Today, more than ever, learning is a basic necessity to survive. You need to learn how to get around a place, you need to learn how to prepare food without killing yourself or your loved ones, and you need to know how to learn all about that new fancy television show/trading card game/extreme sport/origami construction theory/whatever, or you have no hopes of making acceptable conversation, proper socializing, courting a female and eventually mating. However, the best known formal necessity for learning is education, aimed at getting a career and becoming filthy rich and powerful.

The following has therefore been studied and compiled for one simple purpose: To learn how to learn anything faster. Using the techniques and dirty tricks gives you a fighting chance to attain knowledge and skill a lot faster than through conventional education.

To get even more on the stuff, just use the links. This is only a small bag of tricks; a compact version of a big field. Note, that examples use fairly basic knowledge from different topics. The more advanced examples are up to you (or nobody would understand the text).

Step 1: Observe

First off, your brain needs to be prepped for learning. To do this, watch people using the target skill (like economists talking about financial figures), or find examples of its use (like big mathematical equations in a textbook). This makes your brain do two important things: A) Ready itself for something entirely new, and B) make some basic observations about what this new thing is. Without A, new information will be mixed with other knowledge and be hard to retrieve later on. Without B, your brain will not know quite where to put this new information, because our brains are built to handle sensory input, not abstract descriptions taken from a textbook. With B, your brain can say 'hey, I've seen this before, I know what it is', even if it does not quite understand the implications of it.

This step is closely related to observational intelligence, and a well-trained person will get far better results.

Step 2: Imitate

Act as if you know what it is all about. Don't do this to impress anyone; you won't, since you're still somewhat clueless. But try to guess how it is done (this works especially well when learning languages). This first of all gives you a feel of how to work with the topic. But most of all, it is a mind trick! Acting like you're cool at something makes your brain confident, giving you an advantage later on. And it can be fun, too.

An advanced version of this is archetyping.

Step 3: Basic Definitions

At this point, you have (with little time and effort) acquired a basic 'feel' for the topic. This lets you identify a handful of concepts already, even if you don't know exactly what they are; you've noticed them popping up, but never caught their meaning. Now you make learning cards!

A learning card is a small paper card with a simple text written on it, describing a single concept. Old business cards with blank backs are great for this purpose. Take a concept, component or something else from your topic and write its name on the card. Now ask someone for a quick explanation, or look it up in something without pages and pages of explanations for each entry. In fact, E2 is pretty good for this. A textbook with a glossary is also great, as is a pocket encyclopedia; all describe entries in a short and precise way. Make sure it is simple and precise enough for you to understand without too great difficulty. If you cannot find a good description anywhere, pick another concept/component/whatever and try again. You'll get back to the first one later.

A stack of learning cards is a great tool, because your brain works like this. It does not like long-winded explanations like those in textbooks. Short and clear and non-linear is far better. Your brain likes to have a bunch of little things to play with, and learning cards give it just that. Continue to make learning cards for as many concepts/components/whatevers as you like. 20 tends to cover an academic topic quite well at introductory level.

This technique is directly derived from object-based learning. The same goes for Extended Definitions, below.

Step 4: Extended Definitions

Step 3 involved defining stuff that you could observe directly, like 'fuel injector' or 'stock exchange'. If you made a serious effort, you may even have gotten some details on it, like 'stock value' and its function ('stock value: The price at which a stock is sold or bought'). For academic topics, it would be clearly defined concepts like 'atom' or 'political party'.

Now that you have named and defined the obvious, you go for the less obvious. 9 out of 10 times, weird and obscure concepts are just concepts related to something you don't know yet. Keep making new learning cards, doing whichever concepts etc. make sense to you. If something does not, put it on hold till later; you may find some other concept that makes it all easier to understand. This way, you quickly dig deeper and deeper into the topic. Take a break now and then and just go through the learning cards you already have, just to keep them fresh.

The trick is to work in layers, just like painting a wall. In its most basic form, layered learning involves flipping through a textbook once, reading a few things here and there. Then you flip through it again to see what else you can catch. With the method outlined in step 3 and 4 (basic object-based learning), it becomes a hunt for more and more easily defined concepts and components; every added piece makes further work easier. Again, a glossary is a treasure, but a good index can do a lot, too. Or you can just start from one end of a chapter and take whatever presents itself (then flip back and take another round, etc., for as long as you like).

For details, check layered learning or matrix learning.

Two bonuses from learning topics this way: You can always see your progress, simply by flipping through your learning cards. AND... You can swap cards with others. This makes group learning much more effective (like having a friend really good at explaining stuff handy, in fact). The drawback is, that the details of this practice vary greatly from person to person, and you'll just have to find your own way to make the most of it; I can only show you the door...

Oh yeah: You're not expected to keep producing tons of little cards the rest of your life. After a short while, it gets to be a way of thinking, and you can 'keep them in your head', so to say. The physical cards are just for getting used to the idea. They may also be helpful later, if confronted with really tough topics.

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