How we learn best

How we learn best

Factor that influence our ability to learn

By understanding how our brain functions, and reflecting on the learning process we can change the way we think about our capacity to learn.

Often, during times of high pressure we find it more difficult to concentrate on what we are doing. By training ourselves to pay attention to the present moment will enable to return to the task once we notice we have been distracted. With practice we can increase our capacity to maintain our attention for a period of time.
Sometimes, memories of past experiences where we had difficulties with similar tasks which may have resulted in poor outcomes, or where we felt we failed, may be interrupting our concentration in the current moment. These thoughts may bring up feelings of frustration or a sense of doubt that we can complete the task effectively. 

Perhaps we are concerned about how others will evaluate our work and this may trigger further self-doubt and imagine future scenarios anticipating failure. From an evolutionary perspective our brains are designed to anticipate negative outcomes so that we can prepare for them. It does not mean that these thoughts are reflecting what will happen. 

How we learn best

Carol Dweck (2006) has raised awareness of the importance of the concept of ‘mindset’. She highlighted the significant influence it can have on how we view ourselves, particularly when it comes to learning. She described the fixed mindset where people perceive their abilities are fixed and are not able to make progress. Whereas those who have a ‘growth mindset’ – where the view is that we have the capacity to learn and continue to grow – means that we have tremendous possibilities for life long learning.
By adopting this perspective, where we are capable of continuous development, permits us to develop our knowledge and skills  provided we maintain an open and flexible attitude. By paying attention to our thoughts we can identify old beliefs about our ability to learn that may be holding us back. 

By focusing on the tremendous flexibility and plasticity of our brains we can boost our motivation and desire to continue to persevere with our tasks. 


By keeping in mind we have the capacity to develop our knowledge and skills, we are more likely to be able to manage periods of uncertainty about how things will turn out. As we notice progress in our tasks we can derive a sense of satisfaction that we are developing our skills. Having a growth mindset can enable us to manage whenever we face obstacles provided we maintain a flexible attitude and keep an open mind to the possibility that things can improve as a result of our efforts (Mlodinov, 2018). This attitude will strengthen our ability to develop our sense of self-efficacy: the belief that we have the resources and abilities to manage the challenges we face in a positive manner (Bandura, 1997).

The concept metacognition’  (Flavell, 1979) refers to the knowledge we have of our cognitive processes, and of the regulation of them, while we focus on something we are learning. That is, noticing when we are thinking about our thinking. Observing and reflecting on how we are learning can enable us to take control of how we work/study. For example, it can help us identify when we are distracted and then redirect our attention back to the task.

By using our ability to observe our thinking and what we are doing we can monitor our progress, evaluate how we are doing and regulate our thinking while we work on a task. As we notice and acknowledge our progress it will boost our motivation to keep going until we complete the task.  By focusing on progress we can then feel that our efforts are worth it, even if at times we make mistakes (Amabile, 2016).

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”(Albert Einstein).

“Life is pretty simple: You do some stuff. Some fails. Some works. You do more of what works.” (Leonardo da Vinci)


Andreasen,, N.C. (2005) The creating brain. The neuroscience of genius. Washington: The Dana Foundation.

Bandura, A. (1997) Self-efficacy. The exercise of control. Now York: W.H.Freeman and Company.

Dweck, C. S. (2006) Mindset. How you can fulfil your potential. New York: Balantine books.

Flavell, J.H. (1979) Metacognition and cognitive monitoring. American Psychologist, 34, pp. 906-911.

Ericsson, A. & Pool, R. (2016) Peak. Secrets from the new science of expertise. London: The Bodley Head.

Miettinen, R. (2000) The concept of experiential learning and Jown Dewey’s theory of reflective thought and action. International journal of lifelong education, Vol, 19,, No1, pp54-72

Mlodinov,, L. (2018) Elastic. Flexible thinking in a constantly changing world. London: Allen Lane.

Oakley, B. (2014) A mind for numbers. How to excel at math and science. New York: Tarcher/Penguin[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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