Monday, July 25, 2016

Optimize Your Learning

If you are anything like me then you are likely finding that you are being asked to take in and assimilate more new information than ever before.  Constantly changing markets, shifting business priorities and an increasing accessibility to information has put more pressure on employees to have to 'keep up' with all new industry advances.  As a result, our ability to learn and retain new information has become a critical skill for our continued success.

In the face of growing pressure to read more, learn more and know more, the following tips may prove to be invaluable as you attempt to strengthen your ability to assimilate and retain more information.  Use one or use a few.  Each is designed to help you to optimize your learning, enhance your value and increase your success.

Speed Reading.  If you find that the pile of reading you need to wade through seems to always outstrip the time available to devote to it, you may benefit from increasing your reading speed. Don't think that you need to learn to read 1700 words per minute, just that you could benefit from learning to read faster.  There are numerous apps available that you can use to increase your reading speed, without decreasing your comprehension.  The average person reads at a rate of 250 words per minute. Consider what the impact would be if you doubled that?  The techniques aren't particularly difficult to learn and even a small increase in your speed could have a significant impact on the amount of information you are able to get through or the amount of time you need to devote to the reading you do.

Note Taking.  Taking notes helps our brain to attune to what we are hearing. It helps us to increase both our understanding and retention of the information. Research has shown though that it is far better to hand-write your notes than it is is type them. Often, when typing your notes, you are bypassing the brain and simply typing in what you hear without really thinking about it.  When taking notes by hand though, you are processing the information as you are taking it in, determining what the valuable components are to retain, thus increasing your engagement and understanding of what is being shared.

Understand your Learning Modality.  We have all likely heard that there are four key Learning Modalities (VARK) - Visual, Auditory, Reading/writing, Kinesthetic.  You can speed up your learning by utilizing a modality that aligns with how you learn best.

Self Test. Regularly. The more often you test your understanding and comprehension the more information you are likely to retain. Research shows that those who are tested soon after reading a passage retain the information far longer than those who simply read it. Testing yourself proves to be a great way to help you stay on top of the information you want and need to have at your fingertips. There are lots of great online Flashcard tools that you can use to help you build a series of informational databases to keep yourself  'in the know'.

Always Be Compressing.  Tim Ferriss (of The 4-Hour Workweek fame) has shown the strong advantage to learning new subjects by compressing the necessary information down to 1 or 2 sheets of critical information. Use mnemonic devices (like acronyms or rhymes), images, charts, mind maps and even mind palaces to help you to compress information down to smaller triggers.

Exercise Your Brain.  Like any muscle, your brain needs regular exercise to remain fit, alert and ready to learn.  Play mental games regularly to strengthen your brain. There are great online resources like BrainHQ and Lumosity that can help, or paper and pen books of games and mental puzzles you can use.

Teach Someone Else.  Sharing the information you have learned with others helps you to retain upwards of almost 90% of what you have just learned, especially if you teach it shortly after learning it yourself.

We are all on informational overload today.  Technology has helped make information more accessible, but has also increased the volume of information we need to process.  Using the tips above can help you become a better learner, optimizing your ability to process and retain new information.

You don't need to know it all but you do need to stay on top of what is important. Keeping current with your knowledge is necessary for keeping yourself employed.  Staying one step ahead of those around you keeps you in charge.

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