Tips for Efficient Learning

One of the first psychologists who studied the phenomenon of forgetting was Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850-1909), a German psychologist who developed the Forgetting Curve theory. According to this theory, an important part of what a person learns is forgotten within 20 minutes of the initial learning. Within one hour, a person forgets nearly half of what was originally learned. After 24 hours, almost 2/3 of the previously learned material is forgotten.

Ebbinghaus curve is not applicable for all the learning situations, but it can be applied in most of them.

So how are you supposed to learn to avoid forgetting or to forget as little as possible?

Some tips for effective and efficient learning are:

  • Concentrate on the information that should be learnt. If you do not pay enough attention to the things you are supposed to retain, they will not be encoded into your memory and they will vanish soon. Remember that it takes at least eight seconds of intense focus to process a piece of information into your memory.
  • Keep learning, practicing and rehearsing the new information.  The process of learning and forgetting is a “use-it-or-lose-it” phenomenon. If you will not practice the gains you have previously achieved, you will lose them. So, if you want to remember the new information, practice it and repeat it. You can review what you’ve learned the same day you learn it, and at intervals thereafter. The rehearsal of the information at certain intervals of time is more effective than cramming.
  • Use as many methods of learning as possible. Listen, visualize, feel, touch, teach a friend what you’ve just learnt- use any method that can help you memorize. By learning in more than one way, you’re further cementing the knowledge in your memory. Using several methods, what you are actually doing is storing into different regions of your brain information about a subject.
  • Link the new information to what is already in your brain. Do notallow interference to erase the previous information from your memory. Use what you know as a base for developing new information.
  • When the information that has to be retained is very complex, try to find a way to structure it. Focus on understanding basic ideas and explain them using your own words. Do not try to memorize mechanically things you did not understand.
  •  Do not try to learn, while you are doing something else, too. Many researches suggested that multitasking can make learning less effective. By switching from one activity to another, you will learn more slowly, information unrelated to the learnt subject may interfere, making the learning process less efficient and filled with errors.
  • When you cannot remember a thing, do not struggle to remember it, but look up for the answer. It was scientifically proven that the longer you spend trying to remember the answer, the more likely you will be to forget the answer again in the future, because by trying to remember it you are actually deepening the “error state” instead of the correct answer.
  • Find out how you can learn better. Some people are learning easier if they read loud the material, other visualize it, other retain much easier if they write. There are at least eight types of intelligence, so you have to discover what works for you.
  • Use mnemonic devices to make memorization easier.  Mnemonic clues help you remember something, by associating the information that needs to be memorized with a visual image, a sentence, or a word:
        • Visual image – Associate a visual image with a word or name to help you remember it.
        • Acrostic (or sentence) – create a sentence in which the first letter of each word is part of or represents the initial of what you want to remember.
        • Acronym – create a word with the first letters of all the key words or ideas you need to remember.
        • Rhymes and alliteration
        • Chunking – create groups of numbers or other types of information to remember them easier than taking them piece by piece.
        • Method of loci – Imagine placing the items you want to remember along a route you know well or in specific locations in a familiar room or building.

Draganski, B., Gaser, C., Busch, V., & Schuierer, G. (2004). Neuroplasticity: Changes in grey matter induced by training. Nature, 427(22), 311-312.
Willis, J. (2008). Brain-based teaching strategies for improving students’ memory, learning, and test-taking success.(Review of Research). Childhood Education, 83(5), 31-316.



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