How to learn new things

Contrary to popular belief, most college professors don’t take the summer off. It’s time for research and also for catching up in the field. In a fast-changing field like mine, it’s important to be deliberate about gaining new knowledge. 

The worst way to do that? Read stuff once. This rarely works because it doesn’t exploit the ways that your brain likes to retain information in a way that you can recall it again. 

What’s the best way? 

Look at the information in multiple ways. This can mean taking in the information by reading an article and also watching a video or listening to a podcast on the same subject. It can mean talking to an expert, or listening to a speech. The more ways you see something, the more memorable it is.

Feel something. Emotion is a powerful memory catalyst. When you can associate information with a feeling, you have a much better chance of remembering it. For factual information, seeing entertaining accounts as well as dry ones can be useful. So, for example, reading a historical novel and comparing the presentation of history to a factual account can help you retain the factual account.

Seek connections. The more new information is related to things you already know, the better a chance you have of remembering it. If you are learning a new word, how is it like words you already know?

Use it so you don’t lose it. Remember when you were in class and the teacher could show everything on the board and you understood perfectly. But you got home and the problem set didn’t seem to make any sense at all? Figuring out how to do the problem set is your better option for learning. If you want to learn how to style mobile sites, reading about it won’t get you very far. Until you get your hands dirty and write code and try it out, you won’t really understand how to get it done. Give yourself small projects that will help you to learn concepts in a hands-on way. 

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