How to Learn Faster If You Are Not a Genius
Simple tools to learn any skill faster.
By improving their learning speed, some people achieved seemingly impossible feats. One student finished the MIT computer science curriculum in one year instead of four. Another learned nine languages while touring Europe.
The crazy thing is these super learners are not born like this — they learn to learn faster as you would any other skill. Yes, you can boost your learning speed.
Finishing college in a year and speaking nine languages are extreme cases. Yet, boosting your learning speed, even by little, grants you huge long term benefits.
If you learn to learn faster, your career or business grows quicker than others; you outsmart your competitors and even rank at the top of tournaments.
How can you learn faster? It has to do with a method called meta-learning. Let me explain.
A technique to help you learn anything faster
Here’s the thing: whatever you want to learn, don’t just pick a course and dive straight into it — most curricula, whether online or in school, aren’t optimised for your personal needs.
You must build a learning map that helps you reach the outcome you want as fast as possible. This technique of building learning maps is known as meta-learning.
Scott Young discusses meta-learning in his book: Ultralearning. Many famous entrepreneurs, such as Elon Musk and Gabriel Weinberg, use it.
To give you an example, imagine you must empty a hundred water bottles as fast as you can. If you don’t know the trick of fast discharge (swirling the bottle), you’ll do what most people do — flip the bottle into the sink and squeeze it — a massive waste of time.
Meta-learning is like the trick to empty a water bottle faster — it’s all about the methods that can help you speed up your learning.
Here’s a three-step strategy to build learning maps that will help you learn any topic super fast.
1 — Know your type of motivation to learn
When you learn something new, your motivation is either internal or external.
Internal motivation: you learn because you genuinely enjoy the topic; you have a passion for it. For example, you want to speak French because you love how it sounds.
External motivation: you learn to achieve a specific outcome not related to the topic you want to learn. For example, you want to learn software, writing, or entrepreneurship, to make a lot of money.
Here’s your first step: Know which kind of motivation drives you to learn.
Why? Because a topic has many sections, and most of them are irrelevant to your goal.
Once you have a clear image of the outcome you want, focus your time and energy on the best sections and skip the trivials forever or later.
2 — Build the structure before you start
Learning a skill is like navigating a building to look for a treasure.
If you know the structure of a building better than everyone, you’ll take the fastest route to get what you want inside that building.
Here’s your second step: Learn the structure of the topic to speed up your understanding.
To do so, create a table with three columns: concepts, facts, and procedures.
Concepts are the things you need to understand the topic. They are the fundamental principles, theories, and formalisms.
Facts are truthful things that you must know and remember about the topic. They come in the form of laws, techniques, or statements.
Procedures are all the actions you must take to get better at the topic. They increase your skill level and practical knowledge.
1 — Find all possible concepts, facts, and procedures and write them down.
2 — Order the items from each column by the level of challenge and importance — give an impact factor to each item.
3 — Gather the resources relevant to each concept, fact, and procedure.
Once you finish, you’ll have a good knowledge tree for the topic. You’ll understand the obstacles you will face and the best ways to overcome them.
“It is important to view knowledge as a tree. Make sure you understand the fundamental principles (the trunk and big branches) before you get into the leaves (details) or there is nothing for them to hang on to.”
— Elon Musk
3 — Know where to start and what to leave
Knowing where to start and what to leave later will make a massive difference to your learning speed. The B.E.E (Benchmark, Emphasis, and Exclude) method will help you do that. This brings you to the third step.
- Gather highly rated resources — best selling online courses, books, articles, and top university courses.
- Download the syllabus of the resources you gathered.
- Look for common patterns in these syllabi.
- Focus on areas with maximum overlap.
Emphasise and Exclude
To reach the desired level of mastery as soon as possible, you must customise your curriculum to fit your personal goal.
The way to achieve this is by maintaining what is important to you and excluding what is not. Here are two examples:
- If you want to speak Italian during a trip to Florence, emphasise learning to pronounce and exclude learning how to spell.
- If you want to build apps quickly, focus on app development rather than theories of computer science.
Super learning is not talent or genius-linked; it’s a skill you can learn to increase your learning speed greatly.
A sure path to being a super learner is to use meta-learning. Build learning maps to help you understand the sections of your topic faster than ordinary people.
No matter what field you dream of mastering, meta-learning will speed your learning compared to your workmates and competitors. And the more you use meta-learning, the more efficient you become at learning — it’s a certain way for you to become a super learner.