How to Learn Something for Life and Make It a Part of Your Functional Knowledge

Do you remember the last time you had an aha moment when you read a blog post? You probably do. We all have those moments, when we come across exceptional, insightful content. Sometimes, it’s a blog post. Sometimes, it’s a book. Sometimes, it’s a video.

However, do you remember what it was that gave you that aha moment? You probably don’t, because it’s normal to forget something after a while if we are exposed to it only once.

I’m sure, you don’t want to forget all the insights that you come across. You probably want to learn them for life and make it a part of your functional knowledge. The question is how are you going to do it?

The Secret to Long Term Learning

We don’t need to reinvent the wheel in this discussion. The answer is hidden in the challenge and the solution is already figured out by experts. However, in this post, I’ll share a modern tool to apply that solution efficiently.

The answer is hidden in the challenge. What is our challenge? We forget information that we are exposed to only once. What is the solution? In order to learn something for the long term, we need to get exposed to it more than once.

That sounds easy, right? “Just read the same blog post ten times and you have learned the information for life.” Not so fast! Consuming the same information repetitively is required, but there has to be some time in between each repetition.

The Spaced Repetition Method

You need to reread that blog post after a week, after a month, after a quarter, and after a year. These intervals are just examples. Different intervals are necessary for different people, for different information, and for different purposes.

For example, if you’re a college student, you might want to review the material after the first day, after the second day, after the first week, after the third week, and before the exam. So, you have to come up with your own repetition schedule, according to the topic, the purpose, and your learning patterns.

This method is called the spaced repetition method. I first came across it when learning a foreign language as an adult. The language learning version is developed by Paul Pimsleur and it is called the Pimsleur Method.

The Spaced Repetition Method in the 21st Century

Now, that we have the theoretical background, let’s think about how we can apply the spaced repetition method efficiently in the 21st Century. You can find some tools online for this purpose, but I like to use Evernote for this purpose.

Evernote is a free note taking software. I have been using it for five years, in my private life as well as in my professional life, with two separate accounts. I use it for multiple purposes, including the following.

  • Maintaining a knowledge base,
  • As a forum to discuss technical issues with colleagues,
  • Personal calendar,
  • To-do list,
  • Writing down ideas,
  • Organizing ideas.

I have already written posts about how I use Evernote in detail and how it helps me publish a blog post every day. So, why not use it as a tool for spaced repetition method?

How to Use Evernote as a Tool for the Spaced Repetition Method

The first step is to create a note for everything you want to learn for the long term. This is really easy if you have the Evernote app installed on your smartphone. You can easily send a webpage to Evernote with the shortcut. If it’s an idea that you came up with, simply write it down as a note in the app.

Once you have created the note, tag it. You can use the topic of the note, such as “blogging,” and/or you can use general terms, such as “insight” or “to learn.”

Schedule Weekly Reviews

Now, you need to schedule an hour or two every week to review the notes you created last week, one month ago, a quarter ago, and a year or multiple years ago. In order to find those notes, you can use queries like the following: created:20180101 -created:20180108 tag:insight in the search box.

That query will give you the notes created between 2018, January 1 and January 7, tagged with “insight.” Now, you can go through those notes and review the content. This will help you commit that information to the long term memory.

Moreover, you can use the keywords, day, week, month, and year. For example, you can use created:week-1 -created:week, to find the notes that were created between two weeks ago and a week ago.

You can save those queries as saved search and you can access them easily in your weekly review hour. If you aren’t that enthusiastic about a note anymore, you can remove that note.

Consuming New Content or Reviewing Old Content

Curiosity is a strong motivator for us, humans. Therefore, we tend to consume new content all the time. The problem with that approach is that we don’t learn something by consuming it once unless it reinforces what we have already consumed before.

Therefore, consuming new content is not enough in itself to improve our functional knowledge. We have to save insightful content in a knowledge base and review that knowledge base periodically. Otherwise, consuming new content has a little more value than pure entertainment.

Building knowledge is similar to developing new skills. Learning a new skill has four levels. You climb those levels by repetition. It’s the same with building knowledge, but in this case, those repetitions need to have some space in between them.

Conclusion

It’s human nature to forget new information after a while. Experts have found a solution to this problem. The solution is called the spaced repetition method. It is based on repeating the material after certain intervals, such as a day, a week, a month, and a year.

Modern tools such as Evernote make it easy to build a knowledge base with all the insights that you come across. You can use the same tool to review the material periodically with its search functionality.

In order to make sure that you review your knowledge base periodically, schedule at least an hour or more every week in your calendar.

Now, that I’m thinking about it, you can do the same with a blog and search for the posts between certain dates and tagged with certain terms.

Do you have other tools or tips to improve the learning process? Let us know in the comments.

Burak Bilgin
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.

2 thoughts on “How to Learn Something for Life and Make It a Part of Your Functional Knowledge

  1. Dawud Lola

    Burak. This is so insightful. I learn something, I have evernote installed on my phone but I’ve not been using it. With this I’m helped.

    Reply

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