solid six to eight hours a night is a must for maximum learning potential.

Exercise. Exercise doesn't just keep your body fit; it also helps your mind stay in great shape. Aerobic fitness has a positive effect on cognitive function, improving learning ability in both humans and animals. Researchers have found that even just 20 minutes of exercise can increase information processing and memory functions, so consider integrating workout sessions into your academic life.

Take supplements. Gingko biloba has long been promoted as an herbal treatment for improving cognitive function. While scientists have yet to prove whether it truly has a marked effect on learning and memory, it can't hurt to give it a try if you want to max out your learning potential.

Avoid alcohol. Excessive drinking can have some serious effects on your memory, making it hard for you to engage your working and episodic memory at its full capacity. Drink in moderation, and consider avoiding alcohol altogether during times when you need to focus on learning new skills or information.

Eat right. What you choose to fuel your learning with may have a bigger impact on how well you learn the material than you may realize. There are well-researched links between nutrition and academic achievement, and poor nutrition (i.e. eating ramen at every meal) can lead to impaired cognitive function and poorer academic achievement.

Don't ignore health issues. Many health issues like uncorrected vision and depression can affect how well you're able to learn. If you have a health issue that may impact cognitive function or distract you from learning, then see a doctor who can help you treat the issue so you can focus on your studies instead.

Mental Health and Well-Being

Just as physical factors play a role in how you learn, so too does your mental state. Use these tips to help you get happier, healthier, and, in turn, better at learning.

Reduce stress. While a small amount of stress can be good for learners (it provides a great source of motivation), too much stress can actually inhibit your ability to learn, hurting both your physical and mental health in the process. In fact, stress can actually interfere with conscious, purposeful learning, causing you to rely more on gut feelings than well-reasoned methods of learning a new task.

Treat depression. Besides just making you feel sad and unmotivated, depression can also make it harder for you to concentrate and may sap your energy, both robbing you of valuable assets to your learning.

Meditate. Mindful meditation may just have big brain benefits. Studies have shown that not only can meditation make you feel happier and keep your mind healthier, it can also improve your concentration and cognitive function.

Have a laugh. Take a break from learning to have a good laugh. Laughing can help to make you more relaxed and more receptive to the ideas or information you're trying to learn. What's more, it can also help to reduce the anxiety associated with certain assignments or subjects, so learners can relax and let go of preconceived fears.

Focus on your passions. If you're interested in something, you're much more likely to seek out additional material on it, study it, concentrate on it, and generally learn a whole lot more about it. Even if a topic isn't a favorite, find a way to relate it to something you do love to get more out of learning it.

Train your brain. Just as you can train your muscles, you can train your brain. If you want to break out of bad habits or mental patterns, slowly work on them. In time, you'll be able to improve focus and concentration and have a better behaved brain.

Pay attention to your emotions. If you're feeling sad or angry, you might not be able to process high-level information, at least that's what research suggests. Studies have found that certain types of strong emotions shut down the brain's higher-level mental processes, which could be a real roadblock to learning.

Keep your bedroom dark. As odd as it may seem, keeping your bedroom dark at night may help reduce your chances of developing depression or learning issues. A recent study at Johns Hopkins revealed that bright lights, those from lamps, TVs, and computer screens, elevate stress hormones which can lead to depression and impaired cognitive function.

Methods to Facilitate Learning

New research and old knowledge alike can help you to take advantage of numerous ways to maximize your learning. Learn about a few of the most interesting here for getting more out of every study session, class, and hands-on experience.

Capitalize on spike time-dependent plasticity. A learning model called spike time-dependent plasticity can help you take advantage of natural phenomena in the brain to learn more. The model helps learners capitalize on neuronal avalanches, or brief bursts of activity in a group of interconnected neurons that create an "avalanche" of brain stimulation.

Try twilight learning. Twilight learning, perhaps better known in popular culture as subliminal learning, has long been a method employed for training the brain. If you're trying to learn how to do something (or not to do something) or implant information into your brain, use the suggestive messages of this method to help you get there.

Learn a language. Want to beef up your brain? Research suggests that learning a language is one of the best ways to do that. Language learning has been found to actually grow specific regions of the brain; a win-win for those who want a bigger brain and knowledge of another language.

Try osmosis. If you've ever wished you could just put a book against your head and have the information migrate into your brain, you'll appreciate knowing that there are ways you can use osmosis to learn. Stimulation during sleep has been found to enhance skill learning as associations formed during sleep remain intact when you wake up.

While it's not the same as gleaning knowledge through contact, learning something new can be as easy as sleeping with an educational track playing so you can hear it.

