You can teach an old dog new tricks - you just need to know the right way to go about it
Remember, back in the day, when you had to revise for exams? The horror of it! The night sweats! The churning stomach when you realised you hadn't done enough that day! You'd spend hours colour-coding your revision timetable, taking time over which days to avoid maths, and then be heavily distracted by buffing your school shoes or taking the dog for a walk - activities that normally didn't even make it halfway down your teenage to-do list on an average day.
Maybe all this dithering was because you didn't really know how to learn, or hadn't actually found the best way for you to retain all of that vital information about photosynthesis and trigonometry.
Now, as a professional, you never stop learning - from CPD courses to seminars, workshops, and team building away days.
But what's the best way to learn? Can it be taught? What are the different learning strategies that you can apply and capitalise on, in order to learn for optimum gain and career progression?
If all of these questions have been buzzing around your mind for a while, then you've come to the right place. In this article, we'll explore what learning strategies are, the six core strategies you need to know about, some examples of learning strategies, and how to find out which one suits you.
What are learning strategies?
First off, let's be clear about what learning is, as it's something that we start doing from birth. Children learn through play, and it's an aspect of our lives that we continue with throughout our time here, due to ongoing interactions with other people and the ever-changing environment around us.
Learning is the process by which we acquire knowledge, new understandings, skills, behaviours, values, preferences, and attitudes. That pretty much covers everything then, doesn't it?
If you touch a flame, it burns your hand, and you quickly withdraw. This is immediate learning. You're not going to do that again! But most acquiring of knowledge and skill is accumulative, meaning you learn over time from repeated experiences.
But we can do it in different ways, and this is where learning about active learning strategies can really help in evaluating what's the best way to learn for you as an individual.
Effective learning strategies are a way of organising and applying a set of skills to be able to learn and retain content, as well as accomplish tasks in an effective and efficient way. These strategies help the active learning process in a way that teaches people how to learn and how to use that in order to resolve problems and achieve.
How do you know which learning strategy is the right one for you? Maybe you can incorporate different aspects of some to suit your own style?
The 6 core learning strategies
Let's delve into the 6 core learning strategies, to discover more and gain an idea of which is your particular favourite.
Also referred to as text-visual combination, this is a method of learning that combines visuals with words. Information presented to us is often accompanied by a visual element, which can be anything from an infographic, diagram, or even a cartoon, to a graph, chart, or timeline.
Text can be challenging to ingest and retain, so a learner-friendly visual association is a great way of making topics easier to learn, as we can relate better to content by creating a familiar environment to learning.
The key is to build a mental relationship that connects the two, depicting the information in both words and pictures, making a habit of linking the visual element to the text by explaining verbally what they mean. This, then, reinforces the concept in the brain through the two different pathways, ensuring it's easier to retrieve at a later date. A double whammy, if you like.
Symbols and icons
Best for: those types of learners and professionals who think in both pictures and words.
We all need a bit of space now and then. Time to breathe. Time to think. Time to learn! Spaced learning is self-explanatory: spacing out your study time over a long period. We all remember cramming for an exam the night before, or revising for a work test at the last minute. You might then do well in the test but, a few weeks later, it's likely that the information you learned has completely disappeared from your brain.
Spaced practice is a more durable way of learning, where you learn in small chunks over a period of time. Leaving that space means you forget the information, and then relearn when you come back to it - forgetting actually helps to strengthen your memory. Sounds a bit counterintuitive, doesn't it? But by pacing yourself over weeks or months, you'll retain the information more easily. It's one of the most sustainable learning strategies, culminating in instilling a positive learning approach.
The use of flashcards with increasing intervals between each review
Watching a five minute video, taking a 10 minute break, continuing for five more minutes, having another break for 10 minutes, and then completing a multiple choice questionnaire on the content
Reviewing a topic numerous times over many days
Best for: those with plenty of time on their hands to plan a spaced-out timetable of learning.
To avoid going over the same thing time and time again, interleaving allows you to learn by constantly switching between ideas and learning about numerous subjects simultaneously. Practice makes perfect, of course, but mixing the practice with other skills can be equally as effective.
