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Monday, June 4, 2007

Learning: Art of learning

Art of learning

In our new series, we look at how to go about acquiring a good learning style.

OFTEN HOW you say is as important as what you say. Similarly, how you learn is as important as what you learn. Once a good learning style has been acquired, a student can easily make learning more effective and enjoyable.

It is a fact that a student who follows an unscientific or ineffective method of learning would find the experience drudgery or hard labour.

American historian Henry Brooks Adams (1838-1918) put the idea nicely: "They know enough who know how to learn." This may be read along with the saying attributed to the Chinese philosopher Confucius (551 - 479 BC): "I hear I forget, I see I remember, I do I understand."

We come across parents who boast that their children learn till midnight or wake up at four in the morning to study, implying thereby that their learning is very efficient.

How many parents have the patience and common sense to observe the learning styles followed by their children or to analyse the effectiveness of the styles?

You should remember that learning smarter and quicker is more important than learning harder and longer.

Good study habits will in the long run benefit any student. If someone has a poor study habit, it is easier to get it replaced with a good habit, rather than just stop the poor habit.

We often see that smokers who wish to quit the habit are advised to chew something of their choice as a substitute, whenever they feel that they should smoke.

It is not rarely that a student wastes precious time by reading the same essay over and over again every month, without taking care to extract the main points and check how well they have been understood.

A student may passively read the worked examples in a textbook several times, as a part of learning numerical problems in mathematics or science. He/she may gaze at a sketch or figure in the textbook for a few minutes and try to believe that he/she has learnt it well.

But in the examination hall, students who have followed such defective styles may discover their inability to solve numerical problems, or draw the sketches independently. These are just indicative of what may result from incorrect or ineffective methods of study.

Working out

Numerical problems have to be solved independently by the student. He/she may have some difficulties. These hitches can be overcome by referring to the textbook, after which the student will be able to solve similar problems with ease and confidence.

Similarly, while learning, the figures have to be sketched from memory and hitches solved by referring to the textbook, until you reach stage when you can easily draw it from memory.

These facts point to the need for proper study skills. The time spent on mastering some of the basic learning methods is no waste of time, but it is a worthy investment that will certainly yield great profits in course of time. Learning properly is a habit. Once it is developed, you would learn more in a given time, and learn more effectively so that you can apply what you have learnt in any new environment.

You have to be active and enthusiastic while learning. You should not adopt a totally relaxed pose. Lying down while reading is not desirable. `Sit straight and read' is a good direction that may be followed.

Learning by heart

Should you learn your lessons by heart? In the first place, such learning is not physically possible in higher classes, because of sheer volume of the lessons. Rote learning consumes enormous time, which could be utilised better in other learning activities. Further, learning by rote without understanding the content is no learning at all. That is why this method is usually not recommended.

However, it is advisable to learn poems by heart, thrilling passages, quotes of great people and definitions in science subjects. Definitions are often framed using minimum words with maximum content, paying attention to precision and accuracy. You should not imagine that there is only one way to acquiring effective study habits. There are indeed several highways and byways, intersections and road signs. Each student has to choose whatever suits him/her the best.

You can, however, adopt some of the commonly accepted styles and techniques. There can be individual modifications to meet specific needs.

The first step to developing study skills is the preparation of a workable timetable. It should provide time not only for learning from the textbook, but also for all essential activities of the student. What you should aim at is not being a glorified bookworm, but an individual endowed with sound personality traits.

Making an over-ambitious timetable and then failing to follow it is common. That is why you should take into account the ground realities of student life before blindly drafting a tight schedule, ignoring your diverse pursuits.

The timetable should have the following characteristics:

- Appropriate duration for each subject of study. This has to take into consideration individual variations in inherent aptitude and interest in different subjects.

- Wherever possible, variety in the arrangement of the subjects so that the tasks involved change as the subjects change. For example, learning poetry by heart is different from doing numerical problems or drawing sketches in a science subject.

- You should not attempt to learn the same subject continuously for long hours at a stretch. There has to be a sequence that counters monotony.

- Brief breaks between different subjects, enabling the student to refresh him/herself.

- Necessary durations for co-curricular or extra-curricular activities, domestic chores, extra reading, rest, games, relaxation, and entertainment.

- Study hours to suit the personal preferences of the pupil. Some may choose to work late at night, whereas some others may prefer the early morning hours. Many parents often insist that certain specific hours dictated by them be followed by their children. This may hamper their learning efficiency.

- Separate schedules for working days and holidays.

- Essential flexibility in the schedules for accommodating unexpected events.

- Apart from the daily timetable, there should be a monthly timetable and an annual chart that reflects our overall planning.

- Redraft the timetable every month, in the light of previous levels of achievements.

Irrespective of what the timetable dictates, you should remember that studying while you are mentally fatigued is not effective. If there are very difficult lessons, they may be scheduled for the hours when you are most active and alert.