They both make learning fast and easy
Learning is a passion for me, and despite leaving college decades ago, I still love the idea of learning something new. It’s an activity I’ve had to do throughout my life working in the IT industry. You cannot work in IT and not be challenged by learning opportunities all the time.
But there is a downside: the time it takes to master new topics can be lengthy. You need to have lots of enthusiasm and an eye on the long game. What if you were able to master a topic much quicker and a lot more effectively.
That could be a game-changer.
Elon Musk has two rules to help him learn fast
I’m always looking for ways to help me ace new subjects, and Elon Musk is known for the way he enters new industries and shakes them up with his ideas and ability to dominate markets. What are his two rules?
He thinks of a subject like a tree of knowledge. A tree has a trunk, big branches, and lots of smaller branches with a vast number of leaves. You can think of the way your brain learns and absorbs knowledge in the same way. In fact, it’s how our brains work, by making connections.
The first task is to understand what’s at the core, or the trunk. Most people don’t do this. They work linearly through textbooks, starting with the detail instead of searching for and finding the core message.
You can’t remember what you can’t connect. So you build the trunk, then the big branches, then connect all the details to your mind structure. As a maths tutor, I’ve noticed how students learn fast once they have a good understanding of the foundations of a subject. This is because the details can easily be connected together, in context, and remembered well.
How to use mind maps while studying
This leads me to the idea of mind maps. In the UK, Tony Buzan made mind maps famous and they are used by many teaching establishments. Mind mapping mirrors the way your brain works and makes connections.
You start in the middle of the page with your topic heading. Then you add all your major sub-topics with connections back to the middle, and with each other. The next level down is all of the smaller sub-sub topics. Once you’ve completed your mind map you will have a pictorial representation of the subject, often used with colours, images, diagrams, arrows, and connections everywhere. Google mind map images to see what I mean.
As you read and study, create a mind map. You might be working linearly through your textbook but can add detail to your mind map at any point. Add colours, illustrations, notes, arrows, cross-connections, or whatever makes sense to your understanding of the topic.
Combine both techniques and you’re ready for take-off
The act of building a mind map as you read and study is more effective than linear notes, although you can use both. You will be amazed at how quickly the subject matter falls into place in your mind. Regularly looking at your mind map cements the knowledge into your memory bank, in a way that linear notes can never achieve. It’s a great way to study.
How does that fit with Elon Musk’s two rules? The main topic is the trunk, the big branches are the sub-topics, and the details are the sub-sub topics. So mind mapping naturally follows Elon’s learning strategy. What if you want more understanding of the main and sub-topics? Add more detailed notes in bubbles, linked to their topic heading; more connections.
Adding rocket fuel to the mix
To add rocket fuel to the mix, create summary mind maps, then separate detailed mind maps, which go deeper into the topic. Add linear notes as addendums under the mind map. There are so many ways to organise the information. Let your imagination guide you.
When I joined Cable & Wireless many years ago, I had to learn the new — or new at the time — technology of networking, ethernet, token ring, bridges, routers, and the 7-layer model. Customers were counting on my knowledge to solve their problems. I used mind mapping to learn it all.
And I was amazed at how fast I mastered the subject, right down to product-based configuration commands as well (products were all configurable). So much so, I was able to run customer training courses within quite a short period after starting the job, and still appear as an expert.
What will you do with this wisdom?
I am surprised at how few people change their school learned habit of linear notetaking. Yet there are so many ways to learn faster and more effectively, saving you time and giving you mastery of a topic.
How will you turbo-charge your study and learning habits?