By Chris Christoff, co-founder of MonsterInsights
In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell famously said that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. At first glance, that seems reasonable. After all, learning a new skill takes time. But 10,000 hours equals more than 416 days.
If you want to learn how to play the guitar, sure you can take it slowly and you'll become a master after more than a year of work. But as a business owner or professional with so much on your plate already, you don't have that much time to learn and practice a new skill. You've got to master it quickly in order to keep up with industry trends and the competition.
So, whatever skill you want to master, you can do it faster with science. Here are five proven ways to learn faster.
Write down notes with paper and pen.
Today we tend to use our devices to help us take notes and practice learning. With so many note-taking apps on our mobile phones and laptops like Evernote, Boostnote and OneNote, it seems like the more convenient way to jot down our thoughts and ideas. But while it may be more convenient, it won't help you retain what you've learned.
Research done by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer shows that students who take notes on paper actually learn more than those who take notes on a laptop. While the students who were using laptops took more notes than those with paper, the paper note takers had "a stronger conceptual understanding and were more successful in applying and integrating the material." So, the next time you sit down to learn a new skill, bust out a good old-fashioned notepad and pen.
You might think that you have to wait until you're an expert to teach others, but teaching is a great way to learn faster. Studies show that teaching educational materials enhances the teacher's own understanding of the subject. When teaching someone else the material you're learning, it improves your own learning of the material because you have to retrieve what you've previously studied.
Of course, you don't have to get a group of people to become your students and teach a proper class. Instead, gather just a few people from the office and teach them what you've learned thus far. Even teaching a spouse or friend the new skill you're trying to master can help you learn it faster.
For years, multitasking has been touted as a great skill to possess. But multitasking is actually slowing you down. When trying to learn a new skill, it's much better to monotask.
According to researchers at the University of Connecticut, humans have limitations on their cognitive capacity, so the moment you pay attention to one thing, it's that much harder to process something else. If you want to learn faster, make sure you're focusing on learning that subject only. Get rid of the distractions and don't try to answer your emails or order lunch at the same time.
People often sit down and study for hours on end. But trying to cram many consecutive hours of study into your day is not an effective strategy to learn faster. Instead, use short, spaced-out study sessions over a period of time, otherwise known as distributed practices.
Dr. Sean Kang, director of the Cognition & Education lab at Dartmouth College, has stated that distributed practice is a technique that has proven to improve student learning. Even if the total time spent "cramming" and distributed practice is equal, if the study sessions are spaced apart rather than massed, long-term learning is advanced.
Learn in multiple ways.
Instead of just learning in one way, like reading a textbook, learn in multiple ways to become a faster and more efficient learner. Studies show that the more regions of the brain that store information about a subject, the more interconnection there is. This means you'll have more opportunities to pull up related information from multiple storage areas of your mind.
So, don't just stick to reading text. Mix it up. Read some text about your subject of choice, then watch videos about it or even listen to a podcast. When you learn using a variety of different formats, you'll retain that information better.
With these tips for learning faster, you'll no longer have to worry about dedicating years of your life to learning a new subject. You can become a master at a variety of subjects in a shorter amount of time just by adjusting the way you study and learn.
Chris Christoff is the co-founder of MonsterInsights, the leading WordPress plugin for Google Analytics.