Learning to learn better

The new learning architectThroughout 2011 we will be publishing extracts from The New Learning Architect. We move on to the fifth and final part of chapter 3:

According to Dror , “If learning is to take place, learners need to have the cognitive capacity to grasp the concepts and skills. However, no less important is the learner’s ability to know and be adept in higher cognitive functions, specifically to know what they know and what they do not know (metacognition), and to know how best to learn.”

Metacognitive skills are particularly important when you wish learners to be more independent in their learning, to take greater control over what they learn, when and how. They clearly cannot be effective in their independent learning if they don’t know what to focus their attention on. Metacognitive skills are hard to train, but that does not prevent trainers from helping learners to gain metacognitive insights, perhaps by some sort of diagnostic pre-test, simulation or similar exercise.

Study skills are easier to address. Experience and research shows that the following activities will greatly enhance the learner’s chances of success:

  • Note-taking: The best way to make sure that new information sticks is to write it up in your own words. There is good evidence to suggest that recall improves by 20-30% when you do take notes.
  • Visualisation: Many people find that it helps to create a mind map or some other form of diagram to help explain the relationships between the various concepts that they are studying.
  • Teaching it: Teaching what you have learned is a wonderful way to improve your own comprehension. The very process of working out how you are going to convey something clearly and simply to others will compel you to clarify your own understanding. Scott Young suggests a more topical way of achieving this: “If you really want to learn something, I’d suggest starting a blog and then just writing about the stuff you’ve learned. Whether you are studying courses or just trying to master a discipline, writing down what you know and trying to teach it to others will dramatically increase your own understanding.”
  • Using it: The familiar imperative to ‘use it or lose it’ is good advice. The more you practise, the better you get. As Clark, Nguyen and Sweller  explain: “Any task that is performed hundreds of times becomes established in long-term memory. Once automated, the skill can be performed with little or no resources from working memory. In effect, these skills are performed unconsciously.” You probably know the joke about the concert goer who asks the man in the street how to get to Carnegie Hall. The man replies with a single word, “Practise.”


Meta-cognition and Cognitive Strategy Instruction by Itiel Dror, a paper for Learning Light, 2007

Seven little known ways to dramatically improve your learning by Scott Young, a guest blogger at Ririan Project

Efficiency in Learning by Ruth Clark, Frank Nguyen and John Sweller, Pfeiffer, 2006

Coming next: Chapter 4 – A contextual model for learning

Return to Chapter 1

Return to Chapter 2

Obtain your copy of The New Learning Architect


About Clive Shepherd

Clive Shepherd has written 244 post in this blog.

Clive is a consultant specialising in the application of technology to learning and business communications. He was previously Director of Training and Creative Services for a multinational corporation and co-founder of a major multimedia development company. For four years he was chair of the eLearning Network.

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