Learning a new skill or starting a new course is incredibly exciting: humans thirst for knowledge and opportunities to increase their own understanding. But our own brains undermine us. We take in so much information that it would be impossible to remember everything. When it comes to learning, though, recall is very important. So how can we remember what we want to remember and derive maximum value from our learning?
A combination of long and short-term memory tricks can help improve your brain’s overall plasticity and capacity to learn effectively. Here are five key concepts that will help you on your way to being a better learner.
Be an active listener
Good memory recall starts when you’re learning. There are two ways of consuming content: actively and passively. Passive listeners allow the content to enter their brains and then move onto the next piece of content without reflecting on it. Active listeners take in the information, pause, contextualise, review, rephrase – basically, they play with the information in their minds, and this helps long-term retention. Studies show that when people know basic facts about a topic, they more easily integrate and retain new knowledge about the subject. So make sure you learn actively – question, analyse, rephrase and contextualise.
The 1/6/24/1/1/ method
A lot of stats get banded around: you lose 40% of what you learn after 20 minutes, you lose 90% after one month, and more. The forgetting curve, put forward by Hermann Ebbinghaus, is the most well-known. While the stats aren’t clear, the lesson is. If you don’t reflect on and recall information, you will lose it.
A simple method to improve recall and limit the amount of information you forget is the 1/6/24/1/1/1 method. You review the material after one hour, after six hours, after 24 hours, after one week, after one month and after one year. You slowly increase the gap which, if turned into habit, will improve your overall ability to recall information.
The Method of Loci
The brain finds it difficult to recall disparate ideas and the best memory ‘tricks’ exploit the brain’s natural tendencies. You may have heard of the Method of Loci, also known as the Memory Palace, which has been in use in one way or another since the time of the Ancient Greeks.
The premise is simple: take a place you know extremely well, and insert one separate idea you need to remember into each room. When you need to recall, go on a virtual journey round the place, visiting every room. It helps if you use hyperbolic representations of ideas as these are easier to remember and stop forgetting what you’ve learnt.
Here’s an example. If you had a shopping list, and one of the things you needed to buy was chicken, you could use your house as the place you know extremely well and have a circle of chickens playing drinking games in the living room.
Imagery is a winner
Another technique is to combine ideas into a picture, with metaphorical or literal representations of the idea. Pictures are far easier to remember – once the picture has been remembered, the individual components can be deconstructed back into ideas. Try to make it easy for yourself by coming up with ‘overarching’ concepts and using representations that are linked to that concept. Pictures of disparate ideas, represented visually, will be harder to remember than pictures that have natural connection and just ‘make sense.
Memorise initial letters and form patterns
This is a popular and effective way of remembering lists of ideas – the brain finds it much easier to remember patterns with meaning so if you can form the initial letters into a recognisable word or phrase you’ll find it much easier to remember. ROYGBIV (roy-guh-biv) is commonly used to remember the colours of the rainbow. Forming a sentence can make the sequence easier to remember – the person can then work backwards to the first letter of every word. An example of this is King Phillip Came Over For Great Soup – the first letters of each word refer to the order of biological taxonomic rank, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.