Back in 1879, Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German scientist, decided to create a bunch of incredibly long nonsense words for an experiment. The idea of the experiment was to see how much harder sets of words were to learn, the longer they got. It turned out that as the gibberish words got longer, the amount of time it took to learn them got longer at an increasing rate.
Ebbinghaus developed a term for this phenomenon: he called it the learning curve. Today, we refer to the learning curve whenever we have to learn something new. It’s the idea that there’s some hump we have to get over before we truly master a topic.
But given that so many of us have so little time, shortening that learning curve has become a priority. Yes, it would be nice to be able to spend the time learning in detail everything we can about a particular topic, but when you’ve got kids to feed and a job to go to, that simply isn’t possible.
Here are some tips to help you soak up knowledge faster in your professional life.
Don’t Try To Learn Everything In A Single Session
One of the first things that Ebbinghaus discovered was that the most effective type of learning was that which was done across a series of sessions, rather than one big one. Since his discovery, science has provided insights into why this it. It turns out that when we cram for an exam, we don’t give our brains enough time to consign what we learn to long term memory. Instead, it’s all stored in our short-term memories, meaning that it is quickly forgotten once it is no longer needed.
A much better way to study is to keep going back to the same material. Every time we study certain material, the neuronal connections in our brain become stronger, and we are better able to remember what we have learned.
Prioritize Your Learning
Courses, like Crush the CPA Exam, are designed to help people cut the amount of time they spend studying for their accounting qualifications. They make use of the science of learning to give people the tools they need to learn more efficiently. One of the things these courses do (whatever field you are in), is to prioritize your studying. When approaching a new topic, many people will take a scatter-gun approach, learning everything they can about the general topic area, without really focusing in on the important ideas. As a result, their ideas will be all over the place and they won’t have a good grounding in the topic.
A good exercise, therefore, is to set out what are the most important areas to learn and then focus on them. Actually mastering a particular area of a topic makes studying the rest of that topic much easier and more enjoyable. We don’t want the studying to be too easy so that it presents no challenge whatsoever. But we also don’t want it to be so hard that it puts us off. Focusing on just one area and really getting acquainted with it helps to make learning other parts of the topic more enjoyable. In the words of Goldilocks, the difficulty is “just right.”
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