One of the most crucial aspects of our lives is the ability to learn. We often take this skill for granted since not many of us pause and think about our learning process. In fact, if we did, we would probably uncover that we engage in ineffective learning mechanisms.
Think about it. Has your learning helped you recall things you learned last month? Go back a year and ponder.
A lot of how we learn was tucked away in school. Our exposure to school learning is the basis of how we learn moving forward. However, over the past few decades, learning has evolved into different stages of learning, and that becomes the main issue.
No longer are we looking at examinations of people’s characteristics about understanding and learning. Instead, scholars have created learning processes that use materials that support our interactions with others and our goals.
As a result, we can learn new things more smartly and effectively – which will be covered as we proceed further in understanding the learning process.
The Essential Steps of the Learning Process
In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell states that the key to success is for us to practice 10,000 hours on a specific skill. It’s also worth noting that the skill needs the correct learning direction. If you’re learning how to do something the wrong way, you’ll continue to use it the wrong way.
But before understanding the learning process, we must understand the stages of learning. Written in the 1970s, Noel Burch created a model called the Four Stages of Learning.
From there, we can use the stages of learning as a basis for how to learn effectively.
1. Unconscious Incompetence
Think of a skill that you are good at and that you use every single day.
Now think back to when you first developed that skill. Were you good at it? Probably not.
You never heard of the skill or had a desire to learn of it until that point. This is the first stage: You know nothing about it.
2. Conscious Incompetence
Once you have heard of the skill, you begin to delve into it.
Driving a car is a perfect example. Before this stage, you never felt the need to learn how to drive. Nevertheless, once you became of legal age, you had to study to get your license. You likely made several mistakes on the driving test as well as during the written test.
This is the stage where you feel learning is slow, and you’re also aware of your mistakes.
3. Conscious Competence
By this stage, you know pretty much everything you need to know. At the same time, though, you are also aware that you need to focus and concentrate on what you are doing.
This stage can be that you know the rules of the road and can drive well. However, you feel you can’t talk to anyone, play any music, or look away from the road. You feel like you need total silence to focus and concentrate on driving.
At this stage, learning can be even slower than the previous stages. The learning isn’t consistent, nor is it a habit yet.
4. Unconscious Competence
By this stage, you’ve made it. You know everything in and out about the skill. It’s become a habit, and you don’t need to concentrate. You can relax and let your unconscious mind take over.
Exceeding the 4 Stages: Flow/Mastery
While Burch only covered four stages, there is another stage that exceeds it. This is the flow or mastery stage.
You may have heard of something called a flow state. It’s the mental state where someone is performing an activity and is fully immersed in it. They feel energized, focused, and get a sense of joy from doing this activity.
Flow or mastery can stem from all kinds of activities like Writing, reading, jogging, biking, figure skating, and more. It’s also characterized as complete absorption in what you’re doing, making you unaware of space and time.
Different Types of Learning Process
Another aspect of the learning process is the types of learning. While every person goes through those stages of learning, how we learn is different.
Having covered four learning styles in 4 Learning Styles to Help You Learn Faster and Smarter, I’m recapping the different types of learning in psychology.
Psychiatrists have narrowed how we learn down to seven learning styles as below:
- Visual (spatial): Learning through pictures, graphs, charts, etc.
- Aural (auditory-musical): Learning through sound and music.
- Verbal (linguistic): Learning through spoken or written words.
- Physical (kinesthetic): Learning through the body, hands, and a sense of touch.
- Logical (mathematical): Learning through logic, systems, and reasons.
- Social (interpersonal): Learning through groups or talking to people.
- Solitary (intrapersonal): Learning individually through self-study or individual assignments.
You may be asking why all of this matters and actually how we learn plays a significant role. How we internally represent experiences stems from how we learn. What we learn not only establishes how we recall information but also impacts our own word choice.
It also influences which part of our brain we use for learning. Researchers uncovered this through various experiments.
For example, say you’re driving to a place you’ve never gone before. How you learn will determine which method of learning you’ll use. Some will ask people for directions, while others will pull up Google maps. Some will write the directions out, while some won’t and merely follow street signs.
Knowing how to learn to this depth is vital because once you know what style you use, you can then develop a learning process to be a more effective learner.
How To Become an Effective Learner?
The learning process varies from person to person. Generally speaking, though, consider the following steps and considerations:
1. Improve Your Memory
Learning doesn’t only require that we learn information, but to retain it. If we are to learn something, we will have to learn and relearn. This means recalling and having a sharp memory to keep that information.
2. Keep Learning and Practicing New Things
Learning a new skill takes time, but there is nothing wrong with learning a few other things. International Journal of Science – Nature: Changes in grey matter induced by training reported that those who juggled between learning different topics increase their gray matter which is associated with visual memory
3. Learn in Many Ways
While we have our own go-to style, delving into other types and stages of learning can be useful. If you learn by listening to podcasts, why not try rehearsing information verbally or visually?
It will not start great, but by improving your skill to describe what you learned orally, you are further cementing the knowledge in your mind.
Judy Willis MD, M.Ed in her publication on Review of Research: Brain-Based Teaching Strategies for Improving Students’ Memory, Learning, and Test-Taking Success states how the more regions we keep data stored, the more interconnection there is in the collection information that we later process.
4. Teaching What You Learned to Others
It doesn’t have to be in a tutoring situation, but this method is still a reliable way for two people to grow.
Regardless of learning styles, we retain the information we tell others more effectively than if we keep it to ourselves. Was there a random fact you told someone a few months ago? You are more likely to remember that information because you brought it up to someone.
5. Use Relational Learning
Relational learning is relating new information to things you already know.
A typical example of this is remembering someone’s name. You can better recall that person’s name if you associate that name to something or someone familiar.
6. Gaining Practical Experience
Nothing beats learning than trying it for yourself. Sure, seeing information does have its strong points -and most learning styles benefit from exposed information – there is something to be said about getting your “hands dirty.”
7. Refer Back to past Info If Need Be
The learning process is not perfect. We’ll forget at certain points. If you ever struggle to remember something, make a point of going back to your notes.
This is key because if we try recalling, we risk ourselves learning or relearning the wrong answer. And again, there is a difference between learning the right way and the wrong way.
8. Test Yourself
While this step may seem odd, there are benefits to testing yourself. Even if you think you know everything about the topic, going back and testing yourself can always help.
Not only does testing improve our recall, but we may realize that we learned a concept or task incorrectly. That knowledge can enhance our effectiveness in the future.
9. Stop Multitasking
While we should be learning new things all the time, we shouldn’t be trying to do several tasks at once. We ought to focus on one activity at a time before moving onto other tasks.
By trying to multitask, we are learning less effectively and are only hindering ourselves. Check out how multitasking is merely another way of distracting ourselves.
Psychologists define learning as the process of a permanent change in a person’s behavior resulting from experience. The understanding of the learning process is up to us, but do consider the bigger picture. Be aware of what style works best for you, and work to improve it while enhancing other learning styles. The only way we can advance a skill is to learn continuously. Even in the skills you have mastered, there are always new developments.
You can learn more about how you can cultivate lifelong learning and attain an edge in every niche that you get associated with today!
Featured photo credit: Aliis Sinisalu via unsplash.com