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Active Learning is The Secret to Studying Faster

Active vs. Passive Learning

Here’s a term you’re going to get familiar with. Here at Foster Our Future, passive learning is the devil and we certainly won’t be fostering it in your future. So what’s the difference?

  • Active learning refers to a type of learning that includes reasoning, rationalising, conceptualising, and questioning. It is an inquisitive process that requires effort and concentration, often paired hand-in-hand with more varied learning techniques. Active learning is more difficult but incomparably more effective.
  • Passive learning refers to a type of existence where you assume you are learning because you are reading, writing, watching a video, or listening to something, but your brain activity is equivalent to the battery on your dad’s laptop, i.e. imminently dying. Passive learning requires no effort, yet makes you more drowsy. It is an entirely ineffective method of studying.

Three simple ways to study more efficiently

1. Increase variation

Study in different locations, write notes a different way, test yourself in different ways, teach your friend, pretend to teach, teach yourself, spend longer thinking curiously about that test question/flashcard.

All of these methods have been shown to increase learning efficacy and retention. It means you need to try harder, but the benefits will far outweigh the costs and eventually, you won’t be able to stand passive studying ever again!

Variety may be the spice of life, but when it comes to studying, it is the life itself.

2. Relax

Interestingly, trying to focus too hard can actually detriment your learning. There is a lot of learning psychology here and we aren’t entirely sure why yet, but giving yourself the mental freedom to switch between subtopics, categories, facts, pages, books, and concepts has been shown to dramatically increase the rate that connections can form between ideas. And connections = learning.

The combination of increased variation with more flexible thinking is called “interleaving” and is used by learning experts internationally. Elite athletes, musicians, boxers, and your everyday academic all use interleaving in their ability to learn their speciality. This practice has been studied for years and has recently made the rounds in a popular blog post by PsyBlog.

“When interleaving, tennis players might practice forehands, backhands, and volleys altogether. Interleaving for musicians could mean practicing scales, arpeggios, and chords all in the same session”

The downside, as mentioned by PsyBlog and as experienced by all of our students, is that it feels much slower and more difficult to learn. We will touch on this later in the course, but we will tell you with certainty that the feeling is unquestionably worth it.

3. Experiment with routines

Normally a night person? Try the morning. Like the morning? Make friends with darkness. Switching up your routine has two distinct benefits. The first is that by actively choosing to experiment with different times of the day, you become more aware of how your learning is performing in different situations and stimuli. This is called meta-cognitive learning and is one of the greatest indicators of long-term success.

The second is that your brain is able to explore a different pattern of thinking at different times. By breaking out of habit, you put your brain a touch outside of its comfort zone, introducing a need to adapt, which in turn can improve creativity and learning. Changing routines every couple weeks is a great top-up for the lifelong learner.

How long do you think you can last?

Most students find it difficult to put so much effort into their learning when first starting their sustainable learning journey.
Challenge yourself to go just one month! If you can, you’re in the minority.


Want to learn how to study twice as easily and in half the speed? You’ll love our mentoring and skills development program. We have online courses with practical strategies to take you from a beginner level learner all the way to ultra-advanced.

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