Learning is at the heart of social business, so understanding how we learn best is crucial, both for ourselves as individuals, but also for our organizations. There have been numerous studies exploring this topic over the years, and I’ve covered many of them on this blog.
For instance, one highlighted how important curiosity is, with this state triggering a change in our brain that makes it easier to learn.
Another suggested that the best way to learn something is to try and teach it. It found that when we have to teach a topic, we organize information in a more complete way, thus making it easier to absorb it.
A third suggested that caffeine helps focus the brain and renders it better able to absorb information, whilst a fourth found that sleeping after a study session helped the brain to internalize our learning.
As you can see, it’s a popular topic. That isn’t to say that the academic world is resting on its laurels. A recent paper explores the role of rest and reflection on our ability to learn things.
It suggests that when we have that time to both rest and reflect on what we’ve learned, we not only digest that information better, but we also become better at learning in the future.
The first part is pretty well established already, but the finding about future learning capabilities is indeed interesting.
“We’ve shown for the first time that how the brain processes information during rest can improve future learning.
We think replaying memories during rest makes those earlier memories stronger, not just impacting the original content, but impacting the memories to come.”
The research saw participants asked to memorize pairs of photographs. In between each task, they were given some time to rest and recuperate. During this time, their brains were scanned.
The results revealed that the participants who had used the rest time reflecting on their task did much better on subsequent tasks. As the researchers explain:
“Nothing happens in isolation.
When you are learning something new, you bring to mind all of the things you know that are related to that new information.
In doing so, you embed the new information into your existing knowledge.”
The researchers believe that their finding could be usefully applied in all manner of learning scenarios.
“A professor might first get them thinking about the properties of electricity.
Not necessarily in lecture form, but by asking questions to get students to recall what they already know.
Then, the professor might begin the lecture on neuronal communication.
By prompting them beforehand, the professor might help them reactivate relevant knowledge and make the new material more digestible for them.”
So a bit of daydreaming and pondering may not be so bad after all. Something to think about the next time you’re trying to learn something.