When learning a new subject, it’s easy to feel impatient. We blow through books, podcasts, and teaching apps in a rush to consume as much knowledge as quickly as possible, but research shows that this is an ineffective way to learn. According to a recent article from the Harvard Business Review, pausing to discuss information, even if it’s just with yourself, helps you retain it and better understand it.
HBR cites a study published in 2007 that found people who explained concepts to themselves learned three times as much as those who didn’t. One reason this might be the case has to do with the memory creation process. Another study from 2010 showed that when subjects were split into two groups, one tasked with memorizing words silently and another with reading them out loud, the group that vocalized the words was more likely to remember them.
But this tool can be used for more than just basic memorization. When tackling big ideas, pause in the middle of your studies and try asking yourself questions out loud. What caused such-and-such to happen? If such-and-such had happened instead, how might things be different? If a question comes up that you don’t know the answer to, you can always take the time to research it and broaden your knowledge.
Another strategy to employ is making connections. When having a one-sided conversation about the subject material, look for ways to compare it to concepts you already understand. Maybe a figure from World War I reminds you of a character from your favorite book, or a word in the new language you’re learning sounds like a word you already know that means something similar. By working through those relationships out loud, the new information you take in will have an easier time sticking in your brain.
Once you’re ready to call it a day, finish off your study session by summarizing what you’ve learned. Phrasing facts and ideas in your own words can help you recall them down the road. And if you feel uncomfortable talking to yourself, the practice works just as well if you do it with a friend—though there’s no shame in talking to an empty room for the sake of your education.
[h/t Harvard Business Review]