The science of learning

posted by Tony Harris
19 February 2018

Whether you are studying for your CIPS exams or attending a training event to develop specific skills, you will want to learn.

But there is no guaranteed quick way to learn; it is a process and requires stimulus to orientate your mind to create the right environment to focus on learning. Here are six top tips to help maximize your learning.

1. Reading isn’t learning

Studying the CIPS course books is a good start if your reading comprehension, the ability to process and understand text, is highly developed. However this one type of stimulus will not ensure you have absorbed and stored enough information to pass your exams. The CIPS syllabus requires you to analyse, evaluate, compare and use tools and techniques. Just being exposed to the information in the course book is ineffective in conducting these tasks.

2. I do and I understand

Confucius argued that to learn we must be immersed in the subject, not just introduced to it. The ability to hear about a subject, visually imagine it, and complete a task related to it, stimulates our brains to make more beta and gamma waves needed to learn. With today’s technology, it is possible to create all of these stimuli either virtually or face to face.

3. Pay attention

The amount of information absorb from text is limited. More brain power is devoted to processing visual information than any of the other senses, which would suggest that visual images and movement are just as important.  Attention comes in three phases: stimulation, orientation and immersion. First of all we must activate your senses to make you aware of the subject, then we must direct you towards it and finally create an environment that will allow you to focus on it.

4. Questions: the good, the bad and the ugly

How do we stimulate your brain and orientate you towards the syllabus? One way is to ask questions. These can be written in your course book, embedded in virtual learning or asked by tutors. But direct question in front of your peers can be stressful, and ugly questions like these create the wrong type of stress. There are two types of stress: eustress, which is positive, and distress, which is negative. Creating environments that increase eustress supports learning.

What about bad questions? Most questions are focused around who, where, what, why and how.

“What are the five rights of purchasing?” might be seen as a good question, but it won’t get you many marks in your exam.  ‘Why’ is more important than ‘what’ because it takes more processing. This makes it a good question.

5. Live, die, repeat

Revisiting the subject and repeatedly answering questions will burn the right answers into your brain. Some students fail an exam and believe it’s the end of the world, as if they could never take the exam again and that they are doomed to a lifetime of failure. This is negative thinking. A mark of 18 doesn’t mean you’ve failed, it means you were 32 marks short of success.

6. Testing, testing, one, two, three

Testing your understanding is an important part of the learning process. Testing creates incremental steps that allow forward movement, by learning one point and then enhancing it with another. Testing allows you to make adjustments. Testing also increases confidence. You can gauge how much more you have learned, which increases your motivation to learn more.

☛ Tony Harris is a lecturer, coach and consultant for Clarity Management Enablers and an associate lecturer for CIPS qualifications at the University of Derby.

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