Contrary to popular belief, the ability to learn might not depend on intelligence. In fact, research suggests that people who practice certain learning strategies will outscore those who rely solely on their high IQ levels when it comes to developing mastery of a new concept or skill.
Here are the three strategies you can practice to improve your learning skills, according to Ulrich Boser, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and author of Learn better: Mastering the Skills for Success in Life, Business, and School, or How to Become an Expert in Just About Anything:
1: Develop a plan
Learning is nothing more than project management, Boser writes. When learning a new skill or concept, you should first set goals about what you want to learn, then develop a plan for achieving those goals. Taking a planned approach to learning not only helps you track your learning progress, but may also help alleviate feelings of frustration and self-doubt.
2: Confirm your understanding
To ensure you’re retaining the information you’re learning, Boser suggests practicing metacognition, or “thinking about thinking.” Metacognition allows you to introspectively assess whether you actually understand a skill or concept. Boser recommends asking yourself questions like, “Could I explain [this idea] to a friend?” or “Do I need more background knowledge?”
3: Take a break
Breaks are an important part of the learning process, Boser notes. Case in point: we often come up with the best points in an argument hours after the actual discussion ends. Boser suggests taking a break from your learning to relax and allow for some “cognitive quiet.” Setting your learning aside—or even sleeping—allows you the mental ease necessary for reflecting and improving your understanding of an idea or concept (Boser, Harvard Business Review, 5/2).