The benefits of this are fourfold. It does away with monotony, avoiding you becoming disinterested in the subject if you're concentrating on it for long periods of time. You can retain information for longer. It enhances the transfer of knowledge between two people, so colleagues can benefit from your interleaving. And it can improve your skill set, including organisation and problem resolution capabilities.
Tackling different types of work-related problems at the same time, rather than looking at similar problems consecutively
When teaching a new employee how to access, and use, the IT system, switch up the learning by introducing other things they're required to learn, so it doesn't become boring and repetitive
Best for: those who love a challenge, as it can initially be taxing but comes with long-term advantages the more adept you become at it.
This is a learning technique that involves the collaboration of two or more coworkers - a standard teamwork practice used by companies up and down the country on a daily basis. It works because colleagues capitalise on each other's skills and resources… by asking for further information, evaluating ideas, and monitoring the work of other team members. Here, your aptitude for learning relies on all of you engaging in a learning experience or common task where you depend on, and are accountable to, each other. This can be either during face-to-face discussions, online, or both. Collaborative learning strategies benefit more experienced members of staff and trainees alike, by using past experiences of established team members combined with new outlooks from newer employees.
It also helps that technology has accelerated so fast in the past decade that knowledge is shared more easily, via message threads, emails, and electronic bulletin boards, where discussion is invited, rather than being ignored or consumed passively without much thought.
Helping workers to share information amongst teams, and create strategic plans that require multiple inputs
- Team members coming together to search for the meaning, understanding, or solutions to an issue
Best for: articulate team players who thrive within the team environment and can bounce ideas off each other.
Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain - a classic way to remember the order in which the colours of the rainbow come - Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet. This is a mnemonic, a technique that helps you to retain or retrieve information, and they can be an effective and handy way of boosting your memory and helping you to store details that might, otherwise, be hard to recall. The word actually comes from the Greek word, “mnēmonikos,” that refers to memory.
Alliteration is using words that start with the same letter, so if you want to remember you've got a workshop next week, you could remember it as “Workshop Wednesday”
Chunking is when you organise a lot of information into smaller, more manageable chunks, such as a long number
Making a word to remember a list of actions, as in the STAR method, standing for Situation, Task, Action, and Result
Best for: higher order thinkers with the knack for coming up with pithy memory techniques to make this work.
Einstein said, “If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.” Elaborating on a subject involves asking “how?” and “why?” and then explaining and describing in detail the answers to these questions. It requires learners to go beyond simple recall and to make connections within the content itself. Asking open-ended questions, then coming up with answers that contain as much detail as possible, is key here.
Taking two work topics and explaining how they are different and how they are similar
Using a team meeting to elaborate on a certain problem
Encouraging coworkers to explain things using their own words, as this will deepen the understanding of the subject and consolidate the knowledge they've learned
Best for: critical thinkers who enjoy analysing, questioning, and performing a deep-dive on information.
How to find out which learning strategy suits you
You probably have a clear idea of what your work style is, but what about which learning strategy suits you above all others?
There are ways in which you can find out, so follow the hints below to identify which learning strategy is best for you.
Experiment with different learning strategies, including the 6 types of effective learning strategies above. As you go through them, learning by using the same material for continuity and a level playing field - there are bound to be one or two that resonate.
Do an assessment - There are numerous online assessments where you can pinpoint the way you learn based on the guidelines of different theories.
Reflect on past experiences by thinking back to how you learned before, and how effective that was.
Ask for constructive feedback from your supervisor or line manager, as a fresh pair of eyes can really consolidate your own thoughts on how you learn, while providing valuable insight into how you process information.
Now that you've got your learning strategies all figured out, you might find you want to try those techniques in another role. Sharpen up your CV with our help. TopCV offers a free review that reviews your current CV, giving you credible pointers that could make all the difference. It's a no obligation service - or you could take it a further step by engaging one of TopCV's professional CV writers to craft an interview-winning CV.