Topic of the Week Lifetime Learning: Do's and Don'ts
- Don't reread.
- Don't highlight.
- Don't summarize.
- Do practice testing.
- Do distributed studying.
These days learning needs to be part of everyone's work life. That's why I was so intrigued to discover a series of articles on PsychCentral.com about the best and worst ways to learn new information. Although the article was mainly written for college students, we're often faced with learning challenges at work from the flavor-of-the-month business book our boss drops on our desk, training programs or tests for different certifications and licenses. Which reminds me of a guy who was recently arrested at the Jersey shore with a samurai sword. It wasn't what he was carrying but what he was doing with it that got him in trouble. He was holding the sword to his neighbors throat over a complaint about a bad smell. Bond was set at $30,000.
You've got to learn that there are times to leave your samurai sword at home. And most of us could also learn a thing or two about learning. John Dunlosky, a Kent State University professor, examined the top ten most common strategies that students used to learn new information and found that some of the most common studying strategies were the least effective. Below are three learning don'ts and two learning do's.
Don't reread. Research found this common strategy very time intensive and that there were faster and easier ways to absorb new information. Jeez, I just wish I could get all that time in high school that I spent reading, and rereading, Chaucer back. Sure comprehension matters, but just going over the same information won't get it done as my dance with Chaucer proves.
Don't highlight. This one really hurt, because I'm a huge highlighter guy. But the research showed that just highlighting won't help you absorb new content and in fact, it could limit your ability to handle higher level tasks that require making inferences based on the information. So please step away from the highlighter.
Don't summarize. Summarizing information was also deemed to be ineffective, mainly because summarizing is a very specific skill that few people have mastered. In short, a bad summary doesn't give you more insight about the material that you're trying to learn. Okay, those are three of the common don'ts, now let's start to focus on what helps our learning process.
Do practice testing. This involves using flash cards or answering questions at the end of a chapter. It's a more dynamic way to process information and it's the only way I passed the calculus part of my finance course when I got my MBA.
Do distributed studying. Distributed practice involves spreading out studying over time and having students quiz themselves on material before a big test. Cramming, the tradition that most of us practiced, is much less effective than spreading out your studying over time.
I'm a big believer in continuous learning, so I really appreciated these tips to learn more effectively. Now if only a certain guy in Jersey could learn that it's always best to leave your samurai sword at home.
Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, "The Boss's Survival Guide." If you have a question for Bob, contact him firstname.lastname@example.org.