The continued pursuit of knowledge and how to apply this information at the office is vital to career development. However, many of us develop habits that prove to be detrimental to our learning ability after we graduate from the classroom. Nate Kornell, a psychology professor at Williams College, outlines a few learning principles to keep in mind.
Despite common perception, performing well does not necessarily mean you are learning effectively. In fact, Kornell points out that they are often inversely related. As is the case with exercising, you need to wear yourself out mentally in order to learn more. Lifting an 8 pound dumbbell or performing a mental task you are quite comfortable with simply will not lead to the results for which you are hoping. Effective learning necessitates discomfort. Research has found that the most effective learners are those who constantly embrace discomfort and learn outside of their comfort zone. Joshua Foer, author of Moonwalking with Einstein, has talked extensively about the OK Plateau, the point at which we stop improving because we have reached, in our minds, an acceptable level of skill in whatever task. Foer advises you to disengage from your autopilot, scrutinize your performance, and think critically about how you can improve.
Kornell also highly advises against cramming, a behavior far too common amongst college students. When you are memorizing pages of information in a very short time period, you are memorizing for the short term. You most likely won’t be able to recall and then apply this information in a week, month, or year down the road. To truly obtain knowledge, it is absolutely vital that you space your learning effects as evidenced by Kornell’s academic research. Kornell discovered that it is our tendency to forget that solidifies this knowledge within our memory bank. He posits that when we forget, we are forced to relearn information several times. Such behavior makes these memories much more “sticky” than information obtained through cramming.
The Williams professor also urges you to make as many connections to information as possible. If you are reading a text, pause from time to time to analyze what you have read and how it relates to other information, both in and outside of the text. If you relate this information to the certain aspects of your personal life, you will be even more likely to learn effectively.