Congratulations, you’ve solidified the next steps in your quest to further your career! Maybe you received approval from your manager and HR team to set aside time to learn on the job and maybe you’re even lucky enough to get your continued education paid for by company scholarships. You’ve registered for the applicable online courses and blocked your calendar accordingly (maybe through Learn In), and now you’re ready to experience some major upskilling success. But then you remember, you aren’t what people would consider a ‘quick learner.’ Not only is it difficult for you to retain information, but you’ve also been horrible at taking tests. All the insecurities of high school flood over you as you try to figure out how you can master this next level of career advancement without falling right back into your old patterns of forgetfulness, doubt, and lack of concentration.
The good news is there is a solution for you! To help you succeed in learning is an army of neuroscientists who have devoted years of their lives to better understand how the brain works so the rest of us can better understand how to finally retain information. Quickly learning a new skill can become second nature once you apply these simple tips for faster learning and improved retention.
We live in an age where technology is king, so the thought of pulling out a notebook and pen may seem like you’re moving backward, but research has shown that there is a direct connection between cognitive retention and writing.
There are a couple of factors that go into this component, the first being to reduce the number of distractions. If you’re attending an in-person class or seminar, it’s very tempting to take a break from taking notes and jump over to the Internet while the instructor finds her next point. Although you may feel the 60-second lull is better spent catching up on email, it’s actually in these moments of downtime that our brain downloads the information we just learned. Diverting our attention away even for a split second can break concentration, thus causing the information you just heard to go in one ear and out the other.
Another reason handwriting can be beneficial is it allows you to take the information you just heard and write it in your own words. When we type our notes, we have the tendency to take verbatim notes, which means there’s a higher tendency for us to be confused by the context while rereading the information later on. Because note-taking by hand takes longer than typing, it forces learners to choose only the most important pieces of information to document, which leads to fewer notes taken overall. Although this may sound like a bad thing, less is more when it comes to effective learning. No matter how much you like or dislike studying, no one can dispute the fact that it’s easier to memorize three pages of high-level information as opposed to five pages that contain every single word the instructor said.
We’ve all heard students complain about how much they hate cramming for tests during Finals Week, but that can easily be (and should be) avoided at all costs. New skills are better learned in small doses instead of one long study session, so avoid the dreaded ‘cram week’ by reading over your notes once a day. This allows the brain to better absorb the information making it more likely for it to become second nature.
For added benefit, read over your notes immediately after your course ends. Not only does this reinforce what you just learned, it also gives you the opportunity to add some details you may have missed the first time.
Let’s say you’re studying to become an HR generalist. You’ve passed the first introductory course and now your company is allowing you to do some hands-on training while you complete the rest of your studies. You’re given a handful of tasks to complete every day, and now you need to take the information you’ve learned and apply it to real situations. Human nature leans towards completing the tasks in the same order using the same method, but what we don’t realize is that by relying on repetition, our minds begin to retain the process instead of the information.
Instead, complete the tasks in a different order and in a different way as often as possible. Force the brain to comprehend the tasks in different ways, for in doing so, the material itself will take priority over the process. This also comes in handy during the learning process as well. Instead of working on your courses in the same place every day, take your computer to a coffee shop or a library, to new places around new people. If the upskilling course is offered by two different instructors, try alternating your sessions between the two. Changing things up will lead to better adaptability and fluidity, which is key to being successful in the corporate world.
Have you ever attended a symphony performance and been amazed by the crispness of the sound that bellowed through the speakers? Have you ever thought about the amount of money, time, and attention that goes into the instrument that’s being played in order for it to sound that good? From specific temperature requirements to daily tuning, the condition of the instrument itself is often just as important as the musician himself.
For those who are attempting to learn a new skill, remember your brain is your instrument, which means taking care of it is going to be vital for success. So how exactly do we keep our brains in tip-top shape? First, don’t overuse it. Information overload is a real thing, so giving your brain a 5-minute breather every hour will reduce stress, anxiousness, and fatigue. It also gives it time to store the information in your memory bank, allowing you to access it at a later time.
Second, keep it hydrated. Believe it or not, the brain is composed of 73% water, which means we need to drink in order to think. Keeping a large bottle of water next to you while you work or while you’re studying will encourage you to stay hydrated, which in turn, will allow your brain to retain more information.
In summary, the process of upskilling can be difficult, time-consuming, and often expensive, but with the right support, tools ,and habits, anyone can learn the necessary skills and knowledge to become an essential part of growth and innovation in their field.
Written By: Blair Fairman, Executive Assistant and Writer @ Learn In