Many of the ideas discussed on this Wiki relate to learning new skills, such as mental arithmetic or memory techniques. Learning new skills takes lots of time and practice, so it's worth looking for ways to learn as efficiently as possible. This page aims to summarise key principles that you can use to speed up learning a new skill. Many of these principles are applicable to a very wide range of skills - learning a musical instrument, learning to calculate, learning a language, learning a martial art or sport - anything where we need to "program" our brains with something new.
Key principles are:
- Learn it right first time. It is very difficult to "unlearn" a skill if you have learned it incorrectly, and undo bad habits.
- Practice at the limit of your ability. If a practice task is well within your abilities, you will not improve and you will get bored. If it is too difficult, practicing will be frustrating. Ideally the practice task should be exactly adapted so it is right at the limits of your ability.
- Get immediate, reliable, high quality, detailed feedback. Immediate feedback leads to quicker learning - if you don't know how well you are doing, you don't know what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong, and you won't improve.
- Measure your progress. Measuring and recording progress from day to day is motivational and helps you to plan how to improve skills.
- Focus your attention. For maximum learning, your attention should be 100% on the task, with no distractions.
- Master basic skills before moving on to advanced skills.
- Only move on from a simple skill to a more complex one when you have mastered the simple skill.
- Use spaced practice. It is more effective to spread time over short practice sessions than to have infrequent and long practice sessions. See SpacedRepetition.
- Learn skills in short, interleaved blocks of time. Practicing one skill and then another in quick succession is better than focussing on long blocks of time for long term learning (Evidence: Simon and Bjork 2001). See also SpacedRepetition.
- Learning schedules could be organised with short blocks of time (e.g. spend 10 minutes learning one skill, then 10 minutes on another), or longer blocks (say one hour). What is the optimum block length for a given task?
- Notes on conditioning and learning
- a relevant blog post
- Principles of learning - Wikipedia
- Operant conditioning - Wikipedia
- Aviation instructors' handbook - contains many ideas that could be applied in other contexts
- Expert performance and deliberate practice
- How to practice - from MemoryKey?
- APA release - Practicing different skills in concentrated blocks not the most efficient way to learn
- Skill acquisition in sport - book with ideas that can be applied to various learning contexts
- How to be a genius - article in the New Scientist
- The Cambridge handbook of expertise and expert performance - a very comprehensive summary of research in the area
- The Cambridge handbook of thinking and reasoning
- Practice distribution in procedural skills training - distributed practice better than massed practice for learning surgical skills. Notable that this study suggests that the optimal practice time could be very short (the distributed practice was down to five minute periods)
- Accelerated learning and improved memory via distributed practice
TRAINING FOR ATTENTIONAL CONTROL IN DUAL-TASK SETTINGS - A COMPARISON OF YOUNG AND OLD ADULTS - finds that "variable priority" - focussing attention on one part of a skill, leads to quicker learning than "fixed priority", trying to get everything right at one
This is an initial stab at summarising key principles of optimising learning. I'd be interested in finding more information on this topic - I'm sure there must be thousands of scientific studies in this area of psychology that could be used to back up (or maybe refute!) the ideas I've put above. -- ThufirHawat
, September 2008