Module 4 - Learning Strategies

Home | eCourses

In this module we will be looking at factors which assist learning and how they can be converted into practical learning strategies.

There are six main factors which assist learning:

  1. Readiness
  2. Primacy
  3. Recency
  4. Intensity
  5. Association
  6. Revision


People learn best when they are both physically and mentally ready to learn. Some of the factors that can affect readiness are worries, sickness, medication, not knowing or understanding the learning objectives and a poor learning environment.

Primacy and Recency

People tend to recall the beginning of events more than the middle, and will recall a first event more than continued repetitions of that event. People also tend to recall events which are very recent.

The knowledge that the brain recalls first and last things best is useful in any learning situation, for it helps to organize time and increase recall.

For example, studying for four hours without a break, gives only one primacy and one recency situation, allowing recall to sag in the middle.

Breaking the four hours into more reasonable units provide more 'first and last' situations with a consequent rise in recall.

The time units have to be long enough to enable the mind to build up a rhythm, and short enough to prevent it from having too large a sag in the middle. A study time of between 10 and 45 minutes (depending on difficulty and interest) with breaks of between two and five minutes seems to be ideal.

This not only helps recall, but also helps assimilation of the learning because, in the breaks, your mind has had a chance both to rest and to sort out the information it has been taking in during the learning period.


People recall anything which is strange, unusual or out of context. Really outstanding events, whether good or bad, usually remain indelibly marked in the mind. Learning is improved when it becomes a live, vivid experience.

The effective use of visual aids such as slides, pictures, white boards and mock-ups with colour for reinforcement can enhance the learning experience. The frequent use of examples or related 'games' can conjure up mental images and help recall.

Knowing that the brain recalls things which are outstanding, you can assist learning by emphasizing — mentally or physically — those areas which are particularly important. This means making things larger than life, giving them extra-bright or contrasting colours, and placing them in situations that make them 'stand out'. These techniques can also be applied to note-taking.


People recall anything which is connected rather than something which is disconnected. Often a memory 'pops up' when the right connection is made.

Learning can be assisted by consciously looking for links in the information your are learning. Note-taking techniques such as 'Mind Mapping' help identify links and connections.

Learning is strengthened when accompanied by satisfying experiences and emotions. The senses of hearing, smell and movement can be particularly evocative of events. This is used in 'accelerated learning' where the learning experience is accompanied by music, perfumes and movement.


Part of the ability to recall depends on the 'strength of the brain pattern' laid down biologically and electrically. This strength is increased by repeating the memory pattern. In practical terms, this means that anything which is reviewed will tend to be more firmly lodged in the brain than something which is simply skimmed over once and left to recede.

Proper revision does not mean a blind repetition of information, but means an organized series of special times for looking at information already understood. Normally, after only four or five reviews, the information being reviewed will enter the 'long-term memory'.

Revision should be sensibly spaced out. This normally means that after a period of learning, your mind should be given a short period for rest and integration — say ten minutes — followed by a first review. The second, third, fourth and fifth reviews can take place at increasing intervals, something like a day for the second, a week later for the third, a month later for the fourth, four months later for the fifth.

It is important to revise only that information you really wish to remember, and not all the information you might have taken in while reading the book or listening to the lecture. This ability to select the specific information needed for review can be usefully combined with the ability to extract key words and key areas of meaning.

The other advantage of proper revision is that the more the information your brain already contains is reviewed, the more easily you will be able to latch on to new, incoming information.

The brain which has forgotten most of what it has learnt will find new learning far more difficult than the brain which is completely up to date, and is ready to compare, contrast, and connect the incoming information with the information already stored.


The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two
The Accelerated Learning Handbook by Dave Meier
Accelerated Learning Pocketbook by Dave Meier
Make the Most of Your Mind by Tony Buzan (includes mind mapping)

< Module 3   Module 5 >