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  • Writer's picturePhilipp

How to learn most effectively

Updated: Jan 28, 2022

This blog will explain what learning is, how learning and the brain are linked, the different types of learning available, and how to learn most successfully.



What exactly is learning?

Learning is based on experiences that result in a long-term yet reversible change in brain structure. This includes the change of perceptions, ideas, thought processes, feelings, motivations, or behaviors to life conditions.

As a result, it should be obvious that learning has a significant influence on our lives and is a critical instrument for dealing with it.



Learning and our brain

Have you ever wondered how much knowledge our brain can absorb and how much our brain stores in a day? Then get ready for something!

The rate at which information enters our brain is 10^9 bit/s, which equates to 57.6 terabytes in a 16-hour day! It's no surprise that one is not very responsive at the end of the day. Let's talk about brain activity and how it pertains to storage now.

With increased neuronal activity, the increased learning performance can be determined with the help of the "Brain-Trigger-Design" by Guttman & Bauer. The learning ability has improved at increased activation levels, up to 25%. Simply put, when an incisive experience occurs, the likelihood that the event or information will be stored is high. This is also how Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occurs because it also triggers an increased level of activation in the central nervous system. You can imagine it like an electric shock that makes you suddenly awake and alert.

PTSD occurs when the level of activation is too high, this usually results in anxiety, stress, and aggression. Too low a level of activation is also bad; this happens when the stimulation is too low, for example, as many students experience in class. Thus, it is no wonder that students have difficulty remembering lesson content. The mean value is the optimal activation level because then the interest is the highest, totally in the spirit of Aristotle, the philosopher of the mean value.

In the image, exactly this average value can be seen (in the middle), where interest arises but neither too low nor too high activation takes place.

All the information we remember is stored in the brain, more precisely in the cerebrum (Neocortex). The cerebrum is responsible for the storage, evaluation of learning content, attention control, and retrieval of information. The left cerebral hemisphere is primarily responsible for the storage, processing, and production of linguistic signals. The right cerebral hemisphere is more concerned with the storage, processing, and production of imaginative content.



The different types of learning

There are different types of learning, these include habituation, imprinting, and conditioning.

The most basic is habitation. This is the process of becoming used to a stimulus to the point where no reaction is elicited. Assume a loud noise is heard every day at a given hour; after a certain amount of time, all people who might otherwise be terrified no longer react to it. As a result, one has learned to ignore this stimuli.

Since Konrad Lorenz in 1935, the term imprinting has been understood as an irreversible link between a stimulus and behavior, but it is disputed whether imprinting also occurs in humans. Mostly the question of whether humans can be imprinted is answered in the negative. Klix, however, believes that people can acquire an almost irreversible imprint. So the question of whether we can be imprinted remains open, even if we often talk about having been imprinted.

There are different types of conditioning, classical and instrumental conditioning.

Ivan Pavlov is considered the "discoverer" of classical conditioning. When he was researching the digestion of dogs, he came across this form of conditioning and received the Nobel Prize for it in 1904. Classical conditioning is what you think of it as. One teaches a dog to expect to eat if, for example, a bell rings. It is important to get the dog used to the stimulus in conjunction with the bell. The repetition is also important, 10-50 repetitions, and the conditioning is successful. A human can also be conditioned. What can be taken away from this form of learning is repetition. Repetition of learning content ensures better memorization of the content.

E. I. Thorndike was the first to formulate the basic principles ("law of effect") of instrumental conditioning in 1898. This basic principle states that the behavior changes through the triggered effect. This means that a behavior can be influenced by the consequence that follows, i.e. by a reward or punishment.

Instrumental conditioning involves various forms of learning. Certain situations or stimuli only work under certain conditions. For example, a pep talk usually only works if it is not sarcastic, according to generalization/discrimination. In shaping, the role model function, i.e. learning by observation, verbal prompting, and asking, comes into play. Here, the desired behavior is reinforced and undesired behavior is ignored.



This is the right way to learn!

Everyone knows that experience when you have learned something by repeating it over and over again and then you forget it. There is a reason for this, the learning and forgetting curve. The more often you repeat something, the better it is learned, according to the "power law of learning" by Newell & Rosenbloom. The forgetting curve according to Hermann Ebbinghaus, the "power law of forgetting", shows the effect that repetition has on forgetting. Repeated learning content is forgotten more slowly than newly learned content.


One can remember things better if the so-called context effect is present. If the situation in which the information is retrieved is similar to the situation in which it was learned, better performance of information retrieval of up to 12% can be observed.

The absorption of knowledge can be favored by some effects. If the thing to be learned is original or special, a better learning effect is achieved, this is called the Distinctiveness effect. It is important to note the sequence in which information is absorbed. Information that is taken in first is stored longer (Primacy effect) than information that is taken in last (Recency effect). A clear order also helps to learn the content better, this is the outline effect. Also, the "depth of processing" and many associations improve learning (Eureka effect). In school, one receives above all information, with which one cannot do much, knowledge which one does not need in its later life. However, if there is a reference to one's person, the learning effect is significantly strengthened (Self-reference effect). For all those who like to imagine things visually, the Imagery effect comes in handy, because visual elements like pictures are better stored than abstract words. A very popular method of visual imagery is the Kaen method, where numbers are linked with visual elements. For example, 5024 = hand with egg, on it swan with the cloverleaf.

Important for learning is also the consolidation of this knowledge. Here, too, some effects can help to consolidate the knowledge. If the knowledge is repeated before sleeping, the sleep can provide for a better consolidation, since while of the sleep the information is processed and stored (Consolidation effect). As mentioned before, repetition is a good way to consolidate knowledge. This repetition is best spread over a longer period of time. Spreading the learning over time will improve performance by about 10% (spacing effect). Existing knowledge can also be helpful. The pre-existing knowledge can help to reconstruct knowledge logically, but it should be noted that pre-existing knowledge can also have a disturbing influence.



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