Learning How to Learn The Meta-Learning Strategies to Master

Learning How to Learn  The Meta-Learning Strategies to Master

Continuous learning is essential for both personal and professional growth. But simply reading books, taking classes, or consuming educational content does not guarantee you will acquire new skills and knowledge. To get the most out of any learