Learning is one thing, but retaining information is even more important.
One thing that I’m particularly gifted at is that I can memorize anything. Sorta.
For example, I only need to watch a movie once to remember it for years to come. I may not be able to reenact an entire movie, but I can remember key points, lines, and act out various scenes.
How I got to this point of being able to memorize and learn of those things boils down to a variety of methods.
Methods that until recently I didn’t know exist.
And I don’t blame people. The concepts I’ll discuss are not taught in any sort of school setting. After all, these learning and memorizing tools were uncovered by the learning community.
And by the end of this, you’ll realize why the learning system is rather flawed.
But why do we need to be learning? Why bother to memorize anything?
I thought learning and memorizing was overrated after university and college.
Not exactly, the fake person I made up in my head.
What’s different about self-improvement, school learning, and everything else is simple. You wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t invested in learning about this topic.
And that’s the point here. You’ll find that you can’t memorize anything if you don’t have an interest in it. All the same, if you have no learning system, you’re not going to be able to seek information you deem valuable to you.
These methods I’ll be touching on apply to all fields and can apply to any person at any age. The only restriction is your willingness to learn.
By embracing these methods, you will have a structure where you not only will be able to absorb information but to retain it and use it in your life.
Recognize Your Learning Style
Before jumping into the actual methods, it is worth covering understanding your learning style. It’s something I purposely omitted in my learning about yourself piece as it provides a lot of insight into who we are.
To summarize, there are seven learning styles. Research has shown that we all can learn through several of these styles, but there is one we prefer above all else. These styles are:
- Visual — Learn through sight and use of charts and graphs.
- Aural — Learn through sound and music.
- Verbal — Learn through speech, both written and oral.
- Physical — Learn through touch and body.
- Logical — Learn through logic, systems, and reasonings.
- Social — Learn through groups and conversing with others.
- Solitary — Learn on your own and through reflection.
So why do these styles matter and have to do with learning about yourself?
As I said, there is one style that we prefer to learn the most from. This forms part of our own personality as these are all linked to how we engage with others and ourselves.
If someone learns through themselves and through reflection, for example, those individuals who prefer that are shyer and reserved. But at the same time, they’ll have a better grasp of themselves and their capabilities because they reflect so much on instinct.
Visual learners are also more creatively inclined people. These individuals are more likely to land more creative careers because of their visualization skills.
Once you have an understanding of what learning style you have, you can use this to your advantage. With the methods I’m outlining below, you can start to tailor your learning experience in that fashion.
Are you someone who learn visually? Perhaps spaced repetition is the method you can use. It’s a method I use in my writing to help me learn as well. I make a point of reading and continuously applying that knowledge in various scenarios whether written or in speech.
How do you think I’ve been able to remember scenes from films?
But going in, don’t mistake each method to favour one learning style in particular. They apply to everyone. Some merely need to tweak their learning to fully embrace the method.
Self Directed Learning
This technique made its appearance in 2015 when it was announced by Jennifer Haynes, one of the main backers of this method. She started teaching at Brisbane Independent School (BIS) in the 1990s and this method was a sort of buzzword.
It was actually a buzzword in all of the learning community. The only problem is no one could really apply this form of learning.
Because the US has something called the Federal Curriculum. Think of it as a standard that every school has to follow without question. The government decides the standard for how children should learn and passes it down to instructors.
How the BIS was able to get around that was the fact they were an independent school. They weren’t bound by particular standards and had to form their own curriculum.
BIS became the sole adopter of this learning technique because of this loophole.
But the more important thing is the fact that under this method, Haynes saw the students grow more over the years than any other student going through traditional schooling.
So how did that happen?
As the name suggests, the technique follows the idea of having moderate guidance at first before leaving the student to learn on their own. While you’d think that the student would be set up for failure, it’s important to note that the guidance is unlike traditional guidance.
In Haynes’s case — who is now principal at BIS — she incorporated seven characteristics into the curriculum:
- Internalized Evaluation
- Openness to Experience
- Intrinsic Motivation
- Self Acceptance
These seven characteristics transformed your average learner into a learner who:
So how do you become a self-directed learner?
