Are you currently enrolled in an online course, hoping to learn a new language, or planning to take up a musical instrument? Although we all have our own preferences when it comes to learning, the way the brain processes, stores, and retrieves information is the same for all of us, and the more you understand about how your brain works, the easier it will be to learn and improve in just about every area of your life.
So based on current research, here are 20 things you can do to make your learning more efficient.
1. Eat these foods
What you eat directly impacts your cognitive function, and research shows that the right kinds of food can improve focus and memory, and may even help reduce brain injury.
Nutrients that have been shown to be particularly beneficial for brain function include Omega-3 fatty acids and folic acid, which can be found in foods like salmon, sardines, walnuts, spinach, broccoli, avocados, celery, and blueberries.
2. Avoid these foods
Just as eating the right foods can boost brain power, the wrong types of food can impair learning and memory, and a number of studies have found a correlation between diets that are high in refined sugars and impaired brain function.
With this in mind, it’s best to avoid eating highly processed foods or those that contain a lot of sugar when you’re planning to study. This includes things like doughnuts and cookies, of course, but also foods that you may not necessarily consider unhealthy such as white bread, margarine, or fruit juice.
3. Stay hydrated
Your brain is composed of about 73% water, so it’s no surprise that when you don’t drink enough, your brain can’t function at its full capacity. Even mild dehydration can affect your ability to learn, and research shows that by the time you feel thirsty, a 10% cognitive decline may already be present. So don’t wait until you feel thirsty to get yourself a glass of water. If you have trouble remembering to drink water throughout the day, make a habit of carrying a refillable water bottle with you and taking a sip every so often.
4. Chew gum
If you’re feeling a bit sluggish, a simple way to get a quick boost of brain power is to chew gum. A study from the University of Northumbria found that when subjects chewed gum, their ability to remember memorised words improved by 35%. Another more recent study from St. Lawrence University found that when students chewed gum before a test, their performance on recall and memory tasks was briefly improved. The effect was strongest right after chewing the gum, and dropped back to normal levels after about 20 minutes.
The researchers speculate that the chewing motion increases the heart rate, gets more blood flowing to the head and warms up the brain. Just keep tip number two in mind and choose sugar free gum.
5. Sleep on it
Sleep and learning go hand in hand, and numerous studies over the past decade have shown that sleep is important for everything from consolidating learning and memory to boosting creativity.
Harvard researchers have found that dreaming may reactivate and reorganise recently learned material, which improves memory and boosts performance, and one German studyshowed that even quick 6-minute naps can improve memory. So don’t underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep or even a well-timed catnap.
6. Try collaborative learning
Research shows that working together with others to solve problems and share knowledge not only improves communication and collaboration skills, but also promotes student engagement, leads to a deeper understanding, and benefits long-term retention.
Of course, there are many benefits to independent learning too and studying with others may not always be the right option for you. But if you’re lacking motivation or feel like you’ve hit a brick wall with your learning, collaborating with others could help you gain a new perspective. Some great tools for online collaboration include Google Drive, Mind Meister, Piazza and, of course, Skype or Google Hangouts.
7. Kill your stress
Stress is known to impair the brain’s ability to learn, and one study from the University of California-Irvine shows that even short term stress that lasts just a few hours can impair brain-cell communication in the areas associated with learning and memory. This may also explain why your mind seems to go blank right before an important test or presentation.
With this in mind, it’s extremely important to calm your mind and find ways to relax before you sit down to study. There are many different stress-busting techniques, from physical activity to meditating to breathing exercises, and you may have to experiment a bit before you find one that works for you.