Edited by Mona Westman, Teresa, Stephen D. Waner, Dr Johnson
Quick learning depends on good comprehension and breaking down information into small, easily digestible chunks. While not everyone is blessed with the capacity to grasp information and comprehend it quickly, we are all capable of following a routine that enables us to learn quickly when needed. It is not something that will necessarily work in all situations as complexity of information will sometimes require more reflection but the following suggestions will apply initially to new learning.
1. There can be a raft of reasons causing learning challenges that impede your ability to learn quickly. In this case, heeding the need to address the challenge and seeking remedial measures or professional assistance can help you to overcome such learning barriers and increase your chances of being a fast learner. Learning challenges include:
Particular personality or health disorders
Disruptive home life or work environment
Disinterest in topic
Environmental factors such as noise, light, air quality, etc.
2. Avoid feeling anxious. The most common barrier to learning quickly is anxiety. When we tell ourselves that something is hard and that we are not clever enough/able enough to learn it, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and we become anxious. Anxiety causes our thinking processes to slow down and we react with our emotions and desire to run or hide, rather than sitting down to calmly think through the task at hand. If you feel panicked, anxious, short of breath, scared, etc., when learning something new, look at dealing with your anxiety first.
3. Break down the information and tasks into small lots. Avoid trying to learn all of the information at once, as that will only overwhelm you and cause you to feel that it's too difficult. Good approaches instead include:
Reading the information slowly and taking regular breaks – come back to it frequently in between doing other activities (this allows your mind a rest but it's still digesting the information)
Taking notes, making diagrams, using color coding or highlighting, reading out loud, repeating concepts, mini self-tests, are all ways that might help you depending on what you are learning
Attempt the learning over a period of time rather than in one single moment. Your mind cannot absorb everything at once but is much more adept at gradual intake; if you have a week to learn it, take the whole week; don't leave it to the night before class or a presentation (see anxiety above!)
Read the information, period. Sometimes we're afflicted with a lack of willingness to read the new information provided to us and hope we can wing it. There is only so much quick learning you will ever get out of "winging it". Persevere and read it.
4. Find your learning style. There are many different learning styles, based on your personal strengths. Some people are more reliant on visual comprehension, others on aural comprehension, and still others need tactile sensations. Many of us are a combination of learning styles and it is only through trial and error that we find out what works for us. Once you have identified your preferred learning style, rely on that to help you make sense of new information. If that means taking a complex university level textbook and drawing images of the concepts in a comic strip, then by all means do it. You'll be one ahead of the person who hasn't a clue how to make that information stick!
5. Ask questions. This is absolutely the key to quick learning. As soon as those questions pop into your head, listen to them! They are there because your mind is attempting to get across the complexity of the new information before you and this is one means of breaking down the information into digestible pieces. And remember, even if the instructor is of the "ask no stupid questions" type, there is no such thing as a stupid question.
6. Review your mistakes and the suggestions and comments from those instructing you. Nothing aids quick learning more than being in the position to reflect over where we have erred in the learning process. The lessons from this exercise often last the longest and are the fastest to take in.