How do we become more efficient learners?
It’s the question of the decade, right?
Perhaps even the century…
Tons of scientists are trying to explore new innovative ways to increase learning efficiency. What if it wasn’t about a specific hack in your brain?
What if it wasn’t taking certain supplements, or taking multiple jars of bacopa & gingko biloba, and slamming it down with a pot of coffee?
Simply, becoming a more efficient learner can come down to applying the right strategies and how you decide to approach your own learning.
Einstein didn’t have “crazy brain pills” or fake Limitless/NZT shots. Nor did he really have much of any science on the brain back then. What he did have, was physics, and innovative strategies to retain knowledge better and overcome problems (which leads to knowledge).
I’m sure we’ve heard the phrase before that “If you want to master something, learn to teach it to somebody else”. Which is true, the easiest way to see if you understand something is to try teaching it to others.
You can very easily find out if you’re actually clueless about something by doing this. For instance, if you’re a teacher and a student ask’s a relevant question and you fumble for the answers, that might mean you have some gaps to fill in.
This isn’t a bad thing either, you always have room for growth, it’s just a question of whether you’re truly the expert yet or not.
However, there’s a caveat to the whole “teach it to somebody else” philosophy, and that’s that you actually need to go a layer deeper than standard teaching. To truly master something, you need to learn how to teach it to not just anybody—but a 6-year old, or at least somebody who is clueless in your subject matter.
“If you can’t explain it to a 6-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself”
One of the strategies Einstein even used for learning was really being able to break something down systematically & explain it in different formats.
The same way the best professional speakers tailor their unique message to fit the demographic of their audience, you can apply these same strategies when explaining concepts.
You see it’s very easy to explain things to people who are experts in our field. This being, we can be extremely ambiguous and it can still make sense to them. Why? because they have such a broad knowledge of the content. This allows them to pick up on certain bullet points and carry on conversations or at least connect the dots.
Even if we are extremely unclear with what we are saying, or how we are explaining our content, the expert has been there before. They understand where you are coming from, and they have thought critically, and experienced all different angles of argumentation, analysis, etc. of the content.
So, if you miss something, they’re able to fill in those content gaps; or, if you’re talking in circles—they can put the puzzle pieces together. They’ve seen all the pieces before, so they know how to shift and sort through and make sense out of a rather unclear way of communicating.
The second reason behind this philosophy is that, when you start to learn something new, you can very easily discuss things in abstract terms.
It’s as if you’re explaining things from the 10,000-foot view, the big picture ideas and major themes of certain subjects.
Furthermore, If I was to try and explain these things to a 6-year old, I’m not sure what else I can provide them with besides “it’s a programming language that makes cool things show up on your Nintendo!”
It’s a lot harder to connect the dots between my reality to theirs; my level of understanding, to what they currently know and can make sense to them.
However, if I try to explain something about organizational leadership to a six year old; let’ say, ‘why we follow the direction of certain leaders despite odd, uncertain, and complicated matters’, it can be a little easier.
I can say something along the lines of:
“When mommy and daddy tell you it’s good to do something, you usually believe them right?”…
“Even when you don’t understand what you’re doing or what the result might be?”
*Kid most likely answers yes to both*
“The reason you listen to mommy and daddy and follow their guidance, is because you trust them and care for them”…
“You know that they love you and are always looking out for your best interest”…
“You know they care about your success and want to see you do well”…
“You know they will keep you safe, and when you follow their guidance good things will happen for you”…
“So you listen and it often times results in your best interest, right?”
“People follow leaders because they trust their wisdom & guidance, like you trust mommy and daddy’s. They believe that when they follow their direction, they will go to great places. So when a great leader whom we trust says “let’s go this way” we follow.
Imagine trying to explain how a car works to a 6-year old, if you talk about the automobile itself it could be very vague to them, no matter how specific you personally might be.
However, if you pick up say, maybe a matchbox car and explain all the different parts, and talk about things in terms of a toy; you’re not only engaging them more by making things fun and appealing to their interests, it’s also something that they have seen before most likely.
A 6-year old likely hasn’t spent too much time in the driver’s seat of a car, however, they’ve probably spent considerable time picking up their matchbox car and fixing the wheel when it falls off (great mechanical connection here).
Ask yourself personally…
What if you could find a way of explaining this process, let alone any process, using an analogy of matchbox cars? Or action figures?
How could you find a way whereas what you’re saying is 100% accurate but can appeal to what interests them, and their individual background (background playing with matchbox cars, GI Joes, etc.).
Considered, by learning to do this, you are actually deeper engraving that knowledge you already have and developing a better understanding of it yourself. Connecting the dots between your reality and theirs serves both you AND them.
Application in business
I want you to imagine, that you are attending a business seminar over one weekend. You decided to attend the event because you know there will be brilliant insights shared at this event that you can apply directly to your own organization.
As you are taking notes, you need to be constantly asking yourself “How can I implement this information immediately upon my return?”
“How can I teach this information to others back at the office, so they get something out of it too?”
By doing this you are actually activating more parts of your brain, and engaging in what is called conceptual processing which is critical for retaining content. Conceptual processing is where you are taking what you are learning and figuring out how that can apply to real-world problems, or even made-up ones.
In essence, it sums up what is the applied basis for learning this?
By doing this you are also “entertaining the idea” to a fun capacity, like you do for those 6-year old’s when speaking about matchbox cars, this helps engage your brain more and foster a better overall learning environment.
When you’re figuring out how to teach this information to others upon your return to the organization, don’t just think about how you can explain it to the person you most often speak with. Ask how you can explain it to entry level people in sales, marketing, HR, customer service, or the janitors.
The more ways you can find to explain this information and use it, the more neural connection patterns you will create in the brain and thus the stronger your wisdom associated with this content will be.
In essence it only helps better serve you & those around you.
Tune in for the next upcoming article on How to Create a Learning Culture AND If you want to be notified when the article comes out, you can opt-in to receive an update by clicking this link here