Boosting Long-Term Learning
Have you ever taken a training course, read a business book, or been shown how to use a new system, only to find that just a few weeks later you can't remember any of it?
If so, chances are you didn't do anything with your new knowledge for a while, so it faded fast. Most learning needs to be repeated several times before it sticks. So, it's important that you review what you've learned regularly and strengthen your memory if you want your new knowledge to really sink in.
In this article, we'll explore a variety of strategies for reviewing and reengaging with information, to ensure long-term learning.
Why Review Information?
We remember things best immediately after we've read, heard or watched them. But, as time passes, our memories begin to fade.
That's why reviewing information regularly is so important. It allows us to transfer new knowledge and skills from short-term to long-term memory, and then keep it there. The more valuable or complex the information is, the more effort we need to put in.
Reviewing information is the final step of the SQ3R process (which stands for Survey, Question, Read, Recall, and Review). This is a powerful technique for helping you to remember key details of what you learn, and for engaging with information more efficiently and effectively.
What Is a Review Strategy?
Review strategies are techniques for reengaging with information that you have already learned, so that it stays fresh in your mind. They're particularly valuable when you're learning for a specific purpose – for instance, revising for an assessment or exam.
They can also be helpful for remembering information in general. For example, when you want to remember people's names or when you need to learn a new system or process.
The review strategies that you choose from the section below will depend on the importance of the information, and how hard it is to learn. You'll also need to take into account your own skills and preferences as a learner, so that you can plan the best approach for you.
How to Review Effectively
Use these seven strategies to review and remember information more effectively:
1. Review Your Information Immediately
Spend a few minutes reviewing new information as soon as you've learned it. Look through the material again and add to any notes that you've already made. It can also help to explain any key points out loud.
This first review is a good way of checking that you've got everything you need, and that you've understood it. It will also avoid you having to "relearn" it completely when you review it again later.
When you reread material, try using a reading strategy to make the process more effective. For example, if you've just finished reading a chapter in a business book, take some time to review the section headings and the conclusion. This will help you to fix what you've learned in your mind.
2. Schedule Further Reviews
Remember, it takes repeated effort to move information into your long-term memory. So it's vital to review material frequently. Otherwise, key details will inevitably slip away.
Memory expert and psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus' most famous discovery – the "Forgetting Curve" – shows how new information can fade from memory over time, unless you take the time to review it. Ebbinghaus' research also revealed that each time you review information, you can wait a little longer before doing so again.
Try to revisit your learning at regular intervals. For example, after your initial review, schedule another one after a day or two, then after a week, two weeks, a month – and at increasing intervals after that.
Organization is crucial here. Try scheduling time for your reviews by adding them to your To-Do List or Action Program. Alternatively, create calendar reminders or set your mobile device to notify you when it's time for your next review.
3. Test Yourself
Every time you review something, include an element of testing. This will uncover any gaps in your knowledge, highlight key areas that you need to focus on, and reinforce your learning.
For example, you could cover up the original material and see how much of it you can write or speak about from memory. Even better, get a friend or colleague to test you on your knowledge!
Alternatively, use a review app for testing yourself. Quizlet, for instance, allows you to take quizzes on various subjects or create your own quizzes, while FlashCards+ enables you to add images to your quiz cards, increasing the range of information you can review. Another app, Studystack, lets you play games with your review notes.
4. Rewrite Your Notes
Rather than simply making notes once and hoping that they sink in, review them regularly – and improve or add to them each time. This is a great way to keep information fresh and clear.
You can do this quickly with keywords and bullet points. Or, if you want to explore the material in more depth, try transferring it into a flow chart or a labeled diagram, such as a Mind Map®. This will provide you with a colorful representation of your notes, which can help to give you an overview of the subject and the key areas within it.
5. Teach Someone Else
One of the most powerful ways to embed learning is to teach it to someone else. Find a willing "pupil," and explain to him or her what you've been learning.
This has several benefits:
- It quickly reveals any aspects that you don't understand or can't remember, pinpointing where your knowledge is weakest.
- It can boost your confidence to use and apply your knowledge.
- Your "pupil" may ask you questions, which will test your knowledge even more deeply – and, in the process, strengthen your grasp of the subject.
6. Put Your Learning Into Action
Simply rereading your notes is unlikely to help you to remember them in the long term. Instead, try to apply what you've learned.
In some instances, this will happen naturally. For example, if you're trying to master a new software application, you'll likely need to go through it a few times before it's fixed in your mind.
Other material might be harder to apply practically. If this is the case, the following tips can reinforce what you've learned:
- Make an infographic to summarize a chapter from a textbook.
- If you want to remember people's names, try doing a quick sketch of their faces, with their names written below each one.
- After a presentation, use your cell phone to record a brief account of what was said.
- If you're preparing for an exam, write yourself a quiz (with answers!) to test your knowledge later.
7. Know When to Take a Break
Finally, make sure that you don't overdo it! It can be tempting to "cram" when revising for an exam, but unless you take regular breaks, you may risk burnout.
Research shows that sleep plays an important role in creating long-term memories. And it's not just because you concentrate better when you feel fresh. Sleep is an active part of the learning process, helping to sort and transfer information from short-term to long-term memory.
How to Encourage Others to Review and Retain Knowledge
If you are the one passing on information to others – for instance, if you're hosting a workshop or giving a presentation – there are several things that you can do to help them to retain that knowledge:
- Provide a clear summary of what you've told them at the end of the workshop or presentation. This will prompt people to review the information immediately.
- Encourage people to ask questions to reinforce their understanding and encourage engagement with your ideas.
- Don't relay information only once. Instead, return to it – even if only briefly – in future communications, such as emails or subsequent presentations. Try to present it in a slightly different way each time, to keep people interested and engaged.
- When the information is particularly important or complex, encourage people to review it regularly, particularly at key moments – before a meeting, for example, or while doing prep work for an upcoming project.
- Encourage your people to discuss the things that they've learned, and help them to find ways to put their new knowledge and skills into practice.
If we want to remember and retain information in the long term, then we need to review it regularly. Otherwise, our memory will begin to fade and the things that we've learned will be lost.
Review strategies are a great way of helping us to move information from our short-term to our long-term memory. There are several strategies you can use to do this:
- Review your information immediately.
- Schedule further reviews.
- Test yourself.
- Rewrite your notes.
- Teach someone else.
- Put your learning into action.
- Know when to take a break.
You can also help others to review and retain information by summarizing it effectively, encouraging people to question and discuss it, and circling back to it at regular intervals.
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