6 Tips for Learning Smarter, Not Harder

Jan 9th 2018

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!


Pavla Karon
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