How my brain learns!

How my brain learns!

Every day we learn new things, whether knowingly or subconsciously. Often, we are more pre-occupied with what we learn, but it is just as important to know how our brain learns. Despite variations in learning methods and outcomes, there are still similarities in the ways our brains take in new information. Knowing these similarities helps me to optimise my own learning and training methodologies. Below are five insights about the brain’s learning systems that have helped me to maximize my learning.

1. I take in information better when it’s visual 

According to research, neurones devoted to visual processing make up around 30% of our brain. A huge portion of our brain power is devoted to our eye function and the processes in our brains that turn what we see into information. So, vision is not only an energy-consuming sense, but it trumps our other senses when it comes to taking in information.

Another surprising finding about vision is that we treat text as images. As you read this paragraph, your brain is interpreting each letter as an image. This makes reading incredibly inefficient when compared to how quickly and easily we can take in information from a picture. Based on this knowledgeI use colours, images, diagrams and mind-maps to illustrate new concepts I learn.

2. I remember big pictures better than the details

When I learn lots of new concepts, I easy get lost in the barrage of information. A way to avoid being overwhelmed for me is to keep referring back to the big picture. In fact, our brains tend to hang onto the gist of what we’re learning better than the details, so we might as well play into our brains’ natural tendencies.

I read a metaphor about this concept once that I loved. Imagine your brain being a a closet full of shelves: as you add more clothes they fill up more of the shelves and you start categorizing them. Now if you add a black sweater (a new piece of information) it can go on the sweater shelf, the black clothes shelf, the winter clothes shelf, or the wool shelf. In real life, you can’t put your sweater on more than one shelf, but in your brain that new piece of information gets linked to each of those existing ideas. This metaphor helped me to relate the things I learn to the various other things I already knew.

3. I sleep in-between learning

Studies have shown that a night of sleep in-between learning something new and being tested on it can significantly improve performance. Naps can improve learning just like a full night of sleep can. Based on this knowledge I read or practice a new skill before going to bed or taking a nap. When I wake up, I write some notes on what I remembered from my last study session.

4. I avoid sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation can reduce our brain’s ability to take in new information by almost 40%. With this in mind, I make sure that I have a good night’s sleep so that I wake up refreshed and ready to learn. I do not stay up late to read or learn at the expense of rest time and I ensure I only practice and study when I am alert and well-rested. And I definitely avoid sleep deprivation right after learning something new.

5. I learn best by teaching others

When I expect to have to teach other people what I am learning, I take in new information better. I organize it better in my mind, remember it more correctly, and I am better at remembering the most important parts of what I have learned.

Though we don’t realize it, learning with the idea that we’ll have to teach this information later tends to invoke better methods for learning subconsciously. For instance, we focus on the most important pieces of information, the relationships between different concepts, and we carefully organize the information in our minds. Therefore, I keep a notebook to jot down what I have learned.

 

BY FRANK KUIJSTERS

Director – Digne Consult Asia Pacific



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