Based on years of observation of adult learners in both our face-to-face classroom courses and using our Mentored Email™ distance learning methodology, it is fascinating to see how the rate of information absorption (ie, learning) varies from person to person. The rate of learning does not seem to be correlated to a person’s IQ, industry or role in the workforce. If anything, people who absorb the learning more slowly seem to retain the information longer.
It would appear the ability to learn is a skill that is exercised naturally by younger people, but as one grows older this natural ability seems to fade with only some adults maintaining their innate capability to learn, frequently linked to active practice via a recently completed university course, etc.
This page deals with the art of learning, for exam specific techniques see: examination techniques.
Learning new things should be an enjoyable process at all stages of life and career, and is becoming increasingly important to stay competitive in a rapidly changing world. Learning how to learn effectively is the first step along the journey.
When presented with a large volume of new information (eg, a PMP course) the rest of us need to learn how to learn! Some of the easier ways to absorb, make sense of, and retain information include:
Using analogies and metaphors. You can learn abstract processes by creating metaphors for more common events. So whenever you learn a fact, ask yourself what the idea is similar to in the tangible world; eg, a data store in a software program may be a cupboard with different things on each shelf.
Build mental pictures. If you break apart a complex mathematical formula into components, you can try to imagine what it would be like as a graph or how each component influences each other in a railway switchyard.
Build on the basics. Do a bit of extra research on your most difficult topics focusing on their foundations. You might not understand the more complex theories perfectly, but it makes understanding your testable material much easier.
Become the teacher. The act of explanation creates connections. Ask yourself how would you explain what you’re learning to someone else? Teaching forces you to simplify and break down complex ideas and then re-connect them to build the overall picture.
Stop writing transcripts. Try to free yourself from rigid note taking (the course handouts fulfil his need), instead, write down ideas in branches and connections. Add your own thoughts, diagrams and arrows linking ideas so you have a web of information. ‘Mind mapping’ tools are great for this but pencil and paper work just as well.
Draw diagrams. Most people think in pictures and maps. Research suggests drawing will increase your concentration and help develop the connections between ideas. A picture may not be worth a thousand words, but it can often illuminate the connections that lead to a greater understanding.
Do the work. Most of our courses are focused on PMI and other project management exams that use multi-choice questions as the testing medium. Practice is essential (both open and closed book) .
There are many more sophisticated memory techniques available in a range of books on the subject but certainly in our areas of teaching, the ability to link ideas and understand the flow of both ideas and information seem to be the key to real understanding. See more on learning styles.
When you run into a difficult question use it as a learning experience; Kolb's experiential learning style theory is typically represented by a four stage learning cycle in which the learner:
This section focuses on some simple ideas that can help you to get the most from your training course.
The first stage is recognising if you are a social or solitary learner:
Your actual learning style defines the best way for you to assimilate information there are 5 primary styles:
Training courses include all of the above to a greater or lesser extent. To support your preferred learning style, consider adapting elements of the course to fit in with your preference. Over the years we have had an amateur musician make the Earned Value formulae into a song and a strong visual/logical thinker build a linked PowerPoint presentation tying all of the PMBOK® Guide inputs and outputs together - both passed their PMP exams. Similarly whilst most people enjoy our ‘Process Challenge’ card game included in all PMP and CAPM courses, this tactile way of learning is particularly important to kinaesthetic learners.
However, learning styles (and you preference) is only part of the equation, you also need to use effective learning techniques or processes. By recognising your learning style, then adapting suitable elements of the course materials to your preferred style you will not only enjoy the learning process more but will also learn more.