2 Ways to Learn Any Difficult Topic Faster (And Better)

Use multiple media to learn the same information.

Thomas Oppong
May 19 · 5 min read
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Illustration: Antonio Uve

Better learning takes time.

Our brain needs more time to learn, process information and create new and better neural connections for better recall.

If you want to learn something you are not familiar with or a difficult topic, you need more than single study session to make it stick.

Despite the obstacles of learning, there’s almost always going to be something new you’ll need to learn to become better at what you do or improve your intellect to consistently deliver at your best.

Learning difficult topics can be profoundly confusing and paradoxical. It doesn’t happen easily for many people. You won’t always have a focused mind to concentrate and comprehend the concepts you are trying to understand.

But that shouldn’t stop you from upgrading your knowledge or skills about things or topics you care about. Remember that the better you get at comprehending a topic, the more enjoyable it can become. Learning how to learn can make a huge impact on how you improve your life and career. Don’t give up because it’s hard.

“We tend to give up way too quickly when we have to learn something exceedingly difficult. We usually tell a story to keep our guilt at bay. It sounds like “I’m not cut out for this” or “I’m just one of those people” and so on” argues Neuro.

Many topics can seem difficult to you because you’ve heard it’s hard, so you assume a fixed mindset about it and rule out the possibility that you can understand it. Some subjects can also be hard if you are not familiar with the fundamental concepts, using the wrong approach or you are trying on your own without the necessarily help to started.

Whatever the reason maybe, you can still at least try to learn something out of your comfort zone if you deeply care about the topic or want to simply learn how something works. Learning challenging subjects can improve your perspectives in life.

Here are ways I’ve found useful for learning difficult subjects quickly. I’m using them to improve my knowledge about physics, philosophy, micro and macro economics and investing.

1: To Understand Faster, Use Multiple Media to Learn The Same Information

When you begin the tedious journey to discover something completely new, you’re going to come across concepts or words you’re not familiar with.

To comprehend them fully, use multiple media that explain the same things differently. Make the most of words, videos, audios, visuals, mappings etc.

Multiple perspectives can help you wrap your head around most tough subjects. Get insights from books, videos, podcasts, anything you can get your hands on online that can help you master it. If the topics is outside your domain, don’t pretend you understand the first time you learn it, look it up. Find out what different experts have to say about it.

Read insightful books and even book summaries to get the big picture, watch videos on TED, YouTube or Coursera. Listen to podcasts. Watch a documentary that explains it. Look up online blogs that dip deeper and explain things better.

You won’t be able to look it up in one sitting or learn even the basics in a single session. Start with the basic concepts and aim to understand them deeply to build a firm foundation. You are better off knowing the root of a difficult topic than looking out for leaves and branches with no firm foundation.

Every time you explore a different source or media you reinforce the idea and the basic concepts in your brain, making it easier to retain or remember it — you’ll learn be able to learn faster this way and build on that knowledge quickly.

Whatever combination of content you choose to use, what’s most important is to use learning strategies that maximise your recall. Do more of what works or makes comprehension quicker.

2: When In Doubt, Attempt to Recall or Teach Others

Practice doesn’t make you perfect — practice makes you better. Whatever you aim to understand, learn to review the information periodically or better still explain it to other people in the simplest way possible.

“Attempting to recall the material you are trying to learn — retrieval practice — is far more effective than simply rereading the material,” says Barbara Oakley, author of A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science.

Better retrieval practices (including deliberate repetition, taking notes and teaching others) consolidate new knowledge more effectively in the memory. This approach helps build mental chunks of knowledge that can be then used faster and effortlessly.

“Learning well moves in a loop, not a line. You constantly go back to confusion, insights, expansion and refinement so that you learn ideas deeper,” writes Scott Young.

Research has shown that the more effort you put into recalling what you learn, the deeper it embeds itself into your memory. We learn better by exposure the same information multiple times. Repetition is crucial to any types of learning.

Another way to enhance new knowledge recall is the attempt to explain it to others. You don’t have to completely understand the topic explain it. In fact, the more you try to teach others what you learn the more you understand it.

“You’ll be surprised to see how often understanding arises as a consequence of attempts to explain to others and yourself, rather than the explanation arising out of your previous understanding,” argues Barbara.

Learning by teaching others in simple terms can also help you pinpoint the holes in your knowledge. In Albert Einstein’s words: “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

This approach of learning has a lot in common with the Feynman technique — a learning model coined by Nobel-prize winning physicist Richard Feynman.

According to Feynman, the true hallmark of genius is the ability to explain things simply — so simple, in fact, that you could explain it to an eight-year-old.

Known as the “Great Explainer,” Richard Feynman was respected for his ability to clearly explain difficult topics like quantum physics to anyone. The Feynman Technique is laid out clearly in James Gleick’s biography, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman.

Whatever you want to achieve, have, be, or do, accelerated learning is your best bet. Learning any difficult topic or skill will take time but it’s worth it. To accelerate the process and learn faster, use a combination of different content types, review the new knowledge periodically, practice what you know and take quality breaks between sessions.

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

Thomas Oppong

Written by

Founder @AllTopStartups | Featured at Forbes, Business Insider, etc. | Join my personal newsletter for life and career tools at https://postanly.substack.com

Mind Cafe

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

Thomas Oppong

Written by

Founder @AllTopStartups | Featured at Forbes, Business Insider, etc. | Join my personal newsletter for life and career tools at https://postanly.substack.com

Mind Cafe

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

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