In part 1, I described some underlying factors as to why most people don’t really have any clear method for learning new things and why trial and error are so ineffective. I also went through the absolutely crucial first step in learning: having a strong foundation to stand upon.
In part 2, I described the approach you should have when starting gathering information about the subject you will learn and what many people do wrong.
4 Using your time wisely
When it comes to learning things, I think that the famous 80/20-principle (80 per cent of your results come from 20 per cent of your efforts) fits rather well. Around 20 per cent of the time will be spent on the structure and 80 % on the details and/or strengthening your foundation.
From the positive side, think of how much new information you can learn by using 20% of the effort. Unless you really need or want to be specialized in a subject, with a strong foundation, a well-built structure, and a few extra details, you can get really far.
If there is an area you have some interest in but not so much knowledge about, I strongly recommend building a structure around it. If you have such a structure and something to reference to, every time you read or hear anything about that area, your brain will automatically connect it to this structure since it has something to refer to.
This has worked great for me. Just by spending a small amount of time erecting the walls, the brain has much easier to decorate it, almost on autopilot, when I read something related to it.
5 Making it permanent
Even if you really take your time, making the foundation very solid, putting up your structure, and pay real attention to the details, there is a big risk that you eventually will lose it all. Your house will collapse, so to say, unless you do this essential thing called repetition.
Repeating a thing you have learned is like hitting the nails holding your house together with extra strokes. The nails are very loosely fastened from the beginning, but with every new repetition and stroke with your hammer, they will go deeper and deeper.
Some different methods that help you to do this. Or rather help you remember to do it. One thing I recommend is spaced repetition. The basic idea is that you use a pre-defined pattern of when to repeat what you have learned. An example is after 5 seconds, 25 seconds, 2 minutes, 10 minutes, 1 hour, 5 hours, 1 day, 5 days, 25 days, 4 months, and 2 years.
Various variants of this exist, of course, also different apps that help you keep track of what to repeat and when. A good article on spaced repetition can be found here if you are interested to learn more.
One last thought about repetition that I’d like to share is that if possible, you should try to use the things you’ve learned as soon as possible. Try to incorporate them into your ordinary life if you can, talk about it with your friends, try to teach someone else, write a summary. By doing this, you will repeat naturally, which is a very effective way to keep my knowledge up to date.
So, in conclusion, what I’ve found to be absolutely the best way to learn new things fast is to start by making sure you have a solid foundation to build upon. If necessary, work at this part first and fill in possible gaps. You should always have something you already know well to connect the new information to.
When your foundation is strong, start collecting new information in the widest sense possible, work your way outside and inwards. Read summaries and get an overview of the topic first. Ensure that you can identify the different parts of the topic and how the content is linked to each other.
When you have created this structure or shell, it is time to fill it with details. Learn different techniques and methods you need to know and try to group similar ones in your head. You should always know how the details are related to the whole picture and their place within the structure.
Finally, when you are getting the hang of it, you have to make it stay in your brain as well. The only way to do this permanently is through repetition. Various methods exist; one I recommend you to look into is one called spaced repetition.
I really hope you liked this article on what I’ve found to be absolutely how to learn new things fast and that you can use some of the ideas when you want to learn something new the next time!
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