Learn Anything Faster and More Effectively

It used to be hard to find an abundance of information about a particular subject. You would have to go to the library and find books that were written by subject matter experts and then decide if that information was even up to date with the latest research or if it was even valid any longer.

Then the web was born. The problem then wasn’t so much the lack of information, but the difficulty in finding quality information quickly.

Then Google was born, and they changed the web to deliver the information that you wanted with the highest rated content that its web crawlers have come across. The even have a Knowledge Engine which takes advantage of “Structured Data” (Structured data markup is a standard way to annotate your content so machines can understand it.)

It is ridiculously easy to find the answers to questions and to learn new topics just from a few searches and reading a few blog posts by the industry experts in their field. One of the best and sometimes overlooked aspect of this is just how quickly information can be updated and time time (or lack there of) from an expert learning a new technique or idea and we the consumers reading about it on his blog a day later. Truly amazing.

As the world’s information becomes easier and easier to obtain, we are suddenly realizing that it isn’t that lack of good information or where to find it that is holding us back anymore. Our real problem is our ability to learn and understand this information as fast enough to take advantage of the vast amount of data and apply what we have learned to our own lives.

I began to have this problem a few years ago when I truly decided that I wanted to master my craft (software engineering). I started out by gathering resources between blogs that I wanted to read everyday, books that were vital to the industry, new research being done in the area, PluralSight videos, Youtube videos, technology podcasts, and much much more.

It didn’t take long to realize that if I truly wanted to master I needed a way to learn faster. 


This is where my “learning journey” began. I started to rigorously research the ways our brains learn and how I could hack this process to learn as quickly as possibly, while retaining and comprehending all the information that I was absorbing.

The results were astounding. I realized that I have been doing most things wrong in terms of effective learning. However, through the research and applying the facts to my real life and my real learning habits I begin to retain and understand concepts and topics on a much deeper level than I ever had before.

That’s what I want to share with you. I have found what works best for me and what experts say will work best for everyone trying learn and master new material. It is a common statement that you come across in the media, “every kid is different, the learning style has to be specific and catering to the kid’s learning style”. On the face of it, the statement looks obvious. Empirical evidence however does not support it.

So, without further adieu, here are my suggestions to help you learn any material more quickly and more effectively than you have been doing in the past.

Rule 1. Speed Reading (with 85-95% comprehension)

I don’t think I could mention tips on how to learn more quickly without talking about speed reading. It is a reality that if you want to be able to be able to absorb more information then you will obviously have to work on your ability to process information from some medium faster.

There are many ways to consume information: videos, podcasts, books, audiobooks, classroom settings, etc. The fact of the matter is though that the quickest way to obtain the most information the quickest is through reading. You should be able to read much faster than you can listen (audiobook, classroom) or watch (videos) any type of information.

However, the sad fact that for most people they can only read about as fast as they talk. That is because they are victim to one of the worst techniques you can do while reading, and that is Subvocalization. This is when you look at each word and speak each word in your head. You will never be able to read at a speed of 800-1000 words per minute (an average rate for a speed reader) if you cannot do this.

There are many great books out there to help you learn how to speed read. The ones I suggest are Breakthrough Rapid Reading and Become a Superlearner. Both of these books go through great techniques to get you to reading around 800 wpm (250 wpm is the average rate people read) in just a few months or even weeks depending on how much you practice (and you will have to practice). When you can read books and blog posts at a rate 4 times faster than the average human and RETAIN that information better as well (Becoming a Superlearner goes through many techniques on memory retention), then you are indeed on your way to becoming a Super Human. If you want to practice speed reading right now Spreeder is a free web application that help you to read faster and comprehend more of what you read.

Rule 2. Don’t Reread

Rereading text and massed practice of a skill or new knowledge are by far the preferred study strategies of learners of all stripes, but they’re also among the least productive. Opt for active practice over review. If you are learning a skill, a foreign language or any other topic, practice retrieving it from memory rather than rereading your text or reviewing instructional material.

Recalling what you have learned makes the learning stronger and more easily recalled again later. Space your practice. Space out your practice sessions, letting time elapse between them. Massed practice (like cramming) leads to fast learning but also to rapid forgetting compared to spaced practice.

