Thoughts on learning strategies

When you are learning something new, what’s your strategy? Do you mainly gather pieces of information, go through them quickly and then keep them in your laptop or (note)books for future reference or do you try and use them until you master them?

Long time ago I realised that I belong to that first group of learners, I’m definitely a gatherer. Not of things but pieces of information. I have always been, since childhood. In this digital era I have plenty of files in my laptop containing articles on things like English grammar and vocabulary, photography techniques, Lightroom tips and manuals, Photoshop Elements tutorials… I enlarge my collection day by day. I’ve read and watched most of them but the truth is that the information they contain is stored rather in the laptop than in my memory and experience.

Nothing wrong about that, right? The information may become useful later and one can’t remember everything. On the other hand I still remember a piece of advice that I got long time ago on learning vocabulary. “Don’t just learn the words and phrases but make an effort to use them actively at the time of their learning. Don’t just read them. Don’t just memorize them. Construct sentences containing them, apply them suitably to your writing and speaking. Otherwise you will forget them way too soon, you may not even remember them at all. Instead of real learning you’ll just waste your precious time.”

This piece of advice is applicable to many fields, not only to learning languages, I could give you many examples. Let’s take my experience with Lightroom software. I’ve learnt everything I know about the software from online available tips and tutorials and I have many of them stored in my laptop. You can learn a great deal just from watching and listening to others and I’ve learnt a lot this way. Yet it could have been more. Much more, I dare say. Because just reading and watching the manuals and tutorials and then saving the information into my laptop was not enough. If I tried and applied every particular tip on some of my photos, the benefit of that information would be much more considerable. I would acquire more practical experience.

The “trouble” is that I’d need to open the Lightroom, choose a suitable photo and spend some time trying and applying what I read. In a nutshell, I’d need a lot more time to deal with the information. That’s bad, I can hear myself, I don’t have that much time… and I understand it anyway, no need to be so thorough… But it’s easier to gather pieces of information than actually learn something from them. I call it “learning into a drawer”. Those pieces of information can be organised nicely in the drawer but lost anyway.

We absorb information like a sponge absorbs water but the water evaporates quickly. We need to transform the information into practical knowledge and I admire those who are able to do that on a daily basis. Something to strive for, don’t you think?

Einstein’s words inscribed in my photo at the beginning of this post may not apply to every situation, I even find them controversial, but when I was looking for a quote to accompany my reflection, these caught my attention. Something to think about… And if you were interested where the photo was taken and what it represents, I would tell you that I took it in the zoo in Ostrava, it is part of the roof of a new outdoor area for some animals, I loved the abstraction that it implies.