How to learn better

Got a colour-coded study timetable planned out, a quiet desk and your highlighter at the ready? Forget all that, says a new book on learning


How to learn better

Whether you’ve got children at school, or you’re at university, doing training at work or just want to brush up on your French, you’ll have an idea about the best time, place and way to learn. It’s probably based on how you learned at school and, if you’re like most people, you’ll think the requirements are a quiet desk and a collection of highlighted notes.

Forget all that. New York Times science reporter Benedict Carey has spent years studying the science of learning and his book, How We Learn, reveals some tips garnered from the research:

  • SWITCH LOCATIONS. You don’t need a dedicated study area – most people actually do better over time if they vary locations. In one study, a change in venue improved memory by 40 per cent. As Carey explains: ‘The more environments in which you rehearse, the sharper and more lasting the memory of that material becomes – and less strongly linked to one “comfort zone”. So take your laptop out to a café or on the plane.’ Altering the time of day you study helps too, as does altering your environment (for example, by playing music in the background).
  • DO CHECK FACEBOOK. ‘Distraction is a hazard if you need continuous focus, like when listening to a lecture. But a short break – five to 20 minutes to reply to emails, say – is the most effective technique scientists know of to help you solve a problem when stuck.’
  • SPACE IT OUT. Distribute learning in small chunks over a period of time; it can double the amount you learn later.

How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where And Why It Happens by Benedict Carey (Macmillan, £14.99) is out now

Photograph: iStock

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