Why is it that complex things – like learning to drive a car – can be much easier and quicker to manage than, say learning a vocabulary in a foreign language?
It’s because the brain has different memory systems.
Our brains weren’t designed to remember vast quantities of factual knowledge. Hard wiring this knowledge is tough work – but, understanding how our brain’s memory systems work, can make things easier.
In one year, Josh Foer became a memory champion – His TED talk explains how he used ancient methods from early Greek times. On an earlier project, he learnt enough of a rare African language in 22 hours to converse and make himself understood.
Some of these principals are applicable across many subjects. A core concept is that of spaced repetition. If we revisit knowledge, it’s the equivalent of putting our brain through a gym workout. Get the timing right and the growth gains are impressive. This was first realised by a Dr Ebbinghaus – who observed the benefits of correctly spaced repetition – get it right and your memory lasts longer and fades more slowly.
But does this mean we should relentlessly be copying out our notes, again and again, time after time?
No – learning that’s easy, isn’t really learning. There’s little need to practice things that come effortlessly. The challenge is to focus learning on things that are difficult. A little bit like tennis practice. At the end of both, you should feel a satisfying sense of exhaustion!