Exams are just around the corner for the student’s of the world so I thought it was time to share a little story about how to learn.
I’ve been a full-time student for 17 years now from learning about how to do a dot-to-dot in primary school to learning about the neurological drug development process at university. I have a very academically trained brain now.
My degree is neuroscience meaning I have studied the ways of studying… Student-ception almost! Without going on for hours about NMDA receptors and long-term potentiation of synapses, the long story short is that repetition is KEY.
Your brain will not retain information that it deems irrelevant or it thinks is ‘sooooo 2010’. Seriously. It’s a teenager. If you want to learn something and make it stick you have to keep telling your brain that it’s really important to your wellbeing and survival by reminding it about it often. The more you do this the better it will stick!
Let me tell you a short story.
One day, I decide I want to learn about blue whales. I’m going to try and learn that a blue whale can reach swimming speeds of 30km/h. Wow. So exciting.
Let’s be honest I really don’t care about how fast a blue whale can swim and neither does my brain really! Does it help you to survive? No. Does it reduce your stress levels? No. Is it the recipe for a super calorific amazing brownie recipe that’s gonna give you tonnes of energy for very little eating power? No. Unfortunately…
So we basically have to make learning this fact on equal terms with eating brownies – damn that’s hard! So to make it super exciting and important and WORTH remembering we have to tinker with it a bit.
I could say it out loud for a change. ‘Wow, blue whales can swim up to 30km/h!‘. Maybe I could write it down, use coloured pens this time or draw it on the mirror after a shower! I could go to the library and confirm this knowledge with rigorous screening of wildlife books and maybe I stop off at Cafe Nero on the way to grab a coffee with a blue cup that reminds me of blue whales.
Can baristas pour coffee at 30km/h? That would be dangerous… Let’s never try that….
I’m feeling spontaneous and decide to go on a trip to the ocean to see if I can spot a blue whale in action. Probably unlikely but that cold salty air and likely seasickness will really help to remind me of what the point in this trip was about!
After all of this I decide to go home to warm up and go back to social media instead where I discover a @bluewhalenews twitter account where I can see blue whale skeletons that makes me think ‘wow and that all travels up to 30km/h!‘.
I then decide to share my tale with my pals at the pub and we get onto a discussion about endangered animals and how blue whales can live just as long as humans. Amazing.
Now by the time I had got to the spontaneous trip I didn’t even have to think twice about how fast blue whales can swim up to. 30km/h is now ingrained in my head because of the masses of repetition and different contexts that I forced myself to remember that fact in.
That is how you learn.
That’s the big secret!
Repetition and variety.
I understand that that’s like me saying ‘the secret to being thin is eating less and exercising more WOOHOO!‘ but let me explain.
Going back to my neuro-roots just a tad, this all revolves around a concept that when you’re trying to remember something, you’re trying to find that one/few neurons that were made when you discovered that fact in and amongst everything else.
If you have 1000 other neurons all connected to that one fact neuron then you’re more likely to find it quicker and remember it! If there are only 5-10 connections then you’re going to have to use a lot more brain power to try and find it out of the 99,999,999,995 other neurons in your brain.
It’s kind of like you’re making bridges between your memories so that if you remember one, you remember all the others that the bridges go to.
The more experiences that you have that’s making you think about 30km/h and blue whales means you’re creating new connections because your head is saying – IT’S IMPORTANT NOW!
The sad fact is that over time when you go to sleep your brain’s very own gardener comes around snipping off all the overgrowth that has accumulated with all this ‘useless knowledge‘ that is taking up valuable space and energy for the new knowledge! It’s your job to put signs up all around your 30km/h fact so that the gardener doesn’t trim it back and forget about it!
Repetition and variety over many separate days stops your biological gardener from getting carried away!
Whatever it is that you’re trying to learn, remember that you have to make it worth your brain’s time and effort. Make it the same hype as a chocolate brownie time after time and it will eventually come around to the idea of remembering.