Outsmart Your Brain: Learning Principles for a Better Education

In his book, Outsmart Your Brain: Why Learning Is Hard and How You Can Make It Easy, Daniel Willingham introduces us to a new way of learning that is based on cognitive psychology principles. This guide will help you understand how your brain works and how to make the most of its learning capabilities. By following the practical advice in this book, you will be able to study more efficiently, improve your grades, and better understand the power of your brain.

1. Common Teaching Practices Don’t Align with How the Brain Learns

Traditional study methods, such as highlighting and rereading, do not necessarily lead to comprehension. Familiarity is not the same as understanding, and our brains often encourage us to choose easy tasks that feel like success rather than the more challenging ones that bring the most significant long-term benefits. For example, when your teacher introduces a new concept, try to relate it to something you already know.

2. Seek Context and Structure, Practice Active Listening, and Make Connections

When attending lectures, it is essential to plan for the mismatch between the way the speaker organises the content and the way your brain processes it. By actively listening and making connections, you can ensure that you get the deeper meaning of the lecture, not just the new vocabulary words and factoids. Thus, if your teacher is talking about a historical event, try to imagine how it might have felt to be there. This will help you remember the information better.

3. Structure Your Note-Taking and Read for Retention

Structuring your note-taking and reading for retention is crucial. However, beware of “speed reading” techniques, as they may not lead to long-term retention. Instead, focus on understanding the material and making connections with what you already know. Hence, when taking notes, use headings and bullet points to organise the information. When reading, try to summarise the information in your own words.

4. Learn by Doing and Engage Fully with New Activities

Learning by doing is one of the most effective ways to retain information. When engaging in new activities, make sure to participate fully and stay focused. This will help you understand the material better and remember it longer. So, if you’re learning about a scientific concept, try to conduct an experiment to see how it works.

5. Create Useful Study Guides, Flashcards, Diagrams, and Mnemonics

Creating study guides, flashcards, diagrams, and mnemonics can help you remember information more effectively. These tools can serve as visual aids, making it easier for your brain to recall the information when needed. Therefore, if you’re learning about the geography of a country, create a map with the major cities and landmarks.

6. Use Relaxation Techniques to Enhance Recall

Using relaxation techniques can help you recall information when you need to demonstrate what you’ve learned. This is especially useful during exams, where stress can affect your ability to recall information. For example, before a test, take a few deep breaths and visualise yourself doing well.

7. Develop Habits that Defeat Procrastination and Incentivise Learning

Procrastination is a common challenge for students. By developing habits that incentivise learning, you can overcome procrastination and make the most of your study time. It might include setting specific goals, breaking tasks into smaller chunks, and rewarding yourself for completing tasks. Thus,  instead of trying to write a whole essay in one sitting, break it down into smaller tasks, such as researching, outlining, and writing.

8. Build Confidence to Boost Learning

Building confidence in your learning abilities can significantly improve your overall learning experience. By understanding how your brain works and how to make the most of its capabilities, you can boost your confidence and become a more effective learner. So, if you’re struggling with a concept, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Remember, everyone learns at their own pace, and there’s no shame in seeking help.

Applying the principles outlined in “Outsmart Your Brain” can improve your learning experience, help you study more efficiently, and help you better understand the power of your brain. Remember that learning is like exercise, and challenging yourself will lead to greater benefits in the long run. Happy learning!

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