When trying to learn something on your own, it is important to spend some time on figuring out how you learn best. I think that most people have a combination of strategies that they use when learning something new. It can be helpful to analyze why and how those strategies work for you so that you can use them more effectively.
Since I was young, I felt like I learned best from reading. This was especially true if there were pictures to look at. One memorable example was learning to knit from books. Books are still one of the first resources I turn to when learning something new.
One of the least effective ways for me to learn is from lectures. To compensate, I learned to take very thorough notes in school. It’s a habit that has continued, and I find that I remember and learn more by taking notes, even if I never go back to reread them.
Superficially, this would tell me to always learn new things from books and avoid classrooms altogether. However, this is not really the most effective way for me to learn. To figure out how I best learn, I had to analyze why books work so much better for me than lectures.
One of my cartoons. Find more of my humor on my Cartoons Page.
When I read, I pause often to think about what I read. I visualize the process. I think about how it connects to what I already know. I turn back several pages to check on something I remember reading to see if it relates to what I just read.
In a lecture, my mind is making all the same leaps. Unfortunately, the information keeps coming, even when my brain is on pause. When I take notes, it forces me to focus on writing down the information and staying on task. My mind still sometimes wanders, but it isn’t for as long, and I can usually pick up what I missed to fill in the holes in my notes. I have to think about the information later, often while checking back over my notes to make connections.
My way of taking notes.
When I am learning to do something new, my first attempt usually doesn’t go well. Failure, while not fun, is part of the process. I then go back to check what I learned to see where I went wrong. Books, especially books with diagrams, usually have lots of information that I can go through to compare to my attempt. I make a hypothesis on what I need to fix, and try again.
Lectures, because of time constraints, have less information to go through. An hour of lecture could fill less than a chapter of a good book. Books are more helpful when things go wrong.
A couple of my daily practice sketches from January 2019.
However, actually seeing something done really helps with visualizing what I need to do. Instead of trying to piece it all together through descriptions and diagrams, I can see exactly how it works. The problem is that demonstrations usually make things look easier than they are. It’s hard to reproduce that on my own.
Seeing something done, thinking it through and visualizing it, attempting it on my own, then getting feedback on what I did wrong, and trying again? That is really how I learn best. Books and lectures are just the vehicles for the information that I need.
Looking at that process, how I really learn, I can see many other ways I can best accomplish it. Finding a mentor might be the most effective way for me to learn. YouTube videos and google searches could be valuable if done right.
Knowing how I really learn best can help me be creative in how I learn. I can be more effective with the time I have. This is one of the great advantages of self study.
Practicing is a necessary step in the learning process. Samuel Johnson once said that, “By writing, you learn to write.” Putting what I’ve learned into practice is the ultimate test to see how well I’m really learning. If I can’t use the information I have, the information isn’t very helpful after all.
But studying is an important partner to that practice. Without new information, you are attempting to slowly reinvent what others have already learned and shared. Learning from the people who have gone before you can save you so much time.
I love to learn new things. There is such a feeling of accomplishment when I do something I couldn’t do before. That moment when I understand something that didn’t make sense to me, that feeling of the last puzzle piece clicking into place, is so rewarding. Learning how I learn best makes the entire process easier and less frustrating so that I can get to the good part of learning that much faster.
How do you learn best? Has that changed over time? Does it change depending on what you’re learning? Do you like to learn new things?