Hacking Knowledge: How to Learn Faster, Deeper, and Better in the 21st Century


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Knowledge is one of the most valuable things you can attain in your life, yet no dollar value can be assigned to it. For students who choose to enroll in the best online colleges, education can be a formal pursuit. But whether you head to college, learn on the job, or just make a hobby out of exploring new and exciting topics, learning is one of the best things you can ever do for yourself, personally, professionally, or otherwise. So, why not learn to do it better? We’ve collected some amazing tips and tricks (an update of our earlier article, almost seven years old now) you can use to help you get the most out of the time you spend learning. From study suggestions to brain hacks, these tips are sure to help you learn faster, deeper, and better, no matter the subject.

Physical Health and Well-Being

Your brain is an organ in your body, and just like your heart and lungs, it needs you to be in good health to function properly. Here are some tips to help you maximize your learning power from a physical standpoint.

  • Eat breakfast.

    Studies have shown that skipping breakfast can impair your ability to learn, making you slower to recall memories, poorer at math, and overall cognitively less adept. So, to learn better, eat a hearty breakfast in the morning, especially if you’re taking a test or heading to class.

  • Get enough sleep.

    Whether you get enough sleep can have a huge impact on how well you’re able to learn. Researchers have found that not getting enough sleep impairs the brain’s ability to remember new information. It can also make it harder for you to concentrate or be creative, and reduce your overall cognitive function. A solid six to eight hours a night is a must for maximum learning potential.

  • Exercise.

    Exercise doesn’t just keep your body fit; it also helps your mind stay in great shape. Aerobic fitness has a positive effect on cognitive function, improving learning ability in both humans and animals. Researchers have found that even just 20 minutes of exercise can increase information processing and memory functions, so consider integrating workout sessions into your academic life.

  • Take supplements.

    Gingko biloba has long been promoted as an herbal treatment for improving cognitive function. While scientists have yet to prove whether it truly has a marked effect on learning and memory, it can’t hurt to give it a try if you want to max out your learning potential.

  • Avoid alcohol.

    Excessive drinking can have some serious effects on your memory, making it hard for you to engage your working and episodic memory at its full capacity. Drink in moderation, and consider avoiding alcohol altogether during times when you need to focus on learning new skills or information.

  • Don’t ignore health issues.

    Many health issues like uncorrected vision and depression can affect how well you’re able to learn. If you have a health issue that may impact cognitive function or distract you from learning, then see a doctor with a health degree who can help you treat the issue so you can focus on your studies instead.

Mental Health and Well-Being

Just as physical factors play a role in how you learn, so too does your mental state. Use these tips to help you get happier, healthier, and, in turn, better at learning.

  • Reduce stress.

    While a small amount of stress can be good for learners (it provides a great source of motivation), too much stress can actually inhibit your ability to learn, hurting both your physical and mental health in the process. In fact, stress can actually interfere with conscious, purposeful learning, causing you to rely more on gut feelings than well-reasoned methods of learning a new task.

  • Treat depression.

    Besides just making you feel sad and unmotivated, depression can also make it harder for you to concentrate and may sap your energy, both robbing you of valuable assets to your learning.

  • Meditate.

    Mindful meditation may just have big brain benefits. Studies have shown that not only can meditation make you feel happier and keep your mind healthier, it can also improve your concentration and cognitive function.

  • Have a laugh.

    Take a break from learning to have a good laugh. Laughing can help to make you more relaxed and more receptive to the ideas or information you’re trying to learn. What’s more, it can also help to reduce the anxiety associated with certain assignments or subjects, so learners can relax and let go of preconceived fears.

  • Focus on your passions.

    If you’re interested in something, you’re much more likely to seek out additional material on it, study it, concentrate on it, and generally just learn a whole lot more about it. Even if a topic isn’t a favorite, find a way to relate it to something you do love to get more out of learning it.

  • Train your brain.

    Just as you can train your muscles, you can train your brain. If you want to break out of bad habits or mental patterns, slowly work on them. In time, you’ll be able to improve focus and concentration and have a better behaved brain.

  • Pay attention to your emotions.

