Before I get into this article, it’s important to note that some foundational concepts were introduced in my last article “University Essentials: Active Vs. Passive Learning” that is vital to the contextualisation of this one. Thus, (although not completely necessary), I would recommend giving that a read first! Now onto the continuation of our journey learning about active learning.
You’re sitting at your desk, probably a little drowsy as the evening slump slowly imposes on your ability to concentrate. You struggle to focus, reading the same line on the same page over and over again. Your brain is so foggy that nothing really sticks. But for familiarity’s sake, you just keep on repeating the same process – reading and re-reading until you convince yourself to process that information.
The next week when you’re revising, the day before the test, the information you learnt is muddy; you find yourself re-making the notes and re-reading the re-studied material for the hundredth time.
It’s a place we’ve all understandably been in.
When I introduced active learning in last week’s article, I described the concept of it as study methods that “practically apply the concepts learnt, approach the study material with practice questions for consolidation, or even where we learn the topics in new ways to identify gaps in understanding”. And in its practicality, this is a very good description of what active learning is; essentially, it’s job is to ensure that we overcome evening slumps and muddy memory by stimulating the comprehension and memorisation of material that we need to know in academic contexts.
This article will delve into two useful ways we can save time and energy by exercising active learning – upgrading our study sessions to a higher quality.
#1 – The Feynman Technique
When trying to learn concept heavy material such as processes or pathways, the Feynman technique tries to ensure your understanding of complex relationships and information within those concepts you’re trying to commit to memory. It works in four basic steps:
- Identify the concept you are trying to learn:
Read about the concept in a textbook or rewatch a lecture, making notes of the concept including the appropriate vocabulary and context.
- Write down or recount the information as if you were explaining it to a child
Take a blank sheet of paper and write down the concept as if you were going to explain it to a 12 year old – cut back on the fancy vocabulary and break it down into its most rudimentary sense. Ensuring that the concept is re-aggregated to be appropriate to the short attention span and elemental understanding capacity of a child solidifies your grasp of the subject material. This simplification enhances your understanding of complex relationships that are present in the concept you are trying to learn and deepens comprehension – easing the memorisation of the concept.
- Review your independently regurgitated information to improve clarity
Now look back on the paper and identify gaps in your understanding; what are the parts of the material you are unable to simplify and explain to a child? What are the pieces of information you are missing to make a certain aspect of the concept more comprehensive in simple language. This is where most of the learning occurs, you are filling in the gaps of understanding and simplifying that information to affirm the material.
- Re-organise the information and form a final narrative
Gather all your notes and form the narrative of a simple and concise explanation of the concept! Recite it, repeat it and recall it to commit it all to memory.
#2 – Active Recall Using Spaced Repetition
Active recall is defined as the ‘need to actively stimulate memory during the learning process’. Essentially, you rely on self-made questions in the form of flashcards or quizzes to remember chunks of information after the initial intake of the material through notes, videos or lectures. This paired with spaced repetition – the process of reviewing these questions in different frequencies from the first day the material is learnt – makes up an evidence based study technique that has been proven to increase rates of learning and retaining study material.
The main objective of this method is to interrupt the forgetting curve that was discussed in my previous article. Aiding both comprehension and predominantly the memorisation of the subject material, the method works to review the questions set 1 day after learning it, then 3 days, then 5 days, then in a week’s time and then in two weeks’ time etc. This essentially reviews the material until the forgetting curve is almost completely negated. To understand the practicality of this method, the resources I’ve linked at the end will be especially helpful in how you can customise this method to your modules and subjects.
The best part about this study technique is that softwares like Anki have in-built spaced repetition software that you just need to enter the questions into, and the frequency at which the questions will be asked is determined by your feedback in coordination with the algorithm set in place.
Both these study techniques, and the accompanying resources below that go into more detail about these methods, have greatly improved the efficiency and quality of my studying. I hope you can take the time to review some of it and level up your studying!