The beauty of this technique is you can use this anywhere. In fact, it’s easier to use this outside of school. With the current education model, self-directed learning can’t quite fit into those programs. The exception is you have a teacher willing to guide you through this.
The system again is built on making your learning your responsibility and having someone that can help you in the starting moments. With this in mind, here are some suggestions:
- Start by having learning goals. You can not achieve something unless you have it written down or have stated it.
- Actively seek challenges that help you grow your skills. The only way we can improve is when we present goals or challenges and push ourselves to achieve them.
- Ask plenty of questions. Always have a cat-like curiosity towards anything that you care about.
- If you don’t understand a topic, look up the background of it. There is so much information online someone is bound to have covered it once.
- Make a topic list of things you want to learn.
With respect to finding someone, you may want to consider a counsellor or even someone close to you. While Hayne’s method is good, it was designed for elementary to high school students who are still developing.
The idea here is to develop accountability and some level of guidance. The person doesn’t need to be a teacher, but someone who is aware of your goals and is invested in helping you get there.
As much as learning is helpful though, it’s also key to have some memory retention. The only way I’ve been able to both learn and retain all of that cinema information stems from the fact I’ve been recalling that information.
This relationship is important to keep in mind because of how our brain’s memory works.
Not to go into too much detail right now, our memory is essentially a connection of neuron-pathways. Whenever we are going through a sequence of steps or recalling information, specific neurons are firing up to help us recall or go through that sequence.
In essence, what we learn creates one of those pathways. But just because we made that pathway doesn’t mean that we recall it for the rest of our lives.
Our brain doesn’t work that way.
On top of that, as we get older, our body functions tend to decline. Our eyes don’t work as great and we can’t move as well as we could’ve. Believe it or not but those things impact our learning and therefore our memory.
So in order to prevent loss of information, we need memory recall tactics. Among others, one such tactic is the formation of a memory palace.
How do you make a memory palace?
If this sounds familiar, perhaps it’s because you’re a fan of the TV series Sherlock. In the show, we see Sherlock Holmes enter into an imaginary estate with no spatial sense at all. That, in essence, is a memory palace.
But before you start picturing that place, I’ll warn you: that’s not how you do it.
That’s not to say Holmes’s method is wrong. But in order for a memory palace to work, we need to visualize something that we are intimately familiar with.
Your home or room.
These are examples of powerful memory palaces. Even though they’re not palaces in the literal sense, these are places you frequent.
That’s the point.
After that, making a memory palace is actually pretty simple. Follow the five-step process in this article to properly form one.
A memory palace can be used in all kinds of manners to memorize anything. While the common use is memorizing sequences, you can stretch it in various ways.
To recall what you learned from the day you can visualize text or certain facts on a mental level.
You can even use a memory palace to improve your vocabulary.
The applications stretch as far as your imagination.
But probably a better method to memorize anything is to practice spaced repetition. One of the major drawbacks of a memory palace is that it’s cumbersome. You have to deliberately enter your palace every time.
It’s akin to using a hammer to kill a mosquito. It’ll get the job done, but there are easier and less damaging methods to solve the problem.
Instead, I’d turn to something called spaced repetition.
Why this method is so amazing is that it uncovers some of the flaws of our current education system.
To prove, this let’s do a thought exercise…
I want you to recall specifically one thing you learned in class you didn’t care about in high school.
Unless you took that class quite recently, I highly doubt anyone is going to remember anything about that specific course.
But why we’re not able to recall that information boils down to two factors that spaced repetition addresses:
- The first factor is how much information we retain.
- The second factor is the amount of effort we spend to retain that degree of information.
This is where the school system fails us. Not only are we learning a lot on a daily basis at the time, but the information is on topics we don’t care about. In all likelihood, we will retain that information only for the sake of taking a test or quiz.
This suggests that school is teaching us to learn for the sole purpose of passing some tests or exams.
Spaced repetition is the exact opposite of this.
So what is it exactly and how do we use it?
Spaced repetition is exactly as it sounds. It’s learning the same piece of information in intervals. Because of this, this memorization technique can help you memorize anything with almost perfect recall.