Embrace the learning methods of The Matrix. The effortless learning showcased in the film The Matrix may not be science fiction entirely, at least according to recent research. It may be both possible and plausible to use technology to learn to do things like play the piano or hit a ball with very little conscious effort.

How? By using images processed by the visual cortex to alter brain patterns so that they match those of someone who already knows how to do the activity. It's not a practice that's widely available yet, but even low-tech learners can practice getting into the mindset of experts when learning.

Tune into some binaural beats. Binaural beats result from playing two close frequencies simultaneously to produce alpha, beta, delta, and theta waves, each of which correspond to a particular type of brain activity. Some people use them in combination with other learning methods in order to improve alertness, concentration, and relaxation and to get more out of the learning experience.

Getting and Staying Focused

To really get the most out of any kind of learning, whether you're taking a dance class or trying to learn calculus, you have to have focus. These tips can help you build it, keep it, and become a concentration whiz.

Take a break. It is very difficult to maintain intense concentration when learning something for an extended period of time. In fact, research has shown that you'll actually learn and retain more if you punctuate your studying with short breaks. Breaks give your mind time to relax and absorb information, but don't stay away for too long: 15 to 20 minutes is ideal.

Get outside. Can't focus? A short hike or walk outside could be just what you need to clear your mind, reduce stress, and get you ready to focus on the task at hand.

Alternate subjects. If you don't have time for a break, give your mind a change of scenery in a more figurative sense instead. Leave one subject aside for a moment to concentrate on another. You'll have the best results if you alternate between subjects that require different kinds of thinking.

Don't multitask. While you might think you're getting more done when you're multitasking, you're actually just shortchanging everything you're working on by dividing up your attention. Instead, focus on one topic at a time. It might take longer, but you'll get more out of the experience.

Block out distractions. Distractions can have a serious impact on your ability to focus and in turn to learn, perhaps much more than you realize. Even simple things like answering text messages while studying can leave you with poorer learning outcomes, so turn off your phone, disconnect from Facebook, and block out noise when you're learning.

Practice smart time management. When you don't manage your time well you end up stressed, rushed, and very often overwhelmed. The solution? Be smart about how much time your learning endeavors will take and prioritize them over other things. If you wait until the last minute you're less likely to remember information and will learn a whole lot less than if you plan ahead.

Eat smart. Studies suggest that certain foods can actually improve your ability to concentrate. When learning, eat meals that contain fruits, fish, nuts, chocolate, avocados, whole grains, and blueberries to stay at your maximum alertness.

Have caffeine in moderation. For some people, caffeine can be a valuable tool in boosting concentration and focus. Have a small amount of coffee, tea, chocolate, or other food containing caffeine before you study, but don't overdo it; too much caffeine will leave you jittery and strung out.

Improving Your Memory

It's great to have knowledge coming in, but if that information isn't retained, you're not helping yourself. Here are a few ways you can improve your memory and get more out of learning.

Listen to music. Research suggests that certain types of music can help you to recall memories. Information learned while listening to a particular song or collection can more easily be recalled when the corresponding song is recited mentally.

Try speedreading. Save yourself time while studying by learning how to speedread. The practice will make you more efficient and can also help you to better absorb the material. How? Reading slowly can hinder your ability to take in new information (unless it's a technical subject) and speedreading also offers you the chance to filter out irrelevant information.

Use mnemonic devices. Mnemonic devices, essentially tricks for remembering information, can make memorization much easier. Used right, you'll be able to remember all kinds of random information years down the road, just by creating acronyms and visual devices to go along with the material.

Write it down. Writing down information you're trying to learn can actually help you remember it better than typing it out. The act of writing engages more regions of your brain than typing, though there is one caveat: your notes have to be of high quality for the practice to really help you learn.

Sleep on it. Psychologists have found that going to sleep shortly after learning new information can actually help you to remember that information. So, set up your study sessions a few hours before you go to bed or follow them up with a nap to get the biggest boost to your recall.

Rest your brain. To keep new information from trickling out of your brain you don't need to repeat it until your brain is exhausted. In fact, it's actually more effective to sit and rest your brain after learning something new; the practice gives a significant boost in memory.

Using Technology

While technology can be a big distraction, it can also be a boon for learning. Follow these tips to make the most of all the latest and greatest tech tools for learning.

Use social media to organize information. Social media can be a great tool for organizing information and resources. Make use of sites like Pinterest and Evernote to track links, photos, and useful materials, or keep a log of your research on Twitter.

