“My brain becomes like a spider’s web: life can no longer pass without being caught” – Jules Renard

Although everyone has their own method of studying, learning always involves memory. Indeed, it is essential to record long-term information and thus consolidate one’s experience in order to move from slow and active processing to fast and automatic functioning.

Pillars of memory

The brain is made up of approximately 100 billion neurons which are the seat of cognitive functions. Depending on experience and learning, new synaptic connections (contacts between two neurons) are constantly being formed, as we pick up, sort, encode, store and reuse information. In the same way, as we memorize, the synapses strengthen, allowing faster and easier access to this knowledge. Finally, learning is about increasing performance.

There are a certain number of learning mechanisms which, if used properly, will help to develop these capacities: attention, which will determine the concentration time; motivation, which defines the level of satisfaction in reaching the objective; emotions, which will act as a lever or a brake; the rhythm of life, and in particular sleep, which will influence the assimilation of information; active engagement, which designates the effort made to understand; or consolidation, which generally involves repetition and practice. Thus, we can directly act on these mechanisms to improve our performance, but also work directly on our work method.

Find your strategy

Numerous work methods have been developed over the years, such as personal structuring, rereading, building flashcards, practice through exercises and so on. However, to find one’s method of working, one must first define whether one is visual, verbal, auditory or kinesthetic. This way, we can adapt our learning strategy by reinforcing our strong points, but also by using the other methods in order to optimize our performance.

Learning Profile Visual Auditory Verbal Kinesthetic
I need to… SeeHear / Say Feel the movement
Concretely?I see images or wordsI hear sounds or voices, I need to speak, I do mental recitation I make movements to learn, I mime
Work methodTake care of your note-taking, underline, highlight, make clear and structured cards, make diagrams or tables, use visual memorization techniques, be inventiveSpeak out loud to learn, rephrase with your own words, retain anecdotes, use phonetic mnemonics, recite to someoneStand up, walk around, mime while learning

Finally, whatever the strategy, one can also consolidate learning by repetition, by spacing out work periods of at least 24 hours, or by returning to one’s mistakes until one no longer makes them. It is thus necessary to go back to what we have already seen, but also to mentally represent what we are learning, in order to appropriate it.

Memorize without effort?

In general, memorizing requires repetition, during the revisions, and recall, during the restitution of knowledge. Ideally, we should get used to revising a little every day, and thus be more efficient.

In the scientific literature, studies present memorization methods that require little or less effort. For example, we can imagine listening to an audio file (on the time of transport for example), using a video format (more fun), taking notes in visual form (diagrams, drawings), creating mindmaps (breaking down a course to create connections beforehand) … In this way, it is possible to have quick access to one’s course or to display it, which makes it possible to revise it daily and without effort. What unites all these approaches is repetition, and recall is the key to creating automatisms.

We also find a new pedagogy, based on pleasure, which is called “gamification”. This process follows the principle of reward that occurs after passing a difficult level. Indeed, forcing oneself to learn can generate stress that will block memorization, hence the idea of transforming a banal and boring exercise into something fun and emotional. Thus, by using one’s imagination, the feeling of effort disappears and is replaced by a certain form of playful creativity.

Enfin, l’hypothèse du cône de Dale suggère que pratiquer permet de retenir 90% de l’information sans faire d’effort, tandis que lire ne permet d’en retenir que 10% (on apprend donc plutôt de ses erreurs). Les personnes actives auraient donc tendance à apprendre plus mais également à appliquer plus facilement ce qu’ils ont appris.

Finally, Dale’s cone hypothesis suggests that practicing allows us to retain 90% of the information without making any effort, while reading only allows us to retain 10% (we therefore learn from our mistakes). Active people would therefore tend to learn more but also to apply what they have learned more easily.

Learning without knowing it?

If “learning while sleeping” is not a proven solution, there is nevertheless knowledge that is implicit, i.e., not conscious, and which is acquired through imitation, practice, experience and experimentation. Thus, procedural and perceptive memory, reflexes, and non-associative learning are all mnemonic representations that do not require any memorization effort, since they are acquired by habit and awareness.

Moreover, learning unknowingly would go against the reflective posture essential to most pedagogies. In reality, it is not the fact of putting in a lot of effort in a short period of time that is effective, but rather remaining constant over time, which will give a feeling of mastery and rapid progress.

Finally, the brain does not learn on its own, but can acquire knowledge with minimal effort. Thus, rereading one’s notes when the information is still in short-term memory, making a summary of it (and thus making it one’s own), or repeating it until one no longer makes mistakes are all methods for effective, long-term learning. Moreover, when we are inactive, the brain continues to work, reorganizing and reinforcing its knowledge.