Learning new information as an adult

Learning new information as an adult

Children are very good at picking up patterns implicitly. But after age 12, we lose some of that capacity to absorb new information.

This does not mean that adults can't learn. We still have "neuroplasticity" - the ability for the brain to rewire itself in response to new challenges.

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There are many general benefits of embracing new skills.

  • Long-term brain changes can slow the mental decline that comes with ageing. A study of adults - aged 58 to 86 - who pursued a handful of courses showed a marked improvement on more general cognitive tests - matching the performance of adults 30 years younger. The benefits came from pursuing multiple skills, not just one skill.
  • The ongoing pursuit of different interests may increase your creativity.
  • Intellectual humility - the capacity to recognise the limits of your knowledge - can open your minds to new ways of thinking.

Anyone can use these basic principles to make learning more effective.

  1. Learn from your mistakes. Instead of repeating information over and over, think about what you did right and what you did wrong.
  2. Practice should be varied. Change how you learn something. It forces the brain's learned patterns to become more flexible.
  3. Teach others the same skill. Consider sharing the skill you're learning with someone you know.

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