What Does It Take to Master a Topic and Learn For Good?
If you're reading this article, you are probably learning. In fact, on any given day, you are learning something new and you want to learn for good. Don't get too excited. The vast majority of the stuff you learn on one day is going to be gone the next day. That's how your mind works. When it comes to learning, your mind has two layers: short term memory and long term memory. The idea behind highly effective learning is to store more information in the long term memory part of your mind. Unfortunately, just like most things in life, this long-term learning or learning for good is easier said than done. If you are going to try to do this off the top of your head, chances are you will fail. On a purely trial and error basis most people fail to learn for good. You have to be both systematic and methodical about it. Otherwise, it's very easy to fail. It's very easy to get distracted. Instead of learning for good, you learn tons of stuff only to forget it in a relatively short period of time. You can say goodbye to all of that by paying attention to the following information.
Learning permanently in situational learning
The first thing you need to understand is that there are two ways to learn something. You can learn permanently or you can learn situationally. The vast majority of the things you learn is situational learning. For example, you are cramming for a test. I can guarantee you that the vast majority of the stuff you picked up for the test is going to be gone almost immediately after the test. That's just how your brain works.
Learning permanently, on the other hand, involves some sort of repetition and reinforcement where once you pick up on a concept, it's going to be very hard for you to shake it off. The secret to figuring out how to learn for good is to overcome the natural and default garbage in/garbage out learning system of your mind. Here are some basic tips on how you too can learn for good.
Unpack the concept to learn it
The first thing you need to understand when trying to learn a new concept is to unpack it. Any concept has many different parts. Try to break it apart and understand each part.
Sort the parts based on importance
How do you know which parts of a particular concept is important? Since you just got exposed to the concept, it would seem that all these parts are equally important. You would not know head from tails. It's very easy to get confused at this point.
You only need to apply one measuring stick. You just need to look at all the different parts. Try to sort them based on practicality. In other words, based on your particular needs right now, which of these parts are most relevant. The good news is as long as you're able to sort, you are able to learn on an intense level. The measure of practicality might not be all that important eventually, but for present purposes, it's important enough. Sort the parts based on some perception of importance
Apply to many daily activities
Now that you have sorted the concepts, the next step is to make it real. As awesome as a concept may be and as intellectually stimulating it seems, ultimately, it would be worthless to you if you can't tie it to something practical. That's just how the human mind works. The human mind learns for good when a concept is repeated over again. Think of it like digging a ditch. If you just scratch the surface, chances are, with enough dust storms, it would get covered up immediately. Now, if you dug a really deep ditch, it will take a lot more dust storms for that hole to get covered up. The same applies to how you tie concepts you learned. If you take a different part of a concept and you apply it to as many different activities as possible, chances are, it will take your mind a much longer time to get rid of that concept.
Understand that your mind is always refreshing itself. It’s always trying to reprioritize information you've picked up along the way. It's trying to get rid of information it thinks you no longer have any business hanging on to. This is why concepts tied to many daily activities have a much longer shelf life as far as your mind is concerned.
Remember a unifying aspect of the concept
You might be asking, "Now that I've tied some parts of the concept to many of my daily activities, how can I remember the concept itself?" This is where a neat little trick comes in. Now that you have applied many parts of the concept to many of your daily activities, the next step is to use these daily activities to remind you of a unifying aspect of the concept. A particular part is relevant to what you are doing now, but when you focus on that part, it also helps you remember the concept that it's attached to.
For example, if I'm learning a new geometry concept that I applied to my driving patterns every day, by simply remembering that particular part, I can easily jog my memory regarding the larger geometric principle that little idea is connected to. You can use this for any kind of concept. Maybe you're trying to learn a new concept in medical school or law school. Just tie a particular piece to your daily activities. They always lead you back to the bigger concept. It all boils down to remembering that unifying aspect.
Review the general or comprehensive concept from time to time
Now that you can tie stuff that you remember on a daily basis to a larger concept, make it a point to think about the general concept from time to time. This way you never forget it. You end up in a situation where you never really fully lose sight of the bigger concept.
Tie into new stuff you learn
As mentioned above, you're always learning new things. The best way to hang on to the stuff you already know is to tie it in somehow and some way to the new stuff you are learning. This way there's always a context to the materials you are learning. You are always able to connect the dots. By tying in previous knowledge to new knowledge, you are able to refresh all the older concepts you have learned.
Keep in mind the tips above if you truly want to know how to learn for good. Of course, all the best concepts in the world are not going to help you unless you implement them. A little bit of practice goes a long way.