An Incremental Approach to Learning

“Be not afraid of going slowly. Be only afraid of standing still”. (Chinese Proverb)

Effective Learning

Learning is most effective when full responsibility of the learning process is assumed. From the student’s perspective, viewing the ‘teacher’ as being but one resource in a learning journey for which they have ultimate responsibility for is paramount.

For optimal learning, students must specifically take control of the metacognitive aspects – the ‘how’ (i.e. the process) of learning in addition to the ‘what’ (i.e. the key learning objectives). In reality however, the natural inclination of most students is to pay full focus and attention towards ‘what’ in their keenness to get good grades.

Focus on the Process!

You may be familiar with the cliché often heard from prominent sporting and business coaches; focus on the process to improve results. Some will even attest that results can be a distraction. What is meant by this is that too much focus and emotional attachment towards the ‘results’ can take away due focus on the ‘how’.
One must therefore learn to place more trust and value on the ‘how’, as this will be the ultimate key to success. For some, this change of focus can be a leap of faith!

One way students can do this is by considering the process of ‘incremental’ learning. A key component of active learning, the incremental approach provides a handy blue-print of the ‘how’ underpinning effective learning. The major components are detailed below.

Incremental Learning

1) Audit your mindset – Are you ready to assume full control of learning and make this your sole responsibility, as opposed to assuming it’s your teachers? Clearly results are important, but are you ultimately prepared to make the metacognitive process (i.e. the ‘How’ of learning) a key consideration in your study and preparation?

2) Commit to learning the basics – Understanding the most important key and derivative content underpinning your work is paramount. Put simply, a strong understanding of the basics will help with subsequent retrieval and application. Taking a slow and deliberate approach will help improve your learning quality. Reminding yourself to ‘go slow to go fast’ can prevent less wasted effort on re-work in the long term.

3) Perfect and memorise the basics – How are you going to perfect the basics? Practice, practice and more practice is key. Break up and set goals for your practice. Reflect on your experiences with each study session. How are you measuring improvement? What are you ‘getting’ and what else do you need to improve on? Practice will essentially allow you to more effectively commit this information to memory, recall and correct application for later use.

4) Expand on the basics – In addition to your staple resources (e.g. teachers, readings, colleagues etc.), what are some additional resources you can supplement your learning with? It might simply include outside readings, but equally, it may include past exam papers or attending a master class ran by another institution. Often, it’s the research that we do “off our own back” which helps further our learning.

5) Create your ‘own form’ of Mastery – Often when you reflect on people who have mastered their art, they possess their ‘own form’. Consider for example professional golfers or musicians; many show unique and an advanced style underpinned by mastery of the basics. With respect to an academic context, consider for instance what makes an ‘exceptional essay’… Often exceptional essays do not just simply fulfil the requirements of the question, but they go above and beyond the scope and provide extra insight; going that ‘little bit extra’. So consider whether there is opportunity for you to demonstrate your mastery above and beyond the initial scope of the learning requirement.

In summary, there are no short cuts to effective learning; it requires conscious effort on the how in addition to the what of learning. However, the incremental approach is a deliberate & sequential method that in the long run, can accelerate your learning!

So whether you are a student, teacher or simply a lifelong learner (we all are)! – see how you go with applying the prescribed steps in your next learning venture!

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