Imagine you had signed up to run a marathon. Gruelling, yet fun, the sense of achievement and accomplishment as you cross the finishing line is unlike any other.
To accomplish this extraordinary physical feat, you need to train. You will start off with short runs, interspersed with walking. As you near the day of your marathon run, you will increase your running. You will work on your stamina too, your ability to endure physical exercise, in mind, body and spirit.
Just like a marathon, embarking on a new course of study, especially after a long break away from learning and academia, will present you with a challenge.
At first, you may feel more than a little sluggish. The grey cells don’t seem to be as lightning fast as they once were; you don’t seem to retain, process and recall information like you used to.
Just like training for your epic marathon, you once again need to exercise the brain, awaken it from it hiatus so that you not only learn quickly, but efficiently too.
But how do you do that?
A holistic approach
All too often we exercise our body and our mind in isolation of each other, not realising that they are linked and combined. Good mental health is related to good physical health and vice versa.
What we eat is also important for looking after our whole being. Just like you can’t run a marathon by eating Jaffa cakes alone, you can’t take on a new course of study or expect to learn quickly if you are not taking on board the right fuel.
In other words, ditch the sugary snacks and drinks, and start to eat unprocessed, wholesome food. There are some people who swear by eating plenty of oily fish too, rich in omega 3 oils that are known to have a beneficial effect on the brain.
In order for your brain to function well, your body needs to function at its peak too. This means not only great food, but plenty of regular exercise and getting enough sleep.
Sleep deprivation is common amongst children, young people and adults. Extensive research from the National Sleep Foundation has found that the average adult needs seven to nine hours of restful sleep per night to function at their peak.
Could your diet be improved? Do you exercise regularly? Do you sleep for 7 hours + per night?
Identify and avoid distractions
We live in a digital world.
It has revolutionised many facets of life, including how we learn. Home learning courses can be studied online. You can be in constant touch with your learning provider and student support team via apps. You can also access materials and resources online.
But there is an inherent danger within this digital revolution. It is almost impossible to switch off and disconnect. In many cases, we have forgotten how.
Yesteryear, we perhaps would have spent the evening watching the TV, listening to the radio or maybe reading the day’s paper or latest blockbuster novel. In modern times we multi task, bombarding our senses and our brains with information from various channels, often at the same time.
When it comes to learning new skills, and soaking up knowledge, we need to focus on the subject in hand. What are your distractions – is it social media or something else? How often do you disconnect?
For home learning courses to be a success, you need to not only carve out time in your schedule, you also need to find space to work. It needs to be free from distractions. Find how you work best – some people prefer some music in the background, whilst other prefer complete solitude.
Learn something new
Pushing the boundaries is something we think we know how to do. But really, how much do you live within your comfort zone?
Do you try new cuisines, for example, or do you stick to the tried and tested? When was the last time you tried something new?
There is a saying, “life begins at the end of your comfort zone”, and when it comes to learning, this is certainly true.
Do you always try to learn in the same way? Do you read the course materials and then answer the question, following the same pattern, assignment after assignment? Or, do you attempt something new, like find an informative YouTube video from a reputable and trusted source?
As you work your way through your new qualifications or course, trying something new doesn’t have to be an academic course of action. Why not try something like icing a cake or learn to drive?
Music or silence
At one time, we were told that to truly focus on your studies, you need to study in sphere of complete silence. Exams are sat in silence, lessons at school and at some colleges are given in silence.
And yet, there is a thought that listening to music, having something lyrical and rhythmic in nature can help your brain focus. There has been much written in recent months about listening to music and its effects on learning.
Choose something with a steady, repetitive, rhythmic beat rather than something with soul-searching lyrics. And keep the volume down too. It goes without saying that you should only do this if it works for you; some people need and want complete silence as they study and learn.
The memory retains the important pieces of information we need and allows us to recall it when we need it; or that is the theory at least, but how often have you been in a situation, usually with a vast amount of pressure piled on, that you have been unable to recall the simplest of facts and information?
Memory games are a way of keeping the mind and the brain sharp. In academia, academics will often associate a topic or subject with a phrase or concept that is used as an aide memoir. In other words, they use something to jog their memory.
There are all kinds of games, both as apps and ‘board’ type games, which you can master to help your memory. But remember, like muscles in the body, memory-boosting games need to be practiced and used on a regular basis.
Build relationships too
Mood is important when learning or studying. If you feel low or depressed, you will be distracted. There are many reasons why your mood may be low but psychologists believe that regularly interacting and enjoying fulfilling relationships are part of parcel of feeling good about ourselves.
As you embark on your home learning course, what support networks do you have in place? At times when things are difficult, your work isn’t going as planned, who is there to listen and encourage you?
Imagine that you are part way through your course – you have hit a tough patch. The concept you need to grasp to progress is not coming easily. You are failing to grasp its major points.
What happens to your confidence and self-belief? It will rock or it may plummet. You may start to think that you have bitten off more than you can chew. Or you may be taken back to some unpleasant memories of when you were at school and when lessons were hard, your teacher was less than sympathetic.
The biggest obstacle to learning is our own self-doubt. It is time to change that thought pattern. It is time to understand that just because you are not grasping a new concept first time, it is not somehow a failure. It is the opposite.
You will learn and you will succeed. There will be times when things are tough and there will be times when the course seems to fly on by.
Organise your learning
To learn faster and more effectively, you need to tweak your learning style. And for many students this means being far more organised in their learning than what they currently are on a day-to-day basis.
When faced with a large topic, break it down into bite-sized chunks. Set deadlines but don’t be too harsh on yourself if you don’t meet them. Study when you work best, even if this is 6am or 11pm but remember you need to get sleep and be physically active too.
Choose home learning courses
For the ultimate in a worthwhile learning experience, there is nothing quite like you being in control of your learning.
You can read your course notes whilst lounging on the sofa, or you may set aside time to use the kitchen table as your desk. You may complete extra reading around your subject via your Kindle on the bus each morning, and read a chapter or two in an evening.
Home learning means learning your way, in your own time and at your own pace. It means finding self-discipline you never knew you had, along with drive, determination and focus. And, with so many home-learning courses to choose from, with which subject will you start?