The sooner you realize that learning never ends, the more willing you’ll be to expand, elevate in your profession, thrive in your life and even generate more income. Learning and studying can be difficult once we are long past our college years. For all the old dogs who might be reluctant to learning new tricks, we tapped the expertise of Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a New York-based Neuropsychologist and Teaching Faculty at Columbia University to share 5 ways to learn fast and retain more so we can quickly grasp new concepts, technologies, business strategies and up-level our willingness to learn.
Independent learning is the hot new brain trend. Thanks to digital media, we see a new renaissance when it comes to learning. On the professional side, nearly two-thirds of U.S. workers have taken a course or sought additional training to advance their careers, according to a March 2016 study by Pew Research Center. On the personal development side, a simple Google search can lead anyone to a plethora of courses on everything from mastering personal finances, parenting, our relationships, nutrition, cooking, designing clothes, home organization, and design.
“The key to longevity is the learning and application of new things. When we stop learning, we stop growing and that is a slow death to our brains and bodies. Luckily today there are online seminars and other ways to learn that speak to our interests. It’s also incredibly convenient to learn,” explains Dr. Hafeez.
What are the best ways to learn new things quickly? Dr. Sanam Hafeez offers the following 5 ways to learn fast and retain more.
1. Learn in quick sprints. There’s a sweet spot for learning in the 30-50 minute timeframe. Dedicate that amount of time to learning and then take a 10 to 15-minute break to end a learning segment before starting a new task. “You’re more likely to retain more when you focus for a shorter amount of time at once,” explains Dr. Hafeez who helps people with ADHD to enhance their ability to focus and learn. “Using tools like notecards with quick points helps the brain absorb concepts even more,” she adds. Which leads to…
2. Take written notes and use color! Ditch the laptop and go old school with a pen and paper. Outline important points with a different color pen or highlighter and if you can draw a concept out in the margin, go for it. Writing fuels comprehension and enhances listening skills. Studies out of UCLA and Princeton found students who took notes on laptops didn’t perform as well as students who wrote by hand. “When we handwrite notes we listen then process the information before writing. When we type on a laptop, we transcribe what we hear without any self-interpretation which is where the actual learning comes into play,” offers Dr. Hafeez.
3. Give your brain time to rest and recharge with sleep. People brag that they work so much and sleep so little. Arianna Huffington’s book, “The Sleep Revolution,” and choice to add nap rooms at her Huffington Post offices turned the light onto sleep as a performance enhancer. “People who get a full 8 hours of deep uninterrupted sleep retain what they learn and have the bandwidth to grasp more information quicker. We often feel tired after a course or following instructions. This is because focusing requires energy. Naturally, when we rest we get to reboot the brain,” says Dr. Hafeez.
4. Read out loud, record, replay. Research has shown that reading out loud engages both senses of sight and sound which heightens retention. “Recording yourself reading and elaborating with your own idea of how the concept resonates then replaying the recording a day or two later, is a great technique that fires up the part of the brain that processes concepts like a computer filing information for later use,” explains Dr. Hafeez.
5. Break things down and relate it to what you already know. We all heard of the math teacher who used the example of rock concert ticket sales to get kids to grasp algebra. According to Dr. Hafeez, “when we take a concept and link it to something we already know about or have genuine interest in, we retain that concept. Anytime we can internalize a concept it has resonance. It sticks.”
Dr. Sanam Hafeez PsyD is a NYC based licensed clinical psychologist, teaching faculty member at the prestigious Columbia University Teacher’s College and the founder and Clinical Director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services, P.C. a neuropsychological, developmental and educational center in Manhattan and Queens.