How do I improve my ability to learn?

Here is a similar question. I will tell why it doesn't answer my question here.

  1. Solving exercises is not my problem. My problem is learning the theoritical subjects where it is dense theory only.

  2. I tried teaching to someone else but that still doesn't help me to understand text content. It does help for recall though.

  3. I do active learning while reading textbooks. I write a lot of notes. But I simply can't get a conclusion reading books.

  4. Practice helps but only if I already understood the concept.

  5. I do overlearning. I actually understand everything when I overlearn. i.e first study from videos then from books. But it is not sustainable as I am approaching life after graduation and there are fewer and fewer video content afterwards.

  6. I have goals while learning. I learn paragraph by paragraph. It still becomes hard for me to comprehend it. But if I watch a video or some other source that is not text content, I can easily digest it.

  7. I do spaced repetition but that doesn't help me with learning new content.

  8. Encoding and active recall all come after learning new content.

  9. Deliberate practice doesn't help learning NEW Content but it does help strenghtening already learnt concepts.


2 Answers 2


At some point every scholar faces the fact that they no longer have a guide and that they are mostly on their own for learning new things. I can make a few suggestions.

If you are learning something completely new, expect it to be slow. If it is deep, expect it to be very slow. It took Einstein about ten years to come up with special relativity.

If you are learning something related to what you know already, try to build connections between the two. Try to get insights into the new topic from insights (and the way you obtained them) from the old.

Some of your approaches, such as #6 seem to be both based on memorization, not learning, and a too small, microscopic, view of the subject. You need a broad view and insight and that is unlikely to be found in any small section of a text, certainly not in a paragraph. Ask yourself constantly "How does it fit?".

Don't work alone. Einstein bounced ideas off of others in his circle during those ten years. And he used very old insights from Galileo to form the foundation. Discuss what you are learning with others who also might be interested.

If you absolutely have to work alone, don't work from just one text. Get a different book and compare what is written in the two (or more) texts. Different authors may take slightly different approaches to a topic and you might gather insight from that.

I'll suggest one simple technique that might help or not. It has two parts. First, as you read, take notes. Don't just copy what you read, but try to capture your understanding of them in a single sentence or two (not more). Take the notes on index cards and number them as you go, since you will eventually rearrange them and may want to put them back in order. You can use different colors of cards for different sorts of things also. Keep the backs of the cards empty initially.

The second part of the exercise is to select a few cards, perhaps at random, not always sequential. Look at those cards and think about whether there are interrelationships between what you have written on the cards. The goal is to use different approaches to try to find a big picture - insight. The backs of the cards can be used during review for notations. And you can create new cards as well.

The advantage of index cards over electronic capture is that you can always carry a few cards with you and spend a few minutes here and there reviewing just those cards. Let the mind work. Let it wander. Intense study over many hours can be self defeating, actually. The mind gets stuck. It gets tired. It rebels.

There is, of course, no plan that will work for everyone.

  • The card suggestion seems great to me, even to actually see if you understand the topic itself rather than the book presenetation alone.
    – Ratman
    Apr 27, 2022 at 7:31

Some people learn from reading better than others. I think there is no method that is best for all learners. Some of the points in your question are, indeed, good ways to do it for may readers. Maybe you are one of those who will require a live instructor in order to learn hard material?

Long ago, instructors used (very effective) corporal punishment (such as a ruler to the palm) to help learners; but that is frowned upon nowadays. I heard of a psychologist using such a method on himself... he kept a rubber band around his wrist; whenever he wanted to make himself remember something, he would pull it out and release, hoping the pain would reinforce the memory.

  • "no method that is best for all learners" Is often claimed, but rarely tested. Most tests just show that trying a new method of learning will help you learn. Apr 27, 2022 at 0:50

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .