One of the most crucial aspects of our lives is our ability to learn. We often take this skill for granted since not many of us pause and think about how we are learning. In fact, if we did, we would probably uncover that a lot of how we learn isn’t that effective.
Think about it. Has your learning process helped you to recall things you learned last month? How about last year?
A lot of how we learn mainly was tucked away in school. Our exposure to school learning is the basis for how we learn moving forward. But the issue is that, over the past few decades, learning has evolved.
No longer are we looking at examinations of people’s characteristics pertaining to understanding and learning. Rather, scholars have created learning processes that use materials that support our interactions with others and goals.
As a result, we can learn new things in a smarter and more effective manner. I’ll be covering the steps, as well as other types of learning.
The Essential Steps of the Learning Process
In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell states that the key to success is for us to practice 10,000 hours on a specific skill. It’s also worth noting that the skill needs to be practiced the correct way. If you’re learning how to do something the wrong way, you’ll continue to use it the wrong way.
But before delving into the learning process, it’s key to know the stages of learning. Written in the 1970s, Noel Burch created a model called the Four Stages of Learning. From there, we can use the stages of learning as a basis for how to learn effectively.
1. Unconscious Incompetence
Think of a skill that you use every single day, a skill that you’re really good at.
Now think back to when you first developed that skill. Were you really good at it? Probably not.
In fact, you never heard of the skill or had a desire to learn of it until that point. This is the first stage: You know nothing about it.
2. Conscious Incompetence
Once you have heard of the skill, you begin to delve into it. Driving a car is a perfect example.
Before this stage, you never had a need to learn how to drive a car. But once you became legal age to drive, you had to study to get your license. You likely made several mistakes on the driving test and during the written tests.
This is the stage where you feel learning is slow, and you’re also aware of your mistakes.
3. Conscious Competence
By this stage, you know pretty much everything you need to know. At the same time though, you are also aware you need to focus and concentrate on what you are doing.
Going back to driving, this stage can be that you know the rules of the road and can drive well. However, you feel you can’t talk to anyone, play any music, or look away from the road. You feel like you need total silence in order to focus and concentrate on driving.
At this stage, learning can come even slower than the previous stages. The learning also isn’t consistent nor is it a habit quite yet.
4. Unconscious Competence
By this stage, you’ve made it. You know everything in and out about the skill. It’s become a habit and you don’t need to concentrate. You can relax and let your unconscious mind take over.
Exceeding the 4 Stages: Flow/Mastery
While Burch only covered four stages, there is another stage that exceeds it. This is the flow or mastery stage.
You may have heard of something called a flow state. It’s the mental state where someone is performing an activity and is fully immersed in it. They feel energized, focused, and get a sense of joy from doing this activity.
Flow or mastery can stem from all kinds of activities. Writing, reading, jogging, biking, figure skating, and more. It’s also characterized as complete absorption in what you’re doing, making you unaware of space and time.
Different Types of Learning
Another aspect of the learning process is the types of learning. While every person goes through those learning stages, how we learn is different.
I’ve covered 4 learning styles in my other article 4 Learning Styles to Help You Learn Faster and Smarter. Here I’m recapping the different types of learning in psychology.
Psychiatrists have narrowed how we learn down to seven learning styles they are described as:
- Visual (spatial): Learning through pictures, graphs, charts, etc.
- Aural (auditory-musical): Learning through sound and music.
- Verbal (linguistic): Learning through spoken or written words.
- Physical (kinesthetic): Learning through the body, hands, and a sense of touch.
- Logical (mathematical): Learning through logic, systems, and reasons.
- Social (interpersonal): Learning through groups or talking to people.
- Solitary (intrapersonal): Learning individually through self-study or individual assignments.
You may be asking why all of this matters and actually how we learn plays a significant role. How we internally represent experiences stems from how we learn. Not only that but how we recall information, and our own word choice is determined from how we learn.
It also influences which part of our brain we use for learning. Researchers uncovered this through various experiments.
For example, say you’re driving to a place you’ve never gone before. How you learn will determine which method of learning you’ll use. Some will ask people for directions, while others will pull up Google maps. Some will write the directions out, while some won’t and merely follow street signs.
Knowing how to learn to this depth is key because once you know what style you use, you can then develop a learning process to be a more effective learner.
How To Become an Effective Learner
The learning process varies from person to person. Generally speaking though, consider the following steps and considerations:
1. Improve Your Memory
Learning doesn’t only require that we learn information, but also to retain it. If we are to learn something, we will have to learn and relearn. This means recalling and having a strong memory to retain that information.
Now how we can improve our memory can range from a variety of things. From memory palaces to practicing other memory improvement tactics.
2. Keep Learning and Practicing New Things
Learning a new skill takes time, but there is nothing wrong with learning a few other things. In fact, one article published in Nature reported those who juggled between learning different topics increased their gray matter; and gray matter is associated with visual memory.
3. Learn in Many Ways
While we have our own go-to style, delving in other types of learning can be good. If you learn by listening to podcasts, why not try rehearsing information verbally or visually?
It’s not going to be great at first, but by improving your skill to describe what you learned orally, you are further cementing the knowledge in your mind.
One researcher noted that the more regions we keep data stored, the more interconnection there is.
4. Teaching What You Learned to Others
It doesn’t have to be in a tutoring situation, but this method is still a solid way for two people to grow.
Regardless of learning styles, we retain the information we tell others more effectively than if we kept it to ourselves. Was there a random fact you told someone a few months ago? You’ll have better odds of remembering that information than others because you brought it to someone.
5. Use Relational Learning
Relational learning is relating new information to things you already know.
A common example of this is remembering someone’s name. You can better recall that person’s name if you associate that name to something or someone familiar.
6. Gaining Practical Experience
Nothing beats learning than trying it for yourself. Sure, seeing information does have its strong points -and most learning styles benefit from exposed information – there is something to be said about getting your “hands dirty”.
7. Refer Back to past Info If Need Be
The learning process is not perfect. We’ll forget at certain points. If you ever struggle to remember something, make a point of going back to your notes.
This is key because if we try recalling, we risk ourselves learning or relearning the wrong answer. And again, there is a difference between learning the right way and the wrong way.
8. Test Yourself
While this step can seem odd, there are benefits to testing yourself. Even if you think you know everything about the topic, going back and testing yourself can always help.
Not only does testing improve our recall, but we may realize that we learned a concept or task incorrectly. That knowledge can improve our effectiveness in the future.
9. Stop Multitasking
While we should be learning new things all the time, we shouldn’t be trying to do several tasks at once. We ought to focus on one activity at a time before moving to other tasks.
By trying to multitask, we are learning less effectively and are only hindering ourselves. Multitasking is merely another way of distracting ourselves.
How we choose to use the learning process is up to us, but do consider the bigger picture. Be aware of what style works best for you, and work to improve it while enhancing other learning styles.
The only way we can grow further any skill is to be continuously learning. Even in the skills we’ve mastered, there are always new developments.
You can say we ought to have a hunger for anything knowledge, and you would be right; but only for the knowledge that we are invested in.
Featured photo credit: Aliis Sinisalu via unsplash.com