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What Do Skilled Learners Do Differently?

Human intelligence isn’t all that variable. For example, on the IQ scale, about 2 out of 3 scores fall between 85 and 115, and about 19 out of 20 scores fall between 70 and 130. Many of us approach a concept with the same potential to learn it, but it only ends up sticking for some of us. Why is this?

  • The brain responds better to spaced practice than it does to cramming, quizzing yourself rather than re-reading material, and associative rather than isolated memorization.
  • People who think about their own learning, make a habit of asking questions, use what they’ve learned, teach what they’ve learned to others, all become better learners.

Below are some strategies and habits that can be adopted through practice.

What Do Skilled Learners Do Differently?

  1. Skilled learners think about their own learning.

Thinking about your own learning, or “meta learning”. A student who has a high level of meta learning awareness is able to assess the effectiveness of their learning approach and regulate it according to the demands of the task.

  1. Skilled learners ask more questions.

Researchers have found that students who ask more questions perform better academically. “When students know how to ask their own questions, they take greater ownership of their learning, deepen comprehension, and make new connections and discoveries on their own.”

  1. Skilled learners are process-oriented.

In The Practicing Mind, Thomas M. Sterner emphasizes the importance of focusing on the process instead of the product: “Keep yourself process-oriented. Stay in the present. Make the process the goal and use the overall goal as a rudder to steer you efforts. Be deliberate, have an intention about what you want to accomplish, and be aware of that intention. Doing these things will eliminate the judgements and emotions that come from a product-oriented or results-oriented mind.”

  1. Skilled learners can often find their own way, without guidance.

When you run into a difficult concept or find yourself confused about an assignment, your natural instinct is to try to solve the problem yourself. Self-dependent learners become skilled learners because they familiarize themselves with the process of thinking critically and overcoming the fear of making mistakes.

  1. Skilled learners always keep the big picture in mind.

The “big picture” can mean several things in terms of what you’re learning: the wider context surrounding a historical event, the thematic aim of a passage of literature, the consequences of combining various chemicals in science lab. Being able to visualize how the details fit into the bigger picture, and how one picture relates to another, is an enormous learning advantage.

  1. Skilled learners frequently try new things.

Trying new things keeps the brain sharp and expands your ability to learn new things while rewarding you with a new skill or piece of knowledge.

  1. Skilled learners make mistakes work for them, not against them.

Skilled learners make a point of viewing mistakes as opportunities: they ask themselves, “What is my mistake and why did I make it?” and “What can I do to prevent this mistake in the future?”

  1. Skilled learners are interested in improving their memory.

Memory and learning are inextricably intertwined. On a neurobiological level, they are nearly indistinguishable from each other. In daily life, learning depends heavily on memory. Skilled learners either have strong memories already, or they’re interested in improving it.

  1. Skilled learners keep learning.

A 2004 Nature article reported that people who learned how to juggle, increased the amount of grey matter in their occipital lobes, the area of the brain associated with visual memory. When these individuals stopped practising their new skill, this grey matter vanished. Similarly, if you’re learning a new language, it is important to keep practising the language in order to maintain the gains you have achieved.

  1. Skilled learners process the same concept in multiple ways.

According to Judy Willis, “The more regions of the brain that store data about a subject, the more interconnection there is. This redundancy means students will have more opportunities to pull up all of those related bits of data from their multiple storage areas in response to a single cue”.

Extract from ‘25 Things Skilled Learners Do Differently’ by Saga Briggs

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