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How We Learn

October 9th, 2014

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There’s a new book out about the science of how we learn. It talks about how we’re wired to get the most out of our brains … and how to study smarter, not more. And it’s not what you might think.

The book is by New York Times science reporter Benedict Carey, called, “How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens.”

Here’s what Mr. Carey found out…

You know when your parents tell you to sit in one place, quietly, for hours, without distractions? Not the best way, according to Mr. Carey.

When you study that way you may actually be spending more energy trying to concentrate than learning. Sound familiar?

Mr. Carey’s findings were that we do better when we change up where we study every so often . New scenery means new brain associations (and it’s more fun). “The brain wants variation. It wants to move, it wants to take periodic breaks,” Mr. Carey said in an interview with The New York Times . Why? Because the brain is a forager like humans used to be. It still forages for information on the go even though we’re no longer foraging for food.

A little distraction is okay, too, especially if you’re trying to solve a problem.

Next, don’t cram .  He uses the example of watering the lawn. Is it better to water a lawn once a week for 90 minutes or three times a week for 30 minutes? Review every few days instead of trying to learn it all in one sitting. Remember, we forget. That also sends the message to your brain, “Hey, this is important!” It can actually double what you remember, according to Mr. Carey. It’s like building muscle memory when you play sports or learn an instrument. Also, test yourself before the test (that’s even better than one last review).

And, then, sleep . Seriously. “Sleeping is learning,” Mr. Carey said. “The brain is ready to process and categorize and solidify what you’ve been studying. Once you get tired, your brain is saying it’s had enough.”

Here’s a fun quiz on this at MindShift’s blog . Here is Mr. Carey’s website for this book. Here’s his interview about the book in USA Today . And HTE’s previous post on the importance of sleep.

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