Effective Learning Using Imagination
You can learn by simply spending more time memorizing and
reviewing information, but the problem with this approach is
that you have only so much time to devote to any one pursuit.
Here are several special techniques that make learning easier,
and make it possible to learn something in less time.
Learn by Teaching
Suppose you are trying to learn about economics, and specifically
about the way that the money supply affects the economy. You
have read the books and materials, but it just doesn't stick
in your mind. Then a friend asks you about what you are studying.
You start to explain, and you have a book or some of your other
study materials in front of you. You refer to these and tell
him how the "velocity" of money, which has to do with
the number the number of times money is loaned out, deposited
in banks and re-loaned, can increase the money supply.
Soon it is starting to make sense to you. The more you explain
what you are learning, the more of the material you start to
recall. This is normal. One of the most effective ways to learn
something is to teach it or explain it to another person.
However, there are some problems with this learning technique.
First, you have to find someone who is willing to listen to you.
These victims or students may be tough to come by. The second
problem is the time this takes. You not only spend time to find
your listeners, but then you have to spend a fair amount of time
"teaching" them the material. So here's another technique
that goes a step further...
Learning Using Imagination
You may have read about experiments done with basketball players
who visualized making free throws. Some actually practiced their
free throws, a second group did nothing, and a third group practiced
the shots mentally. Not surprisingly, the first group improved
the most. Practice does help. But the last group of players who
did mental practice did almost as well, and they did substantially
better than those who did not practice. They were learning using
imagination, and developing a skill through conscious mental
You can do this in many areas of life, but it has to be more
than just daydreaming about whatever skill you hope to develop.
It has to be carried out with a true focus on "seeing"
the activity happen in your mind's eye. That brings us to a simple
technique that will help you learn about any new subject, and
remember what you study. It is to imagine yourself teaching what
you have learned to another person.
But don't just see yourself standing in front of a class full
of students for a moment. You have to actually imagine the words
you would say if you were explaining the subject to someone.
This kind of mental practice is especially powerful, because
for any given subject there is so much information, and yet so
little of it is the "important stuff," and by imagining
how you would pass on that new information you tend to automatically
focus on the things you really need to know. Of course any repetition
of knowledge, whether done aloud, on paper or in your mind, aids
So, as you study, imagine how you would teach what you're
learning. Vividly imagine how you would explain it. Suppose,
for example, you are studying evolution. You might see yourself
writing an example on a chalkboard. Then you would look at your
imaginary student or students (whichever scenario seems to work
better for you) and hear yourself explaining how natural selection
isn't about individual animals adopting to their environments,
but about those that are not already suited to it dying out,
leaving the more suited ones to reproduce.
You'll probably find that these imagined lessons go much faster
than real ones. Your students will (we hope) only interrupt you
with relevant questions. You'll should notice that you can remember
the material better when you use this exercise in imagination.
Why not try this powerful and effective technique for learning
Another Way to Use Imagination for Learning
Other research found that students who were told to pretend
to be soccer hooligan for a while before a test did worse on
academic exams than those who did not engage in this role-playing
before the exams. Meanwhile, those who pretended to be college
professors for a while before the tests began scored higher than
either the "pretend soccer hooligans" or the control
group. It's another example of using imagination for more effective
This and other research suggests that you may gain an edge
in learning new skills or knowledge just by carefully pretending
to be more competent in whatever area of study in which you want
to see improvement. But again, the specifics matter. If you want
to do better at math, imagine that you are a world-famous mathematician,
and imagine being a guest lecturer, explaining various concepts.
The key is to imagine being a person who would be an expert at
whatever it is you are trying to learn.