Spacing helps embed learning in long-term memory. Look for tools on your phone or on the web (I use Anki) that remind you to review material right when you are about to forget it (the best time for retrieval and building a strong mental connection). When you space out practice at a task and get a little rusty between sessions, or you interleave the practice of two or more subjects, retrieval is harder and feels less productive, but the effort produces longer lasting learning and enables more versatile application of it in later settings.

Rule 3. Mix Up Practice and Interleave Ideas

Practice also has to interleaved. Interleaving is practicing two or more subjects or two different aspects of the same subject. You cannot study one aspect of subject completely and move on to another subject and so on. Linearity isn’t good.

Let’s say you are learning some technique, for example EM algorithm. If you stick to data mining field, you will see its application in, let’s say, mixture estimation. However, by interleaving your practice with state space models, you see that EM algorithm being used to estimate hyper parameters of a model.

This interleaving of various topics gives a richer understanding. Obviously there is a price to pay. The learner is just about learning to understand something, when he is asked to move to another topic. So, that sense of feeling that he hasn’t got a full grasp on the topic remains. It is a good thing to have but an unpleasant situation that a learner must handle.

Rule 4. Teach What You Learn

Have you ever heard the saying “You never truly understand something until you can teach it to a child?” I couldn’t agree more. When you are able to draw on analogies to explain a complex subject (water flowing through a pipe to help explain electricity flowing through a circuit) then you are on your way to a deeper understanding of the topic. When you are learning new material, try to draw connection in your brain to what this relates to that you already do understand. Doing this will help you remember what you have learned and have a better understanding of how it relates to other subjects that you already know. Discussing new information in your own words and connecting it to things you already know makes learning more efficient and longer lasting.

Teaching also helps you find your weak points in understanding. When you try to explain something to someone and they don’t understand it yet or think about it in a different way than you initially did, then you can take this chance to revisit the material to get a deeper understanding of the subject matter. Discussing new information in your own words and connecting it to things you already know makes learning more efficient and longer lasting.

Rule 5. Pay Attention and Test Yourself

It’s easy to start daydreaming when you are reading a book or an informative article. You must fight the urge to do this by having a purpose for reading the article or chapter.

I do this by quickly skimming the chapter subheadings or paragraphs and get an overall idea about what this chapter is about. Then I quickly think of about 5 things that I expect to have learned after reading the chapter and I test myself at the end.

When you are reading with a purpose you far less likely to start daydreaming or lose your focus on the article. This is a surprisingly effective and simple strategy.

Rule 6. Repeat “focus bursts,” where we give our very best effort for a short period of time, then take fulfilling and refreshing breaks.

There are multiple studies that confirm that proper rest increases brain functioning. The typical, caffeine-induced, late night cramming session that most students engage in at least once in their life is not the most effective way to learn. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that it is the least effective way. If we want to learn something quickly, we need to do it when our minds are fresh. We need to engage in “focus bursts” where, with fresh energy and a well-rested mind, we focus all our attention on learning, perfecting, and linking the chunks. Then, when we start to feel our effectiveness dissipate, we take breaks to recharge.

Focus burst, recharge, focus burst, recharge. Over and over again. This is the way to speed up the learning process. Long study sessions are not as effective as short bursts. In long sessions we are prone to distraction, and we are also prone to focusing on time rather than repetitions. However, if we will train ourselves to learn like a top athlete trains (in smaller, high intensity chunks) we will be very happy with the results that we get.

Rule 7. Binarial Beats

Binaural beats involve playing two close frequencies simultaneously to produce alpha, beta, delta, and theta waves, all of which produce either sleeping, restfulness, relaxation, meditativeness, alertness, or concentration. Binaural beats are used in conjunction with other exercises for a type of super-learning. If you have ever heard of music helping you learn or studying while listening to classical music it is because of the state of mind that the music can put you in. This can actually effect brain waves and produce a more focused mindset. I recommend downloading “Focus Zen” from the App Store or googling “Binarial Beats” to find a good Youtube playlist. These work much better when listening to them with headphones.

Well those are my main “Learning Hacks” that I have been using and have seen a great increase in the amount of information that I am able to learn in a day and I hope they can do the same for you. . It truly is amazing how much information we have access to but if you want to take advantage of it all then you really need to LEARN HOW TO LEARN!

I hope you enjoyed this post and, if you haven’t already, then please subscribe to my blog or share this post with anyone you think would like it!

Good luck with your new learning abilities! Use your power for good 🙂

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