We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.Peter Drucker (1909–2005)
Learn to learn is both the most important skill and the most important attitude in life. The current knowledge will be out-dated in a few years. Lifelong learning will be an essential skill during your life, and its importance is increasing. Accordingly, being a trainer is not the worst option to choose.
After outlining some techniques we present strategies and end with an action plan. The most important question in terms of motivating an audience will be dealt with in the motivation.
Let’s start with my personal favourite: the file card box system. The German publicist Sebastian Leitner (1919—1989) invented and presented it in the book ‘So lernt man lernen’(“How to learn to learn”). The book is full of good ideas and became a classic in its genre. Unfortunately, it’s not available in English.
File Card Box
How the file card box works. You write one word or question on one side of a file card, e.g. a word in your mother language. On the other side you note down the word in the language you want to learn (or the answer to a specific question). You memorise the solution. After half a day or the next day you take your stack of cards and go through every single one of them. If you know the answer you put the card into the second section. If you don’t know the answer you’ll keep it in the first one. The next day you go through the second section. What you remember comes into the third section, what you forgot goes back to the first. The same applies with the third and fourth section, which you — according to your learning plan (see below) — repeat daily or every second or third day. What you know goes into the next section, what you forget comes back to the first. The fifth section can be repeated after a week or a fortnight. If you remember the content of the card it stays there, if not — put it back to the first.
The advantage of this system is structured repetition. Furthermore, you invest time and energy only in repeating the words you don’t know. What you remember easily is repeated a maximum of five times while all your efforts go on the things you don’t manage to keep in mind. Additionally, any initial order of a vocabulary list is destroyed — which is good! How often did we remember in a vocabulary test that it’s the third word on page five — but forget the meaning? This won’t happen here.
The system is so flexible that you can break down any content into simple questions or words. So, whatever you want to learn you can put down on cards. If it’s more complicated you can choose DIN A7 cards, while for vocabulary DIN A8 is fine. Especially, A8 cards are so handy that you can always carry a little stack with you. Thus, you can learn any time and anywhere. Thereby, you won’t get the feeling that you have to “sit down and learn”, but you just enjoy filling some dead time.
Finally, the ancient Greeks wandered around while memorising their speeches by heart, much as actors do today when learning a script. This makes sense because not only do you get oxygen in the bloodstream but also the two halves of your brain are synchronised by walking. It has been seen as the most efficient way of learning and the little cards serve this purpose in a fantastic manner.
Visual mnemonics are image representations of components you put together in your head. The funnier they are the better you will remember. For example: Barbiturates, Tranquilizers and Alcohol are depressant drugs. If you to learn them for a test visualise a bat! BAT (Barbiturates, Alcohol, Tranquiliser). This is the Acronym technique plus image. Similarily, you can think of the opera Aida by Guiseppe Verdi for remembering the marketing principle AIDA (Attention, Desire, Interest, Action).
This technique can also be combined with the mnemonic peg system for remembering numbers. Take the list from the right where each number is represented by a single image. If you want to recall the telephone number, let’s say 2 27 88 96 (as a random example – I don’t know if this number exists) you start to imagine a switch for the number two and a second switch. Seven is a dwarf and eight an hourglass, while you have to add a cat (for nine) and a cube. Create the image in your mind like: two switches in front of a dwarf with two hourglasses, a cat on a cube behind him.
A rhyming peg list goes as follows (0—hero, 1—gun, 2—zoo, 3—tree, 4—door, 5—hive, 6—bricks, 7—heaven, 8—plate, 9—wine, 10—ten). Accordingly, our phone number could be imagined as follows: in two zoos in heaven there are two plates with wine on a brick.
The Linkword method involves the following: you create a sentence in your mind, which contains the word you want to remember and a link word, which will link to its meaning. For example: the Russian word for cow is roughly pronounced karova. A possible sentence could be ‘I ran my car over a cow.’ Then, car over is the link word linking to karova, while with the cow you have its meaning. It demands a little effort to create such linkages. But it can be a lot of fun, too. Especially, when you are in a small group. Thus, it’s also suitable for workshops when participants are required to remember a complicated word or the circumstances of a situation.
Acronyms are simple to form and if they are easy to pronounce, they are also easy to retain. Do you remember the art of setting goals from the first chapter? Every objective is SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attractive, Realistic, Timed). Similarly, Dan Roam describes the process of how he came up with an acronym describing his procedure for visual thinking: SQUID (=Simple or complex, Qualitative or quantative, Vision or execution (Latin u (V)), Individual or comparison, change (greek delta) or status quo). It’s also fun to do and to play around with.
Acrostics function similarly: Instead of a letter you use a word (starting with the letter to remember) and make a sentence out of it: My Dear Aunt Sally (=Multiply and Divide before you Add and Subtract). Or seven articles of the US constitution: Large elephants jump slowly and sink rapidly (Legislative, Executive, Judicial, Supremacy, Amendment, Statehood, Ratification).
Method of loci
The Method of loci (Latin loci = places) has been used since ancient times, mainly for memorising speeches. Cicero (106—43) described it in his book De oratore(‘On the Orator’): The trick is that you imagine any place like your home, your school or your parliament and you “store” different content in different places within that building. For example, the introduction of your speech is put into the entry hall. You want to refer to a specific idea. So, lay down a symbol of that idea in that room and so on. While delivering your speech you walk through the place one after the other and pick the things up you had laid down before.
Putting content into rhymes also helps to remember. You need a little energy to invent a rhyme or poem, but then it’s guaranteed to stick, e.g. In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
Music Mnemonic works excellently, too. It’s very suitable for long lists, which can be sung in a song. Do you remember the ABC song of your kindergarten years? See! It works.
According to the Neuroscientist Prof. Yury Shtyrov et al. (2010) it’s enough to memorise a new word by repeating it for 14 minutes. Then, a stable network has been created in the human brain.
There are many more techniques, but most of them are based on the ones described above. Look out for more, but mainly practice — alone or with groups in workshops. This can be really fun and can also be used as energisers.