Archive for the ‘Learning’ Category

Five suggestions to improve your ability to learn

Thursday, December 25th, 2008

1) Make sure you have proper nutrition, adequate sleep, and a little exercise
Proper nutrition, adequate sleep, and a little exercise is vital. If your body doesn’t have the right tools, it can make it very difficult to learn.
Your neurons are floating in a sort of electrical bath that contains nutrients called electrolytes. Potassium, magnesium, and calcium are especially important. With out adequate amounts, you will have problems retrieving and storing data.
Although scientists do not fully understand sleep, they do know that your body will not function well without it. Everyone is different, but most people need at least eight hours of sleep. Some people need a little more and there are people that need very very little (that type of person is very rare)
Exercise stimulates neural connections by increasing the number of dendrite connections between neurons, creating a denser network, which increases your ability to process and store information.

2) You must clear internal and external noise
There are lots of things that can distract your learning process, both internally and externally.
Worry, fear, anxiety, and depression are all big examples of internal noise. Often you may not be consciously aware that these are having a dramatic impact on your ability to retain data, but they are important things to examine if you’re having problems. Sometimes acknowledging and dealing with those types of issues can put you back on the right track so that you can more effectively study.
Having improper lighting, being called away from your studying, and loud noises are all examples of external noise. Try to create a quiet place for you to study. Turn your phone off. Choose a study time that allows you to fully concentrate without disturbance.

3) Actively participate in your learning
There is a saying that says, “Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I might remember. Involve me and I will understand.” If you are actively involved in your learning then you will be much more likely to retain what you have studied. If you read a book, then take notes (you are actively doing something). Use flash cards. Ask yourself questions about what you have learned and when possible try it out. I have also discovered that walking while listening to recorded audio information is very helpful.

4) Build new or use existing schemas to store information
When you learn new information your brain does one of two things. It either places the data into neural structures called schemas that already exist, or it creates an entirely new place to put it.
You can help your brain to store information in existing schemas by creating associations to what you already know. A great example is the use of nemonic devices i.e. All People Seem To Need Data Processing. You know all of these words and by remembering this sentence you can associate the appropriate levels in the OSI model with it (Application, Presentation, Session, Transport, Network, Data Link, and Physical). If you make these up often you’ll get very good at creating them on your own.
Storing data in new structures is very difficult. If you’re completely new to a topic like object oriented programming, you may not have a lot that you can associate what you’re learning with. If this is the case then you’ll want to be sure to get off on the right foot. Try to read about the new topic, and explore it as a journalist would. Find out what it’s generally all about. Then once you know what it is you’re dealing with you can dig into more concentrated studying.

5) Never simply skip something that you don’t understand
People often just skip what they don’t understand. The funny thing is that often they don’t even realize that they’ve done it. Often these little things that they skip will create major problems later on. When I was taking an Algebra class there was a student that had tremendous difficulty. I realized that although he had the basics of what we had learned in class, he was missing some fundamental building blocks that he needed. He started off doing really well, but as the class progressed, he got really behind. The most frustrating thing for him was that he didn’t even know what it was that he didn’t know. I shared with him a simple and seemingly obvious secret. You don’t know what you don’t know.
When I teach people how to do BASH scripting, use Linux, play the piano, or even just use their computer, I always try to check and see what they might be missing. Sometimes something painfully obvious can present a major problem. When I was taking a Unix class there was a student that confided in me that she didn’t know what foo or bar was. I almost laughed out loud, but I didn’t. I explained that foo and bar didn’t mean anything (I didn’t tell her about fubar). It was just the instructors way of saying some file (he might have said myfile instead). Not understanding this little piece of information created problems for her because she felt uncertain about what she was learning. It interfered with her ability to create a solid schematic structure with which to store new information from the class. After that piece of information was cleared up she did much better throughout the rest of the class.
The point of my tangent is that, if you don’t know a word, look it up. If you don’t understand a concept, then take a little time to clarify it. If you simply have to continue on without coming to a solid understanding of a word or concept, then write it down so you can come back to it. You might find that discovering that little maybe insignificant piece will aide you in discovery at someplace far in the future.

I hope that if you’re studying for the LPI or another exam, these suggestions will help you. If you have any thoughts or would like to add something let me know. I hate it when people keep information to themselves that could really be helpful to others so I really do encourage you to put your two cents in. A lot of pennies really add up ;-)