As an avid reader, one of the biggest personal development challenges I’ve overcome in the past few years has been getting knowledge to ‘stick’.
This brings up number of compelling questions: How do we learn? What can we do to learn most effectively?
Firstly it’s important to remember that, while humans are naturally curious, our brains are set up to save us from thinking — thought is an energy intensive process! For example we often act on autopilot, or chunk data (e.g. recalling a mobile phone number such as 9849523450, we might break this into 98 495 234 50). Painful as it may be to admit, our brains will avoid thinking unless the conditions are right.
The best solutions, as with anything, involve practice.
A recent read, ‘Why Don’t Student Like School’ (a brilliant book aimed at teachers) explains that, in order to learn effectively, we should build proficiency three specific areas: increasing our relevant knowledge, chunking data to increase space in our working memory, and improving our procedural knowledge (the ability to connect the dots).
This framework includes five best practices to build your capacity to take in information and improve its staying-power. Each step is enabled by and contributes to a consistent and fact based process for learning and teaching:
- Improving basic factual knowledge will improve skills in thinking. For example, background knowledge on basic construction processes provides you with the vocabulary to understand new things you learn, situations you come across on site, and allow you to bridge logic gaps and make reasonable assumptions.
- Using cues helps memorise lists and other new information. When revising for my RICS Chartership interview, I used a combination of acronyms, memory palaces and peg words to commit tougher answers to memory.
- Connect to concepts. It’s hard to understand abstractions, so find a way to bring 'real life' to a principle. Struggling to understand how a certain procurement route works? Ask a colleague to talk you through the nitty-gritty of how they personally manage the process.
- Practice! It’s almost impossible to become good at a mental task without this, and using drills is vital. This doesn’t have to be a chore — find different, creative ways to keep learning: read books or journals (and marvel at how a concept that seemed insurmountable last month is now obvious), engage in discussions, use flash-cards, or explain concepts to others.
- SMART goals and manageable targets will keep you motivated and on track.
Most importantly, no matter what stage you’re at currently, remember that every artist was once an amateur. By approaching learning in this way, you can improve not only the processes but also the outcome. Take the time to build your knowledge and expertise, and enjoy the journey.
Abigail Blumzon is a Client Project Delivery Advisor at Pick Everard. There she supports clients and delivery teams in procuring and realising successful projects.
"the best geologist is the one who’s seen the most rocks"