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How to Learn Something New According to Science


What should we consider when learning a new skill? For many, it may simply be a matter of conditions, but there are rules even to make the most of our learning.

Many times tutors or teachers of any subject, look for the best ways or techniques to teach or transmit their knowledge. Some use playful techniques, others somewhat more elaborate. However, sometimes, the message is not always well transmitted or received.

While making mistakes when learning is completely normal, from the side of the educators you have to maintain a base and a limit so that the learning is based on trial-error.

Researchers at the University of Arizona - among other collaborators - deciphered the best way to accelerate learning according to the level of difficulty. These results were obtained after testing in computer models, learning algorithms and artificial neural networks that simulate learning in humans and animals, and how the learning rate is affected according to the difficulty of the training.

What Was Discovered?

According to this study, a key point in the learning process was discovered. This is the point at which training is neither too difficult nor too easy.

It could be said that at this optimum point, students also make mistakes in approximately 15 percent of the time, but their learning has progress that is more efficient and, with a little more effort, a greater reward is obtained.

According to Robert Wilson, author of the study (researcher at the University of Arizona and Director, Neuroscience of Reinforcement Learning Lab) “85% is the optimal point at which, if one concentrates and puts more effort, performance will be maximized. While at other extremes - 100% or 50% - the accuracy will not increase at all, even when there is greater concentration”.

From these new findings, it is necessary to rethink the valuations of the educational system in which the idea of “perfection” in some or several subjects must be the final objective.

According to the researchers of the study published in the journal Nature Communications recently, “Perfection is rewarded too much. While mistakes or mistakes are part of our lives, it has been shown here that it is a fundamental pillar of learning”.

The Rule: Eighty-Five Percent

According to another study conducted in 2012, when people are in the process of learning something new (playing an instrument, mathematical procedures or a language), they move towards the challenges to the limit of their competencies. Unlike trying to solve the easier or more complex unknowns, they take a position to address problems that simply defy the limits of their understanding.

Simple/Complex tasks

When people try to learn too difficult issues after constant effort, they will most likely feel frustrated or anxious about not getting the desired results.

Example: If a person tries to learn a new language, say French, and is enrolled in an advanced-level course, they will probably get nothing.

On the other hand, students may feel bored if they have simple and quick tasks.

Example: You could not be in a spelling class at a primary level when you are pursuing a career in college. It would not be sensible because you would already know.

Flow State

In general, people who are learning something take advantage of this flow when the level of challenge matches both the level of ability to learn in question. Therefore, the 85 percent rule could help to model a road map to reach the so-called "flow state".

Example: There are cases of artists, doctors or athletes, in which they claim to have achieved maximum performance, with euphoria and effortless during the "flow state".

Summing Up

This methodology of concentration and effort - both on the window of difficulty of 85% and having achieved the state of flow - can change the learning paradigms through which significant gains can be achieved regardless of the skill one is learning.

Currently, scientists and educators are trying with many interventions to encourage the system to change the schedules of the beginning of the school day, change classrooms to students and even room temperature.

The idea of all this is to maintain a level of intermediate learning and accept that mistakes are part of the cycle, instead of pushing you to extremes where you don't always feel comfortable. This can also help you learning how to bet on the Kentucky Derby horse race, as you can start understanding the odds and statistics.

Here we can cite two recommendations for educators:

  • Distinguish between the tests that evaluate students and those that train them.
  • Incorporating frequent and medium-low level tests will help students learn more efficiently than a very heavy final exam.

While we are still discovering how to use 100% of our brain's capacity, we can focus on learning in the best possible way to obtain optimal results on the path of learning. How much does it cost you to learn something new?

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