230. The greatest skill you can possess: Effective note-taking

25+ takeaways from this 21 minute video:

The International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) is “a statistical framework for organizing information on education maintained by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).” In accordance with this framework, the 193 member states and 11 associate members structure their education system as follows:

  • Primary education should focus on teaching children the “basic academic learning and socialization skills, introducing children to the broad range of knowledge, skill and behavioral adjustment they need to succeed in life – and, particularly, in secondary education” by teaching skills in reading, writing and mathematics.
  • Secondary education should build upon primary education and provide teenagers to young adults more subject-oriented classes as well as employment-relevant knowledge.

At what point in your education system did you actually learn how to take effective notes? And more importantly, when did you learn how to learn? What likely happened was you learned to take notes intuitively or by mimicking your teacher, your fellow students, and perhaps your parents if they reviewed your homework.

100 years of studies have shown that the study techniques students learned and carried with them into their career are in fact the least effective.

Putting this into perspective, as a post-graduate professional this effectively means that up to now:

  • You’ve potentially wasted thousands of hours lost free time and sleep using ineffective study and learning habits; free time you could have invested in building friendships and professional relationships with your fellow students, professors, work colleagues and other professionals who could have become incredible allies, mentors and references to advance your future career.
  • You’ve potentially lost tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships and grants and instead accrued crippling student loan debt because you failed to make the grade point average (GPA) that could have qualified you for scholarships and free money.
  • The younger generation currently being educated right now have perhaps already learned these effective note-taking habits, and so may be direct competitors to you in your next job, even though you’ve nearly a decade of working experience more than them.

Life-long learning using efficient and deliberate methods and strategies is imperative to maintaining control over your career options and staying relevant to the professional world.

In my experience, many professionals don’t take their career development seriously until they suffer a major career trauma such as being made redundant or refused promotion opportunities because “their profile is no longer relevant to the modern business world.”

Unfortunately, by then it may be too late.

Outlined in this $35.00, 58 page paper Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology are the 5 best learning habits you must imperatively and immediately begin using to maximize your time and resources:

1. Practice testing, or active recall, involves taking frequent practice tests on the facts and concepts being learned. Frequent testing, whether you like it or not, improves learning and retention. Essentially, the more often you use facts and concepts, the stronger those connections become and the more quickly they can be recalled.

Practice testing is most effective when feedback is provided after tests, so you are able to learn not only what the correct answer is, but why you chose the wrong answer. This limits perseveration error: repeatedly responding incorrectly to a question because a better answer has neither been provided nor explained.

Strengths

  • Consistent revision of information allows for quicker retrieval from memory
  • Greater long-term recall of material
  • Increased self-confidence as performance increases
  • Improved cognitive organization and retrieval of material
  • Improved recall for direct and related and unrelated material
  • Extrapolation and transfer of material from one domain to another
  • Allows for visible improvement in subject matter
  • Leads to greater training satisfaction

Weaknesses

  • Generally disliked and avoided when learning, despite effectiveness
  • When answers are ‘given,’ most people lazily prefer to wait for answer rather than find their own
  • Testing without feedback can lead person to learning incorrect information
  • Incorporating into lifestyle requires some training and discipline

The plus, minus, equal system:

To improve your skill sets, train with someone who is better than you, someone who is equal to you, and someone not as good as you whom you teach.

This makes you better and keeps your ego in check.

Ryan Holiday: How to improve more quickly : Daily Stoic Youtube Channel


2. Distributed practice, or spaced repetition, involves scheduling revision sessions to review facts and concepts repeatedly and frequently over time. The ‘ideal’ time in-between revision lessons for long-term knowledge is approximately once every month.

As the Supermemo model demonstrates, repeatedly reviewing high-quality notes (discussed below) saves you time as the facts and concepts you’re learning move deeper into your longer-term memory and can be more quickly recalled when needed.

Strengths

  • Saves time as studying is broken up into smaller, more manageable time frames
  • Lowers stress as you’re more confident in your understanding of the knowledge
  • Consistent revision of information allows for quicker retrieval from memory

Weaknesses

  • Over short-term may mislead you into believing you know information better than you actually do
  • Not efficient for highly-complex tasks & hard skills
  • Most trainings & coachings are not designed with distributed practice in mind
  • Incorporating into lifestyle requires some training and discipline

3. Closed-book, elaborative interrogation assumes what you are learning is correct and accurate, and involves explaining “why” the particular set of facts and concepts being learned are correct and how they fit together in your own words. This is done without looking at your notes and the content you’re learning. Examples include answering questions such as

  • “Why is it true that X?”
  • “Why did X happen?”
  • “Which facts are also true if X is true?”
  • “Why is X true?”
  • “What would be true of X and not of another X?”

The Cornell Notes Sheet is an excellent note-taking technique which combines the best elements of elaborative interrogation, self-explanation, distributed practice, practice testing, summarization and rereading. By reading the questions without looking at your notes your brain actively seeks to retrieve the answer.

Strengths

  • Improved problem-solving skills, pattern recognition and endgame strategies
  • Solutions can be extrapolated and transferred to similar but unrelated situations
  • Facilitates recall of known facts and concepts
  • Advantageous for professionals with greater prior knowledge
  • Greater long-term recall of material

Weaknesses

  • Incorporating into lifestyle requires some training and discipline
  • Technique may not be accepted by certain cultures and personalities
  • Not efficient for professionals lacking sufficient prior knowledge
  • When answers are ‘given,’ most people lazily prefer to wait for answer rather than find their own

4. Self-explanation, similar to elaborative interrogation, involves explaining how the particular set of facts and concepts being learned relate to other facts and concepts you already know.

Examples include answering questions such as:

  • “Explain what X means to you.”
  • “What about X did you not already know before learning this?”
  • “How does X relate to what you already know?”
  • “Knowing X, how could you use it in the future?”
  • “Is there anything you still don’t understand about X?”

Strengths

  • Explaining in your own words ensures you fully understand the material being learned
  • Understanding similarities & differences increases cognitive processing
  • Facilitates recall of known facts and concepts
  • Advantageous for professionals with greater prior knowledge

Weaknesses

  • Incorporating into lifestyle requires some training and discipline
  • Technique may not be accepted by certain cultures and personalities
  • Not efficient for professionals lacking sufficient prior knowledge

5. Interleaved practice involves planning revision sessions alternating between known and being learned facts and concepts as opposed to grouping subjects and focusing ONLY on one type of material at a time. Rather than 1 hour of reviewing subject 1 followed by 1 hour of reviewing subject 2, you spend 2 hours reviewing both subjects 1 and 2.

Strengths

  • Improves connections made between old and new material
  • All material learned & reviewed simultaneously
  • Greater long-term recall of information
  • Works for facts & concepts as well as for highly-complex tasks & hard skills

Weaknesses

  • Incorporating into lifestyle requires some training and discipline
  • Highly-skilled professionals may be hindered by interleaving
  • Lower-skilled professionals may not benefit from interleaving

There are two ways of learning: Putting information into your brain, and drawing information from your brain.

Drawing information from your brain is the most efficient way to learn new material.