06.09.2019 by marta
Think back to the last time you had to learn and retain a lot of new information in a short amount of time. Whether you were gathering information about a company in order to land a dream job, presenting a new product to sell to a potential customer, or just trying out a new language for a trip, it was probably tough to remember everything both quickly and effectively.
Read on to learn how our brains change and retain information as we age, then explore techniques to learn quickly while continuing to remember new information.
What we lose and gain in our brains as we age
As the brain ages, we’ve been taught to think that all memory declines, but that’s not the case. According to Harvard Medical School, some brain areas, including the hippocampus, shrink in size. This can slow the speed of communication between neurons. Some of the receptors in the brain that enable these neurons to communicate with one another may not function as well as they once did, which can affect the ability to remember new information. Also, retrieving information that’s already been stored in the brain may become harder – like when you can’t remember the name of a high school teacher from twenty years ago.
But, it’s not all bad news. The branching of dendrites (extensions of nerve cells) increases, and connections between distant brain areas strengthen. These changes enable the aging brain to become better at detecting relationships between diverse sources of information, and understanding the global implications of specific issues. Some see this as the foundation of wisdom. We stop getting buried in the tiny details and start to see the big picture.
If you want to keep your recall abilities sharp, simply doing a daily crossword or sudoku puzzle may help. Research found that those who did daily puzzles had the cognitive and recall ability of those 8-10 years their junior.
Top tips and tricks to learn faster
Reading a lot of information from a pile of books or on a computer screen isn’t always an effective way to learn. Our brains often require more engagement and activity to retain new content.
- No matter where you’re learning, it always helps to take notes. Avoid copying information verbatim, and take notes in your own words. This forces non-passive learning, which allows the brain to stay engaged in a different way, and provides an anchor point to refer back to.
- Take notes by hand instead of using a laptop. One study by Princeton and UCLA found that students who took notes by hand listened more actively and retained more information in lectures. Those who took notes by computer were more easily distracted and retained less information.
- Summarize chapters after reading them in your own words. This will help keep information organized and seem less overwhelming.
- Make flashcards. Writing a few words or phrases onto a series of cards and reading through them will help you learn faster. Do not try and write paragraphs; stick to key words and phrases to force the brain to recall more information on its own.
- When preparing for a big presentation with new material, organize your data in a compelling way. Use accompanying charts and graphs to distill a lot of data into something easier to understand. This bucketing of information allows you (and others) to better retain information. Here are 4 ways to tell a compelling data story.
- Make sure all your data is properly visualized so it makes sense to you as a learner, and eventually as a presenter. Be sure to start with this data visualization checklist. Then, brush up on what makes an effective presentation and how to visualize and present your data with this free e-book.
- Explain the material you’ve learned to someone else. According to a study done at Washington State University in St. Louis, one of the best ways to retain information is to teach it back to someone else. When you explain a concept in your own words, you’ll also remember it longer.
- Practice giving presentations, reciting a new language, or giving a pitch out loud. Before any major event, first practice what you want to say. You don’t need an audience (although that doesn’t hurt) — just going through the motion helps with retention and confidence.
- As embarrassing as it may feel, find a quiet place where others won’t be disturbed and read the information you want to retain out loud. Hearing the information and not passively glancing at the page will help you learn faster.
Take care of yourself
- It can feel overwhelming when you need to learn a lot of information quickly, and a common first instinct is to cram in as much information as possible. However, try to study no longer than 50 minutes at a time. After 50 minutes, you become tired and stop retaining as much information. Quick breaks are key to quick learning.
- Understand when you’re most alert and ready to learn. Some people learn best and are most productive in the mornings, while others thrive at night. Listen to your body and study when it will be most receptive to learning.
- Exercise and get plenty of sleep. When the body feels sluggish, mental work won’t be as successful. Pulling “all-nighters” while binging on caffeine and sugar is counterproductive. Plan ahead of time to study in chunks and don’t try to complete everything in one massive session.
Infogram offers data visualization tools to help you retain and share information in an engaging and fun way. It’s positive (and possible) to learn new things and stretch your view of the world. We encourage you to implement these learning techniques and start excelling today. Get Started Now
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