5. Chunk Your Learning Sessions
How much of what you learned in this way actually stuck in your memory?
Chances are – not much.
This is because cramming everything you need to know isn’t how your brain learns best, according to neuroscience.
When you’re learning something new, your brain is using its working memory to process this information in real-time. But here’s the catch – this type of memory is short-term in nature.
Think about it like this – would you remember someone’s birthdate or a phone number after hearing it just once?
You’d probably have to write it down or repeat it to yourself a couple times before it sticks, right?
Your working memory can only hold a handful of items for a short period of time. When you overload your working memory, you end up losing some of what you learned.
If you’ve ever blanked out in class or during meeting, despite paying attention in the beginning, this is why.
Your working memory gets overwhelmed and doesn’t get the chance to shift this new information into long-term memory.
The solution? Chunking.
Breaking your learning down into smaller segments gives your working memory time to shift what you’re learning into long-term memory!
Here’s an easy way to understand it – say you’re eating a delicious cake.
You don’t just swallow the entire cake in one go, like a cartoon character, right?
You cut out a slice, and then chew and swallow each mouthful. If you’re full, you stop, because if you keep eating you’ll end up feeling uncomfortable or maybe even sick. And when you’ve digested all that cake, you can go back for another slice!
This is why chunking your learning works. You create a solid foundation to build knowledge on, instead of stacking it up like cards that can topple over.
You can find out more about spacing out your learning along with proven strategies to learn more and study less in the Total Recall Learning course.
Chunk for Motivation
You might face the syllabus of an exam or a huge project that needs lots of planning and feel overwhelmed.
But when you break down all the things you need to do into smaller tasks, you have better control.
You can more systematically plan your way forward to complete the task and do a more thorough job.
And every time you complete one of the smaller tasks, you experience a sense of reward. This motivates you to keep moving on to the next task!
Dopamine, the chemical messenger regulating your motivation, spikes up when you anticipate a reward.
It’s what helps you sustain a level of effort over a period of time and enjoy putting in effort too.
When you chunk your learning, you prolong your dopamine spikes more sustainably than if you were working toward a goal that takes longer to accomplish!
In fact, if you anticipate a sense of reward, and don’t experience it, this can demotivate you instead.
So chunking your learning helps sustain your ability to put in effort, and enjoy the effort, over a longer time!
6. Space Out Your Practice
When you learn something new, your brain creates neural circuits, or pathways between its brain cells, for this knowledge.
And the more you practice what you learned, the stronger these circuits or associations become!
Every time you need to retrieve specific information, the neurons involved in the circuit activate.
The more they activate, the more efficient they become at activating. And the better you get at quickly retrieving and applying specific information!
It’s like building muscle at the gym. If you stop going after a couple of days, you’ll lose the progress you made.
The more you keep working out regularly, you not only develop a stronger body, but you also go through your routine more efficiently and effectively!
This is why spaced repetition is so important as a part of your learning.
Make sure to review what you’ve learned after every learning chunk – this will impress your learning deeper into your brain.
The more you practice, the better you’ll get at recalling what you’ve learned and ensuring it sticks in your memory.
You can start off by reviewing every day, to every couple of days, to every week, to every couple weeks! This helps cement learning in your long-term memory!
7. Turn the Unfamiliar Into Something Familiar
Remember, as you learn new things to align the new information with something you already know. Neuroscience and learning experts have proven that learning works best this way.
In order to easily turn the unfamiliar into something familiar just ask yourself the question you learned about in the previous parts of this article – what does this remind me of?
For more memory systems and tips on visualization, like how to access different types of memory on-demand to learn anything faster, check out the 10 day course Total Recall Learning!
Pat Wyman is the CEO of HowtoLearn.com, HowtoLearn.Teachable.com, best selling author and an internationally noted brain and learning coach known as America’s Most Trusted Learning Expert.
Pat’s superpower is helping people learn, read and remember everything faster. She has helped over half a million people in schools and corporations such as Microsoft, Intel and Google improve their lives with her learning strategies, learning styles inventory and courses, including Total Recall Learning™.
She is the best-selling author of more than 15 books, a university instructor, mom and golden retriever lover!
Contact Pat to find out more about the Brain Advantage 2.0 Learning and Career Assessment and customized coaching for professionals and students.