    If you’re feeling sad or angry, you might not be able to process high-level information, at least that’s what research suggests. Studies have found that certain types of strong emotions shut down the brain’s higher-level mental processes, which could be a real roadblock to learning.

  • Keep your bedroom dark.

    As odd as it may seem, keeping your bedroom dark at night may help reduce your chances of developing depression or learning issues. A recent study at Johns Hopkins revealed that bright lights, those from lamps, TVs, and computer screens, elevate stress hormones which can lead to depression and impaired cognitive function.

Methods to Facilitate Learning

New research and old knowledge alike can help you to take advantage of numerous ways to maximize your learning. Learn about a few of the most interesting here for getting more out of every study session, class, and hands-on experience.

  • Capitalize on spike time-dependent plasticity.

    A learning model called spike time-dependent plasticity can help you take advantage of natural phenomena in the brain to learn more. The model helps learners capitalize on neuronal avalanches, or brief bursts of activity in a group of interconnected neurons that create an “avalanche” of brain stimulation.

  • Try twilight learning.

    Twilight learning, perhaps better known in popular culture as subliminal learning, has long been a method employed for training the brain. If you’re trying to learn how to do something (or not to do something) or implant information into your brain, use the suggestive messages of this method to help you get there.

  • Learn a language.

    Want to beef up your brain? Research suggests that learning a language is one of the best ways to do that. Language learning has been found to actually grow specific regions of the brain; a win-win for those who want a bigger brain and knowledge of another language.

  • Try osmosis.

    If you’ve ever wished you could just put a book against your head and have the information migrate into your brain, you’ll appreciate knowing that there are ways you can use osmosis to learn. Stimulation during sleep has been found to enhance skill learning as associations formed during sleep remain intact when you wake up. While it’s not the same as gleaning knowledge through contact, learning something new can be as easy as sleeping with an educational track playing so you can hear it.

  • Embrace the learning methods of The Matrix.

    The effortless learning showcased in the film The Matrix may not be science fiction entirely, at least according to recent research. It may be both possible and plausible to use technology to learn to do things like play the piano or hit a ball with very little conscious effort. How? By using images processed by the visual cortex to alter brain patterns so that they match those of someone who already knows how to do the activity. It’s not a practice that’s widely available yet, but even low-tech learners can practice getting into the mindset of experts when learning.

  • Tune into some binaural bli>

  • Self-direct your learning.

    Research has shown that self-directed learning is one of the most effective ways to learn. Scientists aren’t quite sure why that’s the case, but while they figure it out you can use hands-on, self-led study to your advantage.

  • Let yourself get confused.

    As frustrating as it may be, confusion can actually help you to learn. A new study from Notre Dame has shown that confusion with difficult conceptual topics actually results in individuals being better able to apply that knowledge, when the answers were finally puzzled out, to new problems.

  • Have novel experiences.

    Our brains love novelty. In fact, they crave it. Incorporating more novel experiences into your learning can give you a greater passion for it and help you to remember and learn more.

  • Slow down and give your mind time to adapt to change.

    While humans are very adaptable creatures, we, and our brains, do need some time to adjust. When you experience a change of scenery, circumstances, or rules, give yourself a chance to let your brain catch up and get used to the new guidelines for learning before getting frustrated and giving up. You’ll get there, it will just take time.

Getting Motivated

Feeling frustrated with trying to learn something new? You’re not alone. There are plenty of ways to get and keep yourself motivated, however, and you can read about a few of them here.

  • Give yourself credit.

    While it’s good to push yourself, it’s also critical to give yourself credit for a job well done. Let yourself bask in the glory of reaching your goals before you start moving onto setting others.

  • Find intrinsic reasons to learn.

    Teachers, parents, and friends can offer motivation, but the best source of motivation is closer to home: it’s you. Think about why you want to learn, not for others but for yourself.

  • Set high but realistic goals.

    If you want to keep yourself motivated, set your goals and expectations for yourself high. If you don’t, you won’t have to work hard and you won’t feel motivated to do the work.

  • Keep a positive mindset.

