Learning to learn

In order to learn, you must have a desire to learn and to improve yourself.

Every now and again, it is a good idea to stop and think about exactly how you learn: what are the specific ways in which you understand and learn new things? There are many ways of learning. Be curious. Explore and experiment with new ways of learning.

Learning to learn is a continuous process. You will gradually build up an overview of your studies and of the things that you are learning. You might think of this moment as the start of a ‘study journey’. Every student has a different journey.

It is important to achieve successes, but it is equally important not to fear failures. You should learn how to deal with a sense of incompleteness and how to tolerate uncertainty – after all, these can be highly creative states. Entering the Sibelius Academy, you already have plenty of knowledge and skills. This provides a firm foundation on which to build new learning. The most direct route is not always the best route to any given goal. You have the freedom of choice, and choosing a roundabout route to your goal can also be a conscious choice!

Your goals – your insights – your gratification

Practice the skill of setting goals for yourself. The more specific you are in defining and setting your goals, the easier they will be to attain. It is a good idea to break down long-term goals into smaller parts.

Attaining these interim goals is rewarding, and as you see yourself progressing step by step, you gain the confidence you need to proceed.

Also, ensure that each of your goals is a challenge yet also realistic, i.e. achievable with good, hard work. Goals that are too easy to attain make you bored, while goals that are too challenging and unrealistic may depress you and erode your motivation.

Sleep is important for learning

Sleep is crucially important for all learning. In the night, the brain processes things learned during the day, analysing them and transferring them to long-term memory. It is a fascinating and exciting thought that up to half of all the learning you do actually happens while you are sleeping!

Feelings and learning

Feelings, both positive and negative, have an impact on all your learning. It is known that negative feelings restrict your thinking and actions, while positive feelings make you more observant, boost your creativity and help you discover and improve new skills and knowledge and new ways of thinking.

Be aware of your feelings and try to determine what you want and what you do not want.

It is inspiring and effortless to work if you are enthusiastic and have an open mind. By contrast, studying becomes a burden if you are busy and stressed, and it is difficult to focus.

Believe in your potential to learn and to make progress and in your ability to solve problems, thus building up a positive self-image. Constantly doubting your own abilities and competence is exhausting and erodes your self-esteem.

Constructive and realistic self-criticism is a useful learning tool, but unnecessarily harsh self-criticism and placing unreasonable demands on yourself not only jeopardise your learning process but may actually block it.

Learning is not always easy! A manageable level of stress is a source of energy that helps you tackle difficult learning challenges. However, if stress becomes excessive, it overloads the brain  and fosters negative feelings such as fear and anxiety. Find ways to relax. Your brain, mind and body will welcome it.

We can choose where to focus our thoughts. If you want to improve your learning attitude and to dispel beliefs that hinder or restrict your learning, you do not have to try to do that alone. In such a case, you may contact the educational psychologist, for example.

Analysing your learning and keeping a learning diary

You should analyse your learning experiences. What kind of observations do you make?

Listen to yourself and analyse yourself. Use all your senses in learning new things.

Share your experiences and thoughts with your fellow students, or meditate and write about them.

A good way of keeping in touch with how your studies are going is to keep a learning diary. You can call it a practice diary or a work diary just as well. How you write the diary is completely up to you: you can associate freely and write about things as they occur to you, or you can use a predetermined structure.

The purpose of keeping a learning diary is that you can analyse and shape your thoughts by writing down what you have done and experienced. You may write on a daily or a weekly basis. You may write about absolutely anything and everything, or restrict your writing to specific topics, for instance when preparing for a performance or a written examination. In everyday conversation, you do not necessarily notice if there are conflicts or gaps in your thinking. Writing your thoughts down is the best way to discover gaps in your knowledge and inconsistencies in your argumentation.

The main thing is that you should have as low a threshold as possible for writing things down; think of it as a nice habit rather than an unpleasant task. Of course, the diary can only be useful if you write it with some sort of a ‘scientific’ approach. In addition to writing down your thoughts and experiences, you should also take time to reflect on what their meaning is for you. Consider which things feel difficult and which things feel easy, and why this is the case. Describe which things you understand and which things you do not. Write about your observations and experiences, sources of joy and causes for displeasure. Write about your reactions, your feelings, your goals, your fears and your wishes. Write down questions that have occurred to you.

This process is a means for reflecting on yourself and for learning more about yourself. Writing things down improves your self-awareness and your self-evaluation skills.

You can go on keeping the diary from one year to the next. Revisit your old entries from time to time. You may notice something that you might not have remembered if you had not written it down. You may find that you are now able to do something that you could only dream about a couple of years earlier or that you are still banging your head against the wall with the same problem as back then. In the latter case, you may find some insight in your notes from earlier that will help you take a new troubleshooting approach to this difficulty.

Learning can be learned

Learning is not something you know how to do automatically; you can consciously learn how to learn and improve your learning skills. The more you are familiar with your own ways and habits of learning, and the more actively you rehearse your learning skills, the better your learning results will be.

Learning to learn is about thinking of questions such as these:

  1. Why do you study?
  • What is your motivation?
  • What interests you?
  • Why are you studying right now?
  1. How can you best learn things? How can you best concentrate?
  1. Do you aim to gain an understanding of things? How? Do you consciously link new things to knowledge that you already have? Or do you learn details by heart without considering the big picture? What is your learning strategy like?
  1. Is what you are doing feasible for the thing you are studying?
  1. Do you work efficiently? Do you achieve learning? How can you change the ways in which you work?

Often we just assume that everyone can read. We rarely realise that there are different ways of reading and that repetition and revision has a huge impact.

“Learning is about attitude, not ability.” (Dr Georgi Lozanov)