Find like-minded learners. The Web makes it easier than ever to connect with others. If you're learning something new, reach out to others who are also learning, or who are experts on a topic, through Web forums. You may just learn a few valuable tricks or find some support if you're struggling.

Use apps to help you stay on task. Find yourself distracted by social media or funny pictures of cats? You can use apps that block you from using certain sites for a given period of time so you can concentrate.

Take advantage of quiz and flashcard sites. Quizzes and flashcards are a great way to test your progress in learning, and technology can make it easier to do both. There are a variety of sites that offer templates for building flashcards and quizzes alike.

Learn from videos and multimedia. There are countless educational videos on the Web that can show you firsthand how to do all kinds of things, explain complex topics, or just introduce you to new things. Take advantage to add richness to your education.

Stand or move while using your computer. An recent study found that combining a mentally stimulating activity like computer use with a physically stimulating activity like standing or walking actually reduces memory loss more than doing either alone.

Don't listen to the naysayers. There are a lot of people out there who don't think technology is all that great for learning but they may be on the wrong side of history. Research shows that computer use actually gives students a bump in their grades, which while small isn't insignificant.

Tweet about your learning. It might sound strange, but studies have shown that using Twitter actually improves student learning. Really! Tweeting about your learning can make you feel more engaged with the material and as a result could help you have better outcomes.

Don't know? Look it up. The Internet offers you an amazing educational opportunity: unlimited access to knowledge. If you don't know something, just look it up.

Take a MOOC. Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs) are a hot topic this year. They can allow you to take courses online for free from some of the world's leading academic institutions. It's an opportunity well worth taking advantage of for learners.

Use online library resources. Today, just about every library out there has a Web presence. You can find loads of books, articles, and multimedia from college and public libraries as well as in big collections like that of the Library of Congress.

Find experts. Need some help figuring things out? Use the Web to seek out experts. You can use sites focused on providing access to experts, or find your favorite scholars on Twitter.

General Tips for Learning

Some things never change, including these tips that you can use to learn and study. No matter what you're learning or how you learn, you'll find help in relaxing, taking in new information, and making the most of your ideas.

Loosen up. If you're stressed out or feeling tense, you're less likely to be able to learn well. So, take a minute to loosen up, have a laugh, and relax before you engage in learning.

Freethink. Sometimes, it can be smart to just let your mind wander a little bit. Sit back and freethink loosely around an idea. You may just find that you suddenly understand things a little better.

Keep a notebook on hand. Scores of famous writers and thinkers have used small notebooks to record their ideas on the fly. You can do so as well, jotting down questions, thoughts, and correlations as they come to you.

Get organized. You can make learning a whole lot easier by getting yourself organized. When you know where your materials are you'll waste less time looking for them and have more time for learning.

Learn about learning. Want to learn more effectively? Then take the time to read up on some of the latest learning-related research.

Think holistically. Instead of focusing on the details, consider a topic from a broader viewpoint. It may make more sense to you that way and give you a better sense of how the smaller parts contribute to a whole.

Don't shy away from repetition. Repetition, as dull as it might sound, is actually a great tool for learning. So keep doing flashcards, studying notes, and practicing.

Build problem-solving skills. It might not help you to remember small details, but building problem-solving and critical thinking skills is one of the best things you can do to improve your learning ability. You'll more easily be able to see connections, work through problems, and get more out of your studies.

Understand that there is no wrong way to learn. There is no right or wrong way to learn, just what works. Cater to your own needs and forget what others say; that's the only right way to do things.

Self-direct your learning. Research has shown that self-directed learning is one of the most effective ways to learn. Scientists aren't quite sure why that's the case, but while they figure it out you can use hands-on, self-led study to your advantage.

Let yourself get confused. As frustrating as it may be, confusion can actually help you to learn. A new study from Notre Dame has shown that confusion with difficult conceptual topics actually results in individuals being better able to apply that knowledge, when the answers were finally puzzled out, to new problems.

Have novel experiences. Our brains love novelty. In fact, they crave it. Incorporating more novel experiences into your learning can give you a greater passion for it and help you to remember and learn more.

Slow down and give your mind time to adapt to change. While humans are very adaptable creatures, we, and our brains, do need some time to adjust. When you experience a change of scenery, circumstances, or rules, give yourself a chance to let your brain catch up and get used to the new guidelines for learning before getting frustrated and giving up. You'll get there, it will just take time.

Getting Motivated

Feeling frustrated with trying to learn something new? You're not alone. There are plenty of ways to get and keep yourself motivated, however, and you can read about a few of them here.

