This year admittedly, I have focussed much of my time on learning new things. It was primarily because I had more time given that I work three days a week (personal choice for my mental health and wellbeing) which left me the other days to focus on everything else. Given that there wasn’t much going on with regards to socialising or even going beyond 5kms from home, I had long stretches of time ahead of me that I happily filled with learning French as well as reading (I’m chuffed to say that it’s been my best reading year yet with 76 books read so far).
However, even during my work, I have focussed on learning the following:
- Microsoft PowerAutomate
- Active Campaign (email marketing software)
- MemberPress (a WordPress community site software program)
- and additional tools I use such as VideoAsk (which is new to my toolkit) and of course, Microsoft Teams which is always changing (along with the other Microsoft products)
So yes, a big learning year.
In addition to that, I’ve started following a whole group of new people online who actively talk and share about their own personal learning experiences and journeys and who are not in the corporate world or formal Learning and development field to see and learn from them if they do something different. I have noticed there’s a group currently on Twitter who are focussed solely on effective note taking and this is an area which I know I can improve immensely.
In fact, if I was to say which two aspects need to be honed now it would be:
(a) Note taking where my notes and ideas link and are easily referenced
(b) Mental models that I can use for any situation
I’ve been reading and watching what the Roam community is doing regarding the note taking and it seems to be a new way of taking notes that is very different to how Evernote or even OneNote is organised. Currently I have been an Evernote Pro user for many years (and during my day job, I use OneNote). However, where both fail me is that I want my ideas and notes to all link to each other.
For example, I can open a note in Evernote and if I type some ideas in it, it doesn’t easily reference any other notes in Evernote (and link to them) when I write it. So I have to stop writing, go to the search function and then search my notes, copy and paste the url into the note I’m tapping away. It’s a laborious process. It looks like Roam Research doesn’t use this hierarchial folder, sub-folder approach and instead uses ‘blocks’ that you can move around in effect, it can link all your work quite easily. I can imagine that for researchers this function would be fantastic.
The only thing that is preventing me to go over is the fact of learning a new system and devoting time to move everything over (YEARS of notes since 2013) to be transferred.
However, I just have to weigh up how important this is to me too. Many times, I go back to Evernote Premium because I just have a system there that has worked for me for many years. Evernote is the first place I save articles, resources, notes, all my book notes (from Kindle and others) and it’s the first place I do searches to surface content related to any projects I’m working on.
(Except for French which is all hand written because I just seem to remember more when I write in paper pads and with pens – and it’s really important for me to have what I learn stick in my head).
The second is about mental models and am I glad that there’s a great website called Model Thinkers by my friends @ArunPradhun and Shai Desai @twiceshai who have created this excellent site and published it recently.
The site is a curated collection of different mental models that you can read about. Each mental model has linked references and resources to read further along with resources and a community that you can access if you pay for a subscription. You can also sign up to the newsletter which spells out the Mental Model for the week.
Since it was published, I signed up to the newsletter and have been reading the mental models that I have specifically been putting into practice from my French studies this year in the hope of looking at what I’m learning (and my frustrations with it) in a different way. I like the actionable takeaways which also make me understand WHY I do things the way I do and how to break that habit which is not serving me.
I noticed that some mental models don’t align to how we learn in corporate contexts – which is fair enough – but in other types of learning, it’s critical.
For example, this year, I have focused on the model of Spaced Repetition. This is not something I had to use in workplace learning. After all, I learned something new then I applied it to some work project and I moved on. There was no need to reconfirm my learning of it. However, for my French language training this was CRITICAL. I had to develop a way to consistently keep returning to new words learned, new grammar structures and syntax and repeat them in different ways so they could STICK in my head.
The spaced repetition was important for me in language training and the way I did it is by revisiting and reviewing the vocabulary every couple of days and then creating sentences from it. For example, every day, j’ecris dans un journal intime – I write in a personal diary – and I incorporate the words I learned into the entry for that day.
Another way I do this is that I have an old French dictionary – Premier Dictionnair en Images – which has pictures in it. I colour in the black and white pictures and write sentences in each entry because the colour, my hand writing – and if I make the sentences funny, it helps me remember the words. In effect, I’ve basically scribbled in the book completely. I simply couldn’t do this electronically as I would have forgotten most of the words.
However there are plenty of apps online to help you with spaced repetition such as:
Quizlet (which is what I have used in the past which is easy to use and learn)
Now, there are many flashcard apps to use if you wanted to find out some others. I found DuoLingo (for language learning) uses the same principle (although it’s not the way I’m learning French).
How I Use Spaced Repetition
For me, currently I’ve decided to go “old school”. Good old post it notes and cardboard flash cards that I leave on the kitchen table and pick up every so often to test myself.
Also I have bought some thick French Exercise Activity books with hundreds of pages of written activities. I complete the exercises and then re-write them into a notebook. The feedback? Well, that is by checking the back of the book in the Answers to see what the response is and then working backwards.
I have deliberately opted with this approach simply because as I mentioned before, I want to minimise my screen time – and focus more on WRITING (not tapping on keyboards).
The physical act of writing with a pencil, or pen onto paper, completing multiple exercises and activities and then contextualising them by re-writing my own sentences in a diary simply makes it stick in my head more than tapping it out onto a keyboard. Also, I’m not too fussed about getting scores at the end of it. For me, it’s either RIGHT or it’s WRONG.
If it’s wrong, I correct it. If it’s correct, I will apply it somewhere else through my written work – or chatting with my tutors on iTalki to embed it into my long term memory (hopefully).
So before you ask me “what’s the best way for spaced repetition” or “what app do you use” – I go by the principle that don’t waste your time trying to figure out the app. Instead, firstly look at how your study style is like. If you’re someone who wants to have all your work electronically and recorded, by all means, use these apps and build your learning out to some kind of portfolio of different work if you need to demonstrate it to others.
However, if you don’t need to do this, simple post-it notes and hand made flash cards do the job just as well – as long as you keep revisiting them over time so you don’t forget them or keep using them in conversation or writing over time.
I hope you found this blog post useful.
Always be learning!