Kids can and should practice the skill of learning if they want a fighting chance at fulfilling all those lofty goals their parents set for them.
But some people keep studying — and thinking — the same way all their lives without improving their methods.
Thankfully, cognitive science has taken a look at how people actually learn. The results are surprising and super helpful.
Skills are easier to pick up as individual parts.
If you want to learn the guitar, don't think about performing all the parts at once.
Set the smaller, more measurable goal of learning a few easy chords, how to strum correctly, and how to put those chords together.
Over time, the accumulation of those tinier skills will add up to the whole ability to play guitar.
It's a technique that applies to mechanical learning as well as fact-based lessons.
Multitasking doesn't work, especially for storing new information.
Most people understand that multitasking is a myth — your brain really can't pay equal attention to two tasks simultaneously. But few people apply that insight to learning.
In addition to breaking a task down into individual steps, be sure to devote your full energy to each step on its own. When you get distracted, it takes roughly 25 minutes to return your focus to the original task.
Over time, multitasking could mean you only gain a partial understanding of various different skills or concepts, without acquiring a full knowledge or mastery of any.
Writing down what you've learned helps cement it in your mind.
If you want to translate information to knowledge, research suggests you should be writing down what you learn — by hand.
A 2014 study found that students who took notes on pen and paper learned more than students who typed notes on their laptops. Over a battery of tests, the pen-and-paper group were more adept at remembering facts, sorting out complex ideas, and synthesizing information.
Researchers say the physical act of touching pen to paper creates a stronger cognitive link to the material than merely typing, which happens far too quickly for retention to take place. Writing forces you to confront ideas head-on, which leads them to stick with you over time.
Mistakes should be celebrated and studied.
Being perfect is overrated.
The entire point of learning is to make attempts, fail, and find a lesson about where you went wrong.
In 2014, a study of motor learning found the brain has more or less reserved a space for the mistakes we make. Later, we can recruit those memories to do better next time.
If parents teach kids never to make mistakes, or shun them when mistakes happen, kids end up missing a wealth of knowledge.