First of all, I apologise for the silence. Several things in my personal life coincided recently that demanded my full attention, but now I am back with another useful technique to learn better. This one is simple as I am preparing to publish some of my amazing interviews with thinkers and problem solvers in education.
This technique is about recall. It is easy to pay a lot of attention to the actual comprehension of material and making sense of it while it is happening. We focus, or try to, while listening to a lecture or participating in a workshop. We focus while reading a book. However, all too often this is where it stops. We don’t follow up on what we have learned and, therefore, it is forgotten. The process of forgetting is very fast, because if the information is not transferred to long term memory, it is lost basically as soon as we stop processing it. This is what happens when we attend a fantastic workshop and retain nothing of it a day, a week or a month later. This is also what happens when we read our notes the next day or next week and find notations that make absolutely no sense whatsoever (more about a good note taking system here).
It is all too easy to forget what we have learned. The image below shows a line in purple which indicates how we forget what we have learned over time. One really good way of avoiding it is to review repeatedly (the green line in the picture) starting 10 minutes after we have learned it, hence the name of the 10 minute rule. The idea is basically look over ones notes right after getting out of the lecture hall or workshop. This way very little has been completely forgotten yet and it is possible to recall it and, if something has been forgotten, there are still people around from whom it is fairly easy to ask. This is also a good time to make clarifications in the notes if necessary and jot down keywords and important questions concerning the content as it is all still fresh in ones mind.
The next time to go over ones notes and recall the information is one day later. This “going over” should not simply mean reading the notes, which can still help if one is in a hurry, but working with the information. This can mean for example explaining the key words in your own words, thinking of examples of key principles, answering any questions previously jotted down. Also it really helps if you make connections to other things you already know about the topic as that helps new information to be stored better in our brains so that we can use the information.
The next time to go over the material is a week later and then a month later and then six months later. Now, simply reading over your notes repeatedly can help. But repeatedly working with the information – that helps a whole lot more.
This systematic going over of the material over a period of time does a few things that help us retain the information and understanding. Firstly it signals to our brain that this is information that is worth saving. Our brains are very good at clearing away anything that is unused, so using it helps us retain it. Secondly, this helps us practice recalling the information. Once we have practiced recalling information it is easier to recall it again. Thirdly, repeatedly working with the material helps us make the information ours. After this sort of process it is no longer information that someone gave us. It is information that we have and which has plenty of rich connections with other things we know. This way we retain a far greater percentage of what we have learned and it is no longer something we just try to remember for an exam or for a certificate but it becomes something in which we gain useful knowledge we can later use.