10 Tips to improve your self-directed learning journey.

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Did you ever experience the feeling of being overwhelmed by all the content you want to consume? Do you sometimes jump from one piece of content to another? Starting with a blog, to a journal, to a podcast, a video, and finally buying a book on Amazon? This book will look good on your bedside table for sure, next to all the other books you felt are important to read. 

Although you have a very specific skill you want to learn or a question you want to get answered, it's not only hard to find relevant content, but also to discipline yourself to really achieve your learning goal. Research shows that people that want to learn new skills self-directed mostly just entertain themselves but rarely follow a structured learning approach. And it's no surprise! Learning is exhausting. Most of us tend to associate negative memories with learning. It's challenging to motivate yourself. It is difficult to focus on one topic when there is so much excitement to learn. 

Our brains have a hard time storing things that are not necessarily important, helpful, or interesting. Especially when we do not connect any information with the respective memory. And most of us never truly learned how to learn in a structured way. But you can easily become better at remembering by following a few simple steps. 

1. Retrieval Practice

When reading the content we often believe we understood and learned it but then struggle just a few hours or days later with what we learned. The reason is that learning is not only about getting knowledge into your brain - it is also about getting it out of your brain. Retrieval practices dramatically improve learning. You might have used this regularly in school or university. You can easily integrate such practices into your learning journey. Start writing a journal to summarize what you have learned. It does not take more than 10 minutes and is highly effective to recall your learnings at the end of the day. You can also create flashcards to test yourself as you did in school when learning new vocabulary. For some of the topics, you learn you might even be able to find a quiz you can take. And if you are more a visual learner try to create a mind map. 

2. Spacing

This is one of our favorite tips. Instead of sitting down for 8 hours in a row, it is better to plan proper spacing in between lessons. Whether you use the Pomodoro Technique to schedule regular breaks or if you even just learn for 20 minutes every morning before breakfast. Spacing helps the brain to process information and therefore helps to memorize facts better. 

3. Interleaving

If you feel like you can multitask, here's another piece of good news. Just mix different learning activities rather than spending too long on a single topic. This helps your brain to connect dots in a different way and fosters creativity. 

4. Pretesting

This one is surprising. Pretesting helps our brain to link new information. Ask yourself a question about the topic you want to tackle before your actual learning process starts. It doesn't matter whether you know the answer or not. It's just important that you prepare your brain to think about a new topic. Try it out - it works. 

5. Teach to learn

Are you rather extroverted? Then you might be glad to read that teaching is a great way to keep information. Just put yourself in the shoes of a teacher and explain the topic you learned to someone else. If you can´t find someone just write a blog article or record a video or audio sequence and feel free to share it in public (or do it just for you if you are more introverted). Similar to the retrieval practice, this helps you to get information out of your brain and therefore retrieve information better. 

6. Book Time

We understand that your calendar is fully booked and adding another block to it feels weird. Shouldn´t learning be fun and spontaneous? Sure! But when was the last time you disciplined yourself to learn at a constant pace without really committing to it? Allocate dedicated time. This helps you to prevent falling into the “turn anytime into anytime later”-trap. 

7. Unfinished Tasks

In contrast to the last tip, this one might feel really relieving for you if you hate planning. Bluma Zeigarnik found out that unfinished tasks are easier to recall than finished ones. (Zeiganik effect) This is a perfect apology for everybody who struggles with finishing things. 

8. Switch your environment

Provide variety, to motivate yourself. Research showed that students that read and learned in different places and in different settings did better in exams than those who learned in the same environment before the exams. So even moving from your desk to the couch might help improve your learning progress. 

9. Healthy Body & Mindset

It comes with no surprise that you should look after yourself first. Make sure your body is well-fit and you got enough sleep. If your body is tired and you're not feeling well it decreases the likelihood of remembering successfully what you have read and learned. 

10. Feedback and praise

We all love positive feedback. It is the quickest route to improvement. In absence of a teacher try to provide feedback to yourself. What did you do well? Which improvements do you recognize? Did you start learning although you were not motivated in the beginning? Congrats! Did you remember what you learned yesterday? Wow! Did you write a learning journal for 5 days in a row? What an achievement. It does not need to be big steps or achievements. Even recognizing small successes and praising yourself will help you to keep your motivation level high. 

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