But to use this method it’s not so black and white.
While some people think spaced repetition is repeated learning over the stretch of minutes, German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus disagrees.
Instead, what Ebbinghaus suggests is that we focus on two specific factors to determine how often we do repeat information:
- The intensity of our emotions and;
- The intensity of our attention.
So how can we translate that into time?
While Ebbinghaus — the pioneer of this technique — didn’t provide a specific time, there are two schedules that stem from his work. These schedules are good structures for when to repeat the information. These schedules are SuperMemo SM-2 and Mnemosyne.
What these schedules uncover is that we don’t need to be repeating every day to memorize anything. Instead, we may have to do it once every month or two. It all depends on the information and how passionate you are about the topic.
Going back to my example of movies I retain a lot of that knowledge because I grew up around film. There is a lot of nostalgia for it. As I’ve grown older I retain lines and scenes from shows and films that I’m invested in. Examples are My Hero Academia and any of the Marvel films to date.
But anything outside of cinema boils down to things I find interesting or fascinating. I can memorize anything so long as it’s something that helps me and that I have a passion for, similar to other people.
Memorize Anything Through Deliberate Practice
The final method to memorize anything is the concept of deliberate practice. From the name alone you can tell it incorporates both learning and memorizing. Inspired by spaced repetition, it pulls similar elements but enhances them further.
The idea with deliberate practice is to help you overcome learning plateaus and give you rapid and quick bursts of constant improvement.
This technique was developed by Anders Ericsson. He also wrote a book called Peak. The book outlines how to achieve this but it also addresses another concern.
That concern being that this technique has been popularized by various books, though the information is misleading.
To give context, deliberate practice is a technique that gained popularity via several books. The most notable of them is the book by Malcolm Gladwell titled Outliers.
In the book, Gladwell stressed the importance of practicing 10,000 hours in order to be considered an expert at something. But according to Ericsson, that information is a bit misleading.
While Gladwell isn’t technically wrong here, he’s only covering part of what deliberate practice is.
So what is deliberate practice and how do you develop it?
Deliberate practice is actually built on purposeful practice — practicing something with a specific goal in mind.
For example, when I first started to write in my career, I set myself a goal of publishing an article every day. Didn’t matter if it was terrible or worthy of an award. I wrote and then I published.
That was a form of purposeful practice for that reason. And for it to be deliberate practice there are two other key things needed:
- The practise needs to be in a well-defined field;
- And there needs to be a teacher who can tailor your practice activities.
But while these are key factors, these aren’t exactly needed. Take the example of Kobe Bryant and his practice regimen. What’s interesting about this is that Bryant has continued to grow and improve despite not having any direct guidance.
So while deliberate practice has specific rules, they are more like guidelines. Regardless, you need a goal and having a coach or guiding factor will help significantly.
How deliberate practice comes into learning is simple. It’s providing you growth in areas where you feel you’re not learning enough or that the growth stalled. Deliberate practice is a way to reinforce everything that you learned and to provide more challenges.
More challenges provide more purpose and direction. It’s similar to raising the difficulty of a goal you want to achieve.
How it helps to memorize anything is also straightforward. Because you’re setting this new challenge, you have to make an effort to recall what you’ve learned the day before.
What methods will help you to achieve the goal today?
What did you learn yesterday that you can do better today or to avoid?
While we often think of the answers as steps to achieve our goal, we’re still growing based on past knowledge here. In order for us to do that, we need to exercise our brain and remind ourselves of what we learned and what we have to do to achieve that.
It’s along the same lines as to why I haven’t looked up much information lately on weight loss. Yes it’s a goal of mine and I’m working on it, but I have a system and I know what has to get done.
The learning aspect is on the mental and motivational side which I frankly don’t need either.
You Can Learn And Memorize Anything
Age is never an excuse to not learn and improve our learning regimen. We need to continue to learn and grow in many ways and these techniques can help. While there are many ways to memorize and to learn, remember that these aren’t the only methods.
I encourage you to go out and uncover other learning and memorization techniques. After all, they can bring you a vast amount of knowledge to help you grow more.
To your growth!
Eric S Burdon