Learning to learn

I’ve always been bad at learning new things. I’m awful in exam situations, and I struggle to take in new things when people are explaining them to me.

I would speak to my tutors, ask for help, go to the library, but nothing really worked for me. I wanted to spend my time making websites and stuff, not doing the theory behind it all. So, for my dissertation, I decided to create an online learning portal, to help students better understand what they were trying to learn.

I’m not going to bang on about the theory behind what I created, you can read my dissertation if you want – although it was quite the beast. I’ve got these two copies at home with me still, just in case 😉

There’s a method of learning, called the “Cornell Method” – and I based my dissertation and web creation on this theory, because it worked for me.

The main concept is that you split your note taking pages in to a 30 / 70% split, by drawing a line down the page. On the smaller side of the page, the left hand side, you enter the key headings for the subject your learning. For instance, if you were learning how to cross a road, in the left hand side, you’d write :
“Look for cars”
“Wait until clear”
“Walk across road”

…and in the right hand side, the bigger section, you’d drill down the details for each step:
“Stop walking and don’t step on the road. Look left and right and see if any cars are coming, how quickly, how far away” and so on.

The Cornell method primarily focuses on you remembering the information in the left hand column, with the bulk of the content coming from these triggers.

To revise, you’d cover the 70% (right hand column) with a piece of paper, so only the headers are visible on the left. You’d then brainstorm all you knew about the headers on to the bit of paper covering the right hand column. You could then compare what you’ve written to what is actually in the right hand column and see how much you’ve learned.

I built a system that mirrored this principle online – you could add headings and note content, and revise from it. You could also share your notes with your friends, and get shared notes from lecturers. It had other features too, like a timetable, chat and so on. Remember, this was 2005, these things simply didn’t exist back then.

I got a first for my dissertation, which really helped my overall grades. I was so close to a first in my degree, there was an option to have it remarked but it might have delayed my graduation. I decided against this, I was so pleased to have got a 2:1 (Hons), that I just wanted to get the graduation done and have the certificate!

You can see the (pen and paper) notes in practice here, I plastered them all over my bedroom walls before exams as an extra memory trigger.

I guess it worked! If you struggle learning things, do a bit of research online – there’s so many different method to help, there’s bound to be something for you