It’s essential to learn new skills quickly in today’s information economy. Today, you are what you know. If you want to progress forwards in life, you need to learn new skills. But most adults resent learning. When was the last time you learnt something significant in your life? Like a new language? New software? When did you last learn to play a musical instrument? A new sport? Most people don’t learn because they fear it’s difficult. Is that you?
Learning needn’t be that way. Here are five strategies that will help you pick up a new topic faster than ever before.
Repeat something new over and over and you’ll develop ‘muscle memory’ that will help you memorize a new subject. Whether is a particular set of words or phrases in a foreign language, or cooking a recipe, the secret is to repeat the task over and over several times until it’s stuck in your memory.
I recently needed to learn a new programming language for a project I was involved with. The fastest way for me to learn the new language, was to sit down at my computer at the start of the weekend and, write lots of new software, over and over. I spent the whole weekend working in the new language, writing the same software many times. By the end of the weekend, I was confidently fluent in the new language.
2. Listen to music
Playing music in the background is a great way to concentrate on learning. Find songs that boost your mood and help you focus. Mozart is supposed to temporarily increase your intelligence when you’re listening to it. Brian Eno’s Music for Airports is another popular album.
Associating new subjects with ones you know is a great way of learning. The most popular application is the use of mnemonics. Find a word or phrase and associate each letter (or initial letter of that word) with the topic you’re learning.
For example, the first letters of Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vein spells out the colors of the rainbow in order: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.
Google ‘mnemonics’ and you’ll find plenty of websites listing mnemonics for a huge range of subjects.
4. Think in pictures
Everyone’s mind works in pictures. It’s much easier to remember something when you visualize it, rather than trying to remember an abstract word or concept. For example, what is the color of your front door? I bet you had to recall a picture of your front door before you could answer the question. Memorize concepts in pictures and you’ll be able to recall them much faster. The more unusual the image, the easier it is to remember.
Here’s how. The Spanish word for hair is Pelo, pronounced “pay-lo”. It sounds like the English word Halo. So to memorize that Spanish, I think of a bald man with a glowing, hairy halo floating above his head!
I don’t speak Spanish. I learnt that particular example about five years ago and have never forgotten it since!
5. Watch video tutorials
It’s easy to learn from other people, and one of the best ways to do this is by finding how to videos and tutorials. Learning a new piece of software becomes a piece of cake when you can sit in front of your computer, be talked through the process, see exactly what’s on their screen as they talk, and then repeat the actions yourself.
You can do the same for playing a musical instrument, learning a foreign language, drawing, making things, learn new concepts, and more. Have a search around, you’ll find hundreds of examples online.
Every subject requires a different approach to it depending on its nature. It is not correct to generalize that the best way to learn a new subject or skill is to study small segments or details in great depth rather than to start by trying to develop a sense of the whole.
The method to learn a new subject or skill depends on the type of the subject. In some cases the best way to learn is to study small segments in great depth without trying to develop a sense of whole. In other cases it might be important to develop a sense of the whole to develop an interest in the subject. Sometimes the study requires intermingling of both the techniques.
People always learn a new language by first trying to develop a sense of the whole. The study of a new language begins by identification of important words in that language. These words help people to start making sentences that make sense. These sentences might not be grammatically correct but they can convey what the person is trying to say. It is more practical to study a language this way. For example if a person travels to a foreign country, it would be important for him to understand and be able to convey his thoughts. It would not matter if he does not understand the nuances of the grammar or all the denotations and connotations of a particular word.
Children begin learning new subjects in school by trying to understand subjects as a whole. For example by the time children reach middle school they begin to understand that geography deals with study earth and its environment, science deals with logical explanation of all processes, history deals with the past etc. This introduction gives them the opportunity to decide their field of interest. If the learning of biology began by letting children know in great depth of a particular plant, they would not know biology deals with lots of other things besides that plant. It is important to tell that biology is the study of all living beings because if they are interested to study about animals later, they will know how to go about it and which field to pursue.
On the other hand the learning of a new computer programming language begins by learning its parts in detail. A computer program can be developed in various ways using the same language. The study begins by learning the details of the different syntaxes of the programming language. The students compare and contrast each new syntax with previous ones and try to develop the best way to program in that language. It is important in this case to study each part in great depth to understand the programming language as a whole.
The study of a skill like dance or knitting also requires learning by studying its parts in detail. The study of dance begins by learning to do basic steps. The next step is to learn some simple combinations of these basic steps. As the learning progresses, the student develops the sense of the whole dance form. It is impossible to learn the dance without knowing the steps. The same holds true for knitting.
The study of a new subject on which there is no prior information requires study of parts in a little detail to form a vague idea of the subject. After the formation of the idea, the details of the subject need to be explored further to make the idea stronger. For example the people who took up the study of possibility of stepping into the moon did not know if it were possible. They studied the parts of the moon, the atmosphere between the earth and the moon, the variance of climatic conditions etc in detail before they decided that it was possible for man to go to the moon. Then they explored the details further to prove the fact that it was possible to step the moon.