Nancy Phillips

Why do you remember where you were the morning of 911 but not the periodic table from high school chemistry? Why do we remember how to a ride bicycle even if we haven’t been on one for years?

The things we remember can tell us a lot about how we can enhance our ability to learn new things – an essential factor in leading a personally fulfilling and successful life in today’s world. We need the information we take in to be effectively integrated into our memory files, otherwise, you can’t use it when you need it.

Here are a few simple yet critical concepts to keep in mind when learning or teaching new information.  An easy way to remember all six concepts: the first letters spell out the acronym CAREER:

Comparison – when you read or hear new information your brain is constantly searching for memories and knowledge of the information that you already have filed away so it can add to it. If you know a lot about engines, science or music and you read some advanced information on that topic, you will be much more likely to make sense of it and retain it versus someone who has never learned anything on the topic. This is because the vocabulary, fundamental concepts, and perspective is not there yet. This is the reason we learn the basics for many subjects when we’re young. This is also how we become masters of a topic, by consuming more information, breaking it down into learnable components, using it, remembering it and sometimes teaching it. This is also where our belief systems impact how we take the information in and sort it.

Awareness – This is where we have the choice to learn things we’re interested in or realize we need to know for everyday life. We learn a lot of things we’re unaware of, especially during young childhood when our perceptions of the world and ourselves is created. Recent research shows our brains can develop new pathways through learning and challenge, something called neuroplasticity. This is exciting information because it means we can always be improving our knowledge, insight, and contribution through continuous learning. The brain is now considered to be more like a muscle than a machine or computer hard drive as it had been compared to in the past. It has limitless potential because it has the ability to change, learning is literally expanding the connectivity in our brains.  Being in an environment that supports life-long learning can provide anyone the opportunity to progress and grow continuously throughout their life journey.

Relevance – this is an important one for all of us and you’ll definitely be nodding your head if you have teenagers. We all care about what we care about, so making a critical topic relevant is the key to having people learn what is important for their well-being.  It needs to be meaningful at that point in their life, otherwise, the myriad of distractions that are competing to gain their attention will have no trouble pulling them away. For example, teaching teens about cell phone contracts or how to buy a car will be a much more impactful and long-lasting financial lesson than teaching what a mortgage is or why they “should” (I don’t like that word) create a budget.

I believe inspiration before education is absolutely critical if you want someone to really learn and apply new concepts into their daily life. You have to appeal to what matters to the individual.  An anti-smoking campaign group found that when they related their message to how unattractive smoking is to the opposite sex due to the smell and image, and how it would make the teen far less appealing to date, it was much more effective than telling them smoking was bad for their health and would eventually kill them. Relevance matters in the here and now.

Emotion – This is a big one for all us yet none of were ever really taught why positive or negative emotions make us remember things so much more clearly than other less emotional experiences. To put it really simply, when something emotional happens, our brains create far more connections, like sticking thousands of extension cords together for power versus just a couple of cords connecting. Tens of thousands of reactions are occurring in our brains during an emotional experience, and this creates feelings and emotions in our body that are directly related to those thoughts. This is why visualization can be so powerful and elite athletes, astronauts and professionals from many industries have been using it for years.  We can use emotion in many ways to help us learn. Throughout history, stories were one of the main methods of teaching for many reasons, including the creation of visual images making the story more memorable and often creating feelings of excitement or empathy – another words emotions that help the long-term memory take in the information. A list of facts doesn’t have these powerful memory inducers – unless you create them yourself.

If you have to memorize a list of facts, try to make it into a funny story through an acronym or song. Laughing causes your brain to secrete over 30 chemicals which helps increase memory. We can all remember having a good laugh. Education and enjoyment go hand in hand for obvious reasons, it’s fun to do what you enjoy and find interesting. Thus, creating enjoyable environments for learning is a powerful tool for everyday life and personal progress.

It’s also why play, music and physical activities are all incorporated into Accelerated learning and Super learning programs.

Experience – just like the bike rider or a car driver, the experience is the deepest form of learning and takes things to the next level in the brain after reading, hearing, and writing. Doing is the basis of creating deep learning memories in the brain and body. This is what can eventually take our learnings into our subconscious once we’ve had enough time and practice. Whether it’s driving and daydreaming until we “come back” and realize we’ve driven for five minutes without being aware, unlocking a combination lock by feel rather than memory or an athlete performing a perfect performance due to thousands of hours of mental and physical practice, experiential learning is what takes “knowing” something into the realm of “doing” in everyday life.

Repetition – often called “the mother of all learning.” We see this at work continuously with young children because they’re learning so many fundamental life skills. When they are learning to walk, they don’t just give up when they fall repeatedly, they keep trying.

One thing we’ve heard a lot over time is the old adage, “practice makes perfect.” Now we know from scientists that this isn’t actually true. The real truth based on neuroscience is “practice makes permanent.” The more we repeat a thought, an emotion, or an action, the more hard-wired that pathway becomes in our brains. This emphasizes the importance of what we are learning and practicing, because as the pathways get further ingrained, the harder it can be to change. It is possible though!

When it comes to teaching our youth financial and general life success skills, we must remember all six of these critical concepts, and how they interact together to create the behaviors that will help or hurt them in everyday life. These same principles can be used not only in schools but also for employee or client education, it’s relevant for everyone. And remember, it’s not only OK to make learning fun, the information will be remembered, and quite likely used more if it is! While continuous life-long learning is important to everyone’s future, we can lighten up on the seriousness whether in the classroom or boardroom – and we’ll all benefit!

Stay Informed