In the 21st century, we are absolutely bombarded with information and opportunities to acquire new knowledge. There is surely no shortage of quality resources out there, be it online courses, blog posts, webinars, books, podcasts or events talks, just like this.

We have a unique opportunity to utilize this amount of information to accelerate both our personal and professional growth. Reading, watching and listening to acquire new knowledge is easy. The problem comes in learning how to put this information into practise and long-term memory so that all the time we spend learning this information is not wasted.

The problem is that to learn this information, we first need to know how to learn. It might be one of the most highly transferable and important soft-skills one could acquire. The ever-changing 21st century requires us to constantly learn, adapt and reflect (show a cycle) to stay competitive in a time with constant uncertainty, rapidly evolving and changing skills, and technological improvement.  

While you are still a student at SHA, learning is easier: you have a structured process, live meetings, submission deadlines. Once you graduate, it is up to you to create processes and systems in your life to learn effectively.


First, it is useful to grasp the very basis of neuroscience to understand how humans grasp new information. Educational neuroscience is a relatively new subject. However, there are a few things that we already know and that are important to understand.

In order for learning to occur, neurons in our brains need to form new connections. The connections are formed when we are engaged in active & effortful learning and strengthen when we sleep or non-sleep deep rest period (meditation, yoga nidra), meaning that having rest periods between intense learning bouts is crucial for neural connections to be formed and in return for learning to occur.

1.
State of Learning Matters. When we were at school or university (approximately up to the age of 25), our neurons could find new connections any time. Once we age, we need to signal to our brain that the information that we are learning is important.

For that to happen, we need to be in a particular state. The most optimal for learning is: calm, alert, clear and focused, coupled with curiosity and interest.

You need to convince your brain that you are actually interested in what you’re learning, make learning exciting and enjoyable, understand the why and greater purpose behind what you learn. This releases dopamine — a key driver in the process.



How to get into this state?

        You can try a simple breathing exercise, to calm down your nervous system.

        If we feel sleepy, listening to upbeat music without words can help to increase alertness levels.

2. Deliberate Practice. Learning is not suppose to be easy. That is why binding huge amounts of information from an online course whilst scrolling through your social media feed is not an effective way to learn.

Deliberate practice requires careful planning, bringing challenges, and being specific about what we are doing at the moment- fully present, focused and engaged. Learning is an effortful and active process.

3.
Understand Your Optimal Time For Learning

Not only what you learn matters- when you do it also can massively affect your effectiveness, ability to recall information and overcome learning related challenges.

Firstly, when are you most alert? Think about that, but different qualities of memories and alertness seem to be better at different times of the day for different people - for most, it is before lunch. However, studying at a time when we feel less alert also has its benefits- it helps to improve your concentration and creativity as there are fewer distractions, and with everyone in bed, there is definitely peace and quiet.

4. Creating and building webs of knowledge (not web apps).

We learn by piecing together chunks of information and creating networks of it - to be connected to something we already know. Learning needs to be relevant and contextual- to your existing experience, knowledge and interests. Make the content personal, immediately find use cases and search for relevant connections.


5.
The social aspect of learning is huge.

We need to voice, get feedback, get new perspectives so that we can re-adjust our understanding. Utilize the support network at SHA, utilize online forums,talk with people surrounding you and don’t keep your learning to yourself.

6. Learning is a process, not a goal.

You can compare it to exercise. Workouts hurt, and then the pain ends as soon as your workout ends. But it’s never gone. It’s waiting for you the next time you workout. Except each time, the pain becomes less piercing. You learn to cope with it. You become familiar with the pain, and it just becomes part of the routine. You are rewarded by better health and a better physique and are incentivized to keep going.

Instead, enjoy the process of investing your energy into something, and enjoy the pain that comes along with it. You’ll start to notice that you no longer describe it as “pain” — because what was once painful becomes a symbol for what’s next: a sense of personal accomplishment and self-satisfaction.



ONE (OF MANY) APPROACHES OF LEARNING.

Learning can be an overwhelming process with so much information and possibilities out there to acquire the knowledge. Implementing your own learning system can provide you guidance on how to approach a new learning challenge.

Let’s say you are learning new React Framework.

What is the motivation for learning this?

First step: you could start with a Google search for the React.js documentation and read a bit about the background and motivation for the library.

Knowing the “why” behind any topic is incredibly helpful for framing the learning process. It answers questions like:

First time coding

After spending some time on the above steps, you start understanding the fundamentals of what is going on, or maybe even feel like totally you get it. Then it’s time to jump into some code - start putting all the information you have gained online into practice - and do it as soon as - our short-term memory is not that great so we need to implement theory into practice soon before we forget it.

You could try to build something really small with any new tool by following a video tutorial (e.g. on egghead.io) or a written tutorial before jumping into custom projects.


There will come a time when you are stuck - you don’t know what to do, you feel lost and might feel like “just giving up”.

Here is a perfect time to “zoom out” from the problem - figure out what it actually is, clearly define it and try (even if it is a guess) to identify the root cause of it.

Then, take some time off the problem so that you can look into it through a fresh mind-  go back to the problem, try to identify the solution and if you can’t - just look online. If the online search does not give any benefits it is time to utilize the supportive SHA community. Just message one of the mentors or ask for advice in one of the main channels- mentors and fellow students are always there to support you.

Once you have solved the problem, repeat the steps from the beginning to add another knowledge piece to your memory. Step by step, piece by piece you will develop a complete puzzle and gain even the most complex coding (or other) skills.

Maybe this process does not work- maybe you need to create your own. Just experiment and see what works for you. Eventually, it will end-up in a long-term memory. With some effort and structure, learning programming turns out to be incredibly fun. At first it’s incredibly complicated, and maybe that is why it often appears to be so scary - not because it’s “boring,” but because it’s “hard.”

After you go through a learning process a few times, processing new information becomes muscle memory. You don’t really think about it. You just learn to ride the pain wave and find joy in the reward.


Happy Learning Journey!