A brain is a fantastic tool. It takes tons of information from all over your body and processes it through complex pathways to help you learn how to do, say, or see things. But what keeps us from learning how to do something? Here we take a deep dive into how the brain learns and how you can use this knowledge to influence your learning.

What is learning?

Learning is the process of storing and retaining information that can be retrieved when needed. When we see, hear, taste, touch or smell something new (the stimulus), that information is then received by our senses and sent through the nervous system (the pathway) into our brains (where it’s stored as memory). It’s important to note that learning is as much about gaining new knowledge as it is about remembering it. When you can’t remember something that you’ve previously learned, odds are you haven’t actually forgotten it; your brain just hasn’t stored the information properly so that the brain can retrieve it.

Lack of repetition and concentration are two significant contributors to why the brain doesn’t store learned information properly. That’s why it is essential to avoid distractions when you are studying. Having proper concentration allows the brain to learn quickly and store information. Repeating the process makes the brain better at recalling the information.

How can you be better at learning?

1) Visualising:

The part of your brain associated with learning, called the cerebral cortex, is highly devoted to visual processing. This suggests your brain learns better through visualising. For example, it will be challenging to learn about a human skeleton without having seen one ever before. Here, no matter the amount of listening to your teacher’s lectures can replace image-based learning. Therefore, incorporating more visuals into your study using images, colours, diagrams, etc., can help you learn better.

2) Sleep:

Not getting enough sleep can negatively impact your health as well as your brain’s ability to learn. When we sleep, we store and consolidate memories. This is why sleep is essential to memory formation. When we sleep after learning something new, it’s called memory consolidation and helps us remember what we learned longer in our lives. According to Harvard, the first 30 hours after learning new information is crucial to retaining information. If you are sleep deprived during this period, your brain won’t process information properly. Also, short naps that range between half an hour to one hour can help enhance your brain’s learning ability. 

3) Teaching others:

Teaching someone something has been shown to help solidify that knowledge in your own mind. This idea, known as the learning curve, isn’t just anecdotal—studies have shown that when you teach others, your brain is more likely to retain what you’ve learned. Therefore, if you are having trouble remembering something yourself, try teaching it to someone else. Even when you are a student, you can act as a teacher by writing notes to teach concepts to your peers. Try writing notes from a teacher’s perspective. Or, you can teach your classmate and take turns to learn.

4) Relating new and old knowledge:

Making connections between what you already know and new material helps your brain better learn new concepts. For example, if you’re studying for a history test, take a few minutes to study up on related geography or culture. Learning about Hannibal crossing elephants across mountains can give you valuable insight into Carthage’s relationship with nearby North African tribes. The more you understand how your brain learns, not only will it be easier to teach yourself effectively—it will also feel much more natural. If it feels natural, that’s because it is! By incorporating old knowledge with new information, understanding comes quicker and retention rates are higher! The key is finding ways to relate what you’re learning so that material seems less foreign or esoteric.

Conclusion:

These learning methods will work for everyone, but they won’t be effective if you don’t already have an interest in what you are trying to learn. So, try out these techniques for yourself and see what works best for you! No matter how busy your schedule is, there are always ways to find more time for learning—and it can change your life.

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