Keep a learning journal. A learning journal can help to document what you're learning on a daily or weekly basis and can serve as an amazing motivator as you look back on all that you've accomplished.

Give yourself credit. While it's good to push yourself, it's also critical to give yourself credit for a job well done. Let yourself bask in the glory of reaching your goals before you start moving onto setting others.

Find intrinsic reasons to learn. Teachers, parents, and friends can offer motivation, but the best source of motivation is closer to home: it's you. Think about why you want to learn, not for others but for yourself.

Set high but realistic goals. If you want to keep yourself motivated, set your goals and expectations for yourself high. If you don't, you won't have to work hard and you won't feel motivated to do the work.

Keep a positive mindset. When you're struggling with a topic it can be hard to keep yourself looking at your progress in a positive manner, but if you get down on yourself you'll lose motivation and accomplishing your goals will just be harder.

Create a learning-friendly environment. Do you have a space available to you that's conducive to learning? If you don't have somewhere that's quiet, organized, and private, work on constructing a space that will help, not hinder your learning.

Set deadlines for yourself. Deadlines might stress you out a bit, but they're essential for keeping you motivated and working hard.

Don't give up. Failure is how you learn, so don't throw in the towel just because you've had a few setbacks. Just like you didn't learn to ride a bike on the first try, learning new things takes time, so keep at it.

Find a challenge. There are few feelings as amazing as rising to meet a challenge that's put in front of you. Set yourself up with a challenge and chip away at it bit by bit until you've met it.

Finding Opportunities for Learning

Looking to learn something new? From basic lessons to tech tools to teachers, you'll find some great advice on learning opportunities.

Read everything. One of the most accessible and easiest ways to learn is by reading. Read everything you can get your hands on and you'll grow your knowledge by leaps and bounds.

Let your learning branch out. If you're learning about one topic and find yourself interested in another, related topic that comes up, don't hesitate to take on learning more about that topic, too. It will enrich your knowledge about the original topic and encourage you to learn as much as possible.

Figure out what you don't know. Not sure what you want to learn? Start out by figuring out where the gaps are in your knowledge. Once you know what you don't know, you can start working to fill in those gaps.

Try applied learning. If reading a book on a subject sounds like a snooze to you, you may learn more by engaging in a form of applied learning. Applied learning can be anything from an internship to performing an experiment; essentially anything that gets you hands-on and learning about a topic in the real world.

Take advantage of free online courses. There are hundreds, if not thousands of free online courses available on the Web. Use them to your advantage to learn about topics that range from computer science to religious studies.

Take a trip. Travel can be one of the most amazing and fun ways to learn. Take a trip to a place you've never been, whether close to home or far away, to learn more about history, culture, and geography.

Make use of local museums and cultural centers. Most communities are full of learning opportunities if you know where to look. Use your local museums, cultural centers, and events as a way to learn more about things you've never explored before.

Join a book club. A book club can be a great way to motivate you to read, and it can also encourage you to give books a deeper analysis than you would on your own.

Don't force it. If you're learning something just to learn something and you're finding yourself unmotivated to do the work, consider setting it aside for awhile. If you're not passionate about learning, you'll get less out of it and it may be better to wait until it's the right time for you to revisit a topic.

Tips for Students

Those taking a class can find tips to improve the learning experience, whether online or off, here, with ideas on how to get connected, research, and study.

Make a mindmap. Mindmaps can be a great way to organize your thoughts and figure out where you need to focus your studies. They're also a great tool for boosting creativity.

Study in sequence. There are certain things that are best learned in a sequence, where one idea builds on another. This method can help you to get more out of study time and better understand the material at hand.

Take notes. Taking notes, both in class and while you're reading, is a great way to help you condense and organize the information you're trying to learn.

Have everything you need to learn. There's nothing more distracting than having to hunt for your notes or run out to the store in order to have all the things you require to do homework, complete a project, or even just learn from a class. Get everything you need first, then sit down so you'll be better focused and prepared.

Collaborate with others. Working with others can help to spark new ideas, make learning more fun, and can even help you to understand topics you're struggling with. Just try not to have too much fun; you might forget to learn!

Teach others. One of the best ways to really learn something is to teach it to someone else. You'll have to be able to answer a lot of questions about the topic, and it can be a great way to beef up your own knowledge, no matter the subject.

Plan and prioritize your learning. You'll get more out of learning if you plan to make it an important part of your daily life. Set aside times for study and homework and make them a top priority on a regular basis.

Test yourself. Research shows that there's a lot of value in testing yourself. Tests can both help you assess what you've learned and can help you to better learn and retain new information over the long term and apply it across different contexts.

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