    When you’re struggling with a topic it can be hard to keep yourself looking at your progress in a positive manner, but if you get down on yourself you’ll lose motivation and accomplishing your goals will just be harder.

  • Create a learning-friendly environment.

    Do you have a space available to you that’s conducive to learning? If you don’t have somewhere that’s quiet, organized, and private, work on constructing a space that will help, not hinder your learning.

  • Set deadlines for yourself.

    Deadlines might stress you out a bit, but they’re essential for keeping you motivated and working hard.

  • Don’t give up.

    Failure is how you learn, so don’t throw in the towel just because you’ve had a few setbacks. Just like you didn’t learn to ride a bike on the first try, learning new things takes time, so keep at it.

  • Find a challenge.

    There are few feelings as amazing as rising to meet a challenge that’s put in front of you. Set yourself up with a challenge and chip away at it bit by bit until you’ve met it.

Finding Opportunities for Learning

Looking to learn something new? From basic lessons to tech tools to teachers, you’ll find some great advice on learning opportunities.

  • Let your learning branch out.

    If you’re learning about one topic and find yourself interested in another, related topic that comes up, don’t hesitate to take on learning more about that topic, too. It will enrich your knowledge about the original topic and encourage you to learn as much as possible.

  • Figure out what you don’t know.

    Not sure what you want to learn? Start out by figuring out where the gaps are in your knowledge. Once you know what you don’t know, you can start working to fill in those gaps.

  • Try applied learning.

    If reading a book on a subject sounds like a snooze to you, you may learn more by engaging in a form of applied learning. Applied learning can be anything from an internship to performing an experiment; essentially anything that gets you hands-on and learning about a topic in the real world.

  • Take advantage of free online courses.

    There are hundreds, if not thousands of free online courses available on the Web. Use them to your advantage to learn about topics that range from computer science to religious studies.

  • Take a trip.

    Travel can be one of the most amazing and fun ways to learn. Take a trip to a place you’ve never been, whether close to home or far away, to learn more about history, culture, and geography.

  • Make use of local museums and cultural centers.

    Most communities are full of learning opportunities if you know where to look. Use your local museums, cultural centers, and events as a way to learn more about things you’ve never explored before.

  • Join a book club.

    A book club can be a great way to motivate you to read, and it can also encourage you to give books a deeper analysis than you would on your own.

  • Don’t force it.

    If you’re learning something just to learn something and you’re finding yourself unmotivated to do the work, consider setting it aside for awhile. If you’re not passionate about learning, you’ll get less out of it and it may be better to wait until it’s the right time for you to revisit a topic.

Tips for Students

Those taking a class can find tips to improve the learning experience, whether online or off, here, with ideas on how to get connected, research, and study.

  • Make a mindmap.

    Mindmaps can be a great way to organize your thoughts and figure out where you need to focus your studies. They’re also a great tool for boosting creativity.

  • Study in sequence.

    There are certain things that are best learned in a sequence, where one idea builds on another. This method can help you to get more out of study time and better understand the material at hand.

  • Take notes.

    Taking notes, both in class and while you’re reading, is a great way to help you condense and organize the information you’re trying to learn.

  • Have everything you need to learn.

    There’s nothing more distracting than having to hunt for your notes or run out to the store in order to have all the things you require to do homework, complete a project, or even just learn from a class. Get everything you need first, then sit down so you’ll be better focused and prepared.

  • Collaborate with others.

    Working with others can help to spark new ideas, make learning more fun, and can even help you to understand topics you’re struggling with. Just try not to have too much fun; you might forget to learn!

  • Teach others.

    One of the best ways to really learn something is to teach it to someone else. You’ll have to be able to answer a lot of questions about the topic, and it can be a great way to beef up your own knowledge, no matter the subject.

  • Plan and prioritize your learning.

    You’ll get more out of learning if you plan to make it an important part of your daily life. Set aside times for study and homework and make them a top priority on a regular basis.

  • Test yourself.

    Research shows that there’s a lot of value in testing yourself. Tests can both help you assess what you’ve learned and can help you to better learn and retain new information over the long term and apply it across different contexts.