It’s a topic we re-visit again and again: tips for learning success. We return to this subject so frequently for a couple of reasons. First, it’s important. Sure, one’s capacity to learn is inherent, to an extent. But it’s also well-established that “learning can be learned”; finding and putting into practice the right study techniques for you can have a very significant impact on your ultimate success.
Second, learning is highly individualized. Some study tips or techniques simply won’t work for you. Or, maybe they’re expressed in such a way that they just don’t resonate, but articulated in a slightly different manner or with the use of a particular image or pragmatic suggestion, they could become keys that unlock your untapped potential, or simply make the process of learning easier or more enjoyable for you.
So it’s in this spirit that we offer the following two “tips for transformative learning,” courtesy of the Curriculum Developer for CalSouthern’s School of Behavior Sciences, Dr. Bob Weathers.
The Beginner’s Mind
Dr. Weathers urges you to approach your coursework with what is known in Eastern tradition as the “beginner’s mind.” It’s the concept of taking in material—even information that may be familiar to you—as though you were learning it for the first time. It’s the way that we all learned as children. However, as we get older, we tend to process information differently. We search for and recognize bits of it as familiar, categorizing it into familiar cubbyholes.
“This may be a useful adaptation for synthesizing complex information, but viewing information in terms of the familiar stifles a basic human drive toward growing, deepening and expanding,” says Dr. Weathers. “It also introduces our biases and our own, perhaps limited convictions about ‘what is.’ But if we can suspend this reflex and give ourselves the opportunity to approach material with fresh eyes, we can get past these limitations and allow ourselves to actually grow and transform—to really learn.”
Before reading new material, Dr. Weathers suggests that you relax. Take five minutes to quiet your mind, perhaps focusing on controlled breathing. Then, set out with the intention of learning something new. Be mindful of how you are reacting to the material. Is it with curiosity and thoughtfulness or is it with familiar labels and pre-formed conceptions? Just being mindful of how you are approaching the material is half the battle to developing the beginner’s mind.
From Passive Learner to Active Mentor
Dr. Weather’s second tip is equally valuable and creative, but perhaps slightly more pragmatic. He suggests that, within 48 hours of taking in complex new material, you share it with someone: a colleague, friend, family member—even your family pet if no one else is available.
“The act of communicating the freshly learned material to another helps to embed the knowledge in your brain’s ‘muscle memory’—it seals the deal, as it were, helping the concepts stick,” explains Dr. Weathers. “In addition, this practice forces you to translate the theory that you’ve learned into real language so that you can communicate it to the people that really matter, whether that’s your professor come exam time or, ultimately, your clients or colleagues in your professional life.”
Also, if the person to whom you’re communicating the information asks a few follow-up questions (your family pet may not be helpful in this regard), you’ll be required to defend your position. This will further engrain your learning and reveal to you whether you fully understand the material and, if you don’t, it will indicate where your weak points are.
Click below to view a video of Dr. Weathers discussing techniques for transformative learning.