6 Tips for Learning Smarter, Not Harder

Spend as much time with your head down and the rest will follow...right? 


How you learn matters way more than how much time you spend at it. And while learning styles are as unique as each student, these are a few golden principles that work for nearly everyone.

1. Write Things Down

This sounds weirdly old-fashioned and counter-intuitive: after all, we're learning cutting edge digital technology, so why revert to prehistoric pen and *gasp* paper? Because science.

A 2016 study exploring encoding and external-storage hypothesis is just one of the latest research papers confirming that putting your hand to paper does wonders to information retention. It appears that the slow, somewhat tedious process of making hand-written notes is what contributes to improved learning. The benefit is twofold: when writing, you are forced to organize information, adding a level of processing. In short, you think about the stuff you're learning a little bit more. The second learning boost comes from the opportunity to look back at your notes later and remind yourself what you've learned.

2. Create a Tribe

Based on our experience of running an online learning site for nearly a decade, we know that the majority of students working alone learn slower than those learning in a group. Groups help fight off procrastination, slacking, and the much feared drop of motivation that sets in once the initial excitement wears off. 

There will always be lone wolves who do their best work in a social vacuum; but for the other 99% of us a community setting can work wonders. How can you learn in a group - online? Take a moment to update your CG Cookie profile, say hello in the community, and get to know your instructors.

Added benefit: by connecting with others, you can keep each other motivated and accountable for the goals you want to achieve.

3. Set Goals

Actually...don't just set goals. Write them down.

Stick a post-it on your computer, set a list of your goals as the home screen on your phone, hang them on your fridge. Whatever works to remind yourself of your goals regularly. For the truly motivated of us, a system of weekly, quarterly goals, annual and 5-year goals is the golden ticket. 

"Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" may be the corniest interview question ever. But if you can't answer it, how can you ever know if you're on the right track?

4. Mix it Up

Watching video after video is incredibly monotonous. Sign up for a live event to interact with fellow students and your instructor in a group learning environment, or attempt an exercise. Different learning formats stimulate you in different ways to make sure your learning feels fresh, and getting hands on with exercises is the best opportunity to apply your newly acquired knowledge.

5. Be Habitual

"I don’t have time" is the #1 excuse to stop yourself from reaching your goals. Creating habits in a smart way dramatically increase the chances of you completing the goals you’ve set for yourself without having to fight yourself on a daily basis. The benefit of creating a habit is that an activity - drawing, watching a new tutorial, practicing shading - becomes automated like brushing your teeth.

6. Don’t forget to take breaks

It might feel like learning longer means you are accomplishing more, but that is not always true. Research done by the University of Texas shows that taking breaks is crucial for learning success and memory storage, and information retrieval. So don't overdo it: stretch your legs, take a break and learn smarter, not harder.

Which of these will you try? And what other learning hacks are you using? Let us know!

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  • Chetan Ranjan (ranjancnr)

    Thank you for posting this. I am struggling to mix my 2d and 3d skills so that I can achieve my goals in a way that I want to and writing things down does help.

  • Jere Haapaharju (swikni)

    I've always watched tutorials with pen and paper. At first I wrote down words I didn't understand to translate them. That helped me to remember better what action does what but I pretty fast started writing down notes of all things that seemed important. That and habits comes pretty much to me naturally, but I don't have any idea where I could be or what could I be doing in five years for example. I should try to give it a thought but at the moment there seems to be so much interesting things to do, so I just have to learn more and see what fits me best.

  • Leo Pessoa (leopessoa)

    This is another great blog post!
    During my Electrical Engineering graduation, the calculus professor used to say: "You learn integral, after making 1,000 integrals!" and this is really true for me... Exercises are the best way for me to learn. When I'm following a tutorial, a course, a video, etc... I follow the steps, I get the points, but right after the video, I can get lost easily. An exercise forces me to find ways, to test, to verify results and it works for me! Another thing I have learned with my 1,000 thousand integrals is: Practice is everything! My calculus course was 14 years ago, today I don't remember how to really do an integral... But, if I start practicing, I can remember, I'm sure! It is the same for songs, old songs... Mainly for those you used to sing 20 times a day! Today, you don't remember the lyrics, but if you start practicing, you remember everything!
    So, for me: exercises and practice! That's my way to learn!

  • Andrew Beers (mistertesso)

    Thanks for the words of wisdom. I am going to try the write it down tactic for sure. I am going to buy a couple notebooks for organizing my categories of notes. I also recall seeing something on the show silicon valley where they had a white board divided into three categories. One category was things they needed done, one was things working on, and one was finished things.. They had post it notes in each section and moved them as they changed. This could help me take the baby steps I need to achieve my goals.

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    Glad to read this post. Thanks

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