How to Learn Effectively: A Holistic Approach

Three steps of an effective learning process

In this fast-changing world, the ability to learn effectively is more valuable than ever. Whether you’re a student, a professional (data scientist, software engineer, or business analyst), or simply a curious individual, mastering the art of learning can open doors to new opportunities and deeper understanding. But how does one transcend from merely absorbing information to truly learning it? The key lies in a three-step process that can significantly enhance your learning efficiency and retention: Listening, Thinking, and Meditating on the topic.

The three-step learning process—Listening, Thinking, and Meditating—parallels the ancient Vedantic practice of Shravana, Manana, and Nididhyasana. These are the three key pillars through which knowledge is traditionally acquired and internalized in the Vedanta philosophy, a major school of Hindu thought.

Step 1: Listening to the Topic (Shravana)

Shravana means hearing — Hearing the Truth!

The journey of effective learning begins with attentive listening. This is more than just hearing words; it involves actively engaging with the content. Listening sets the foundation for what you are about to learn by allowing you to gather the necessary information. It is crucial to be present in the moment and fully attentive. Remove distractions, seek clear explanations, and, if possible, interact with the speaker through questions. This proactive engagement helps in anchoring the information more vividly in your memory.

Step 2: Contemplating About the Topic (Manana)

Manana means contemplating the Truth!

Once you have listened to the information, the next step is to think critically about what you’ve heard. This involves analyzing the information, breaking it down into manageable parts, and understanding how these parts relate to each other and to what you already know. At this stage, ask yourself:

  • What are the main ideas?
  • How does this information fit with what I already know?
  • What are the implications or applications of this knowledge?

Thinking about the topic helps in forming connections and creating a “big picture” view, which enhances comprehension and retention.

Step 3: Deeply Meditating on the Topic (Nididhyasana)

 Nididhyasana means living and breathing the Truth!

Meditation, in the context of learning, refers to deep, reflective thinking or pondering over the material. This step is crucial for internalizing the knowledge and involves revisiting the content in a quiet, contemplative manner. This is not a quick review but a thoughtful re-examination of the material to reinforce your understanding and commit it to long-term memory.

Teaching to Learn

An often overlooked but highly effective strategy to cement your learning is to prepare to teach the information you have just learned. When you approach learning to teach, you automatically elevate your understanding and retention of the material. This method forces you to organize the information coherently and simplifies complex concepts, making them easier to remember and explain.

Richard Feynman, a renowned physicist and educator, famously encapsulated the essence of understanding through teaching with his “Feynman Technique.” He expressed the idea that to truly grasp a concept, one should try to explain it in simple terms. His approach is often summarized by the quote: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

This principle is at the heart of the “Teaching to Learn” method. By preparing to teach a topic, you are compelled to clarify your thoughts, simplify complex ideas, and organize information logically. This not only solidifies your understanding but also uncovers any gaps in your knowledge. In essence, if you aim to teach a concept, you must learn it thoroughly first, thereby enhancing your mastery of the subject.

Analyzing the Learning Context

Beyond these steps, effective learning also involves understanding the context and relevance of the topic. When approaching a new subject, particularly a technique, method, or tool, consider the following questions:

  1. What is the problem that can be resolved by learning this topic? Identify the ideal state and the current state of disorder. Understand how this topic acts as a bridge between the two. Learning with a clear sense of purpose not only provides motivation but also a practical framework within which to apply the new knowledge.
  2. Is the topic related to a process, method, or tool? Delineate the key components of the topic. Knowing whether you are dealing with a process, a method, or a tool shapes the approach you take and the specifics you focus on during the learning process.

By systematically listening, thinking, and meditating on a topic—and aiming to teach it—you not only learn effectively but are also able to apply your knowledge practically and with greater confidence.

Ajitesh Kumar
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Ajitesh Kumar

I have been recently working in the area of Data analytics including Data Science and Machine Learning / Deep Learning. I am also passionate about different technologies including programming languages such as Java/JEE, Javascript, Python, R, Julia, etc, and technologies such as Blockchain, mobile computing, cloud-native technologies, application security, cloud computing platforms, big data, etc. For latest updates and blogs, follow us on Twitter. I would love to connect with you on Linkedin. Check out my latest book titled as First Principles Thinking: Building winning products using first principles thinking. Check out my other blog, Revive-n-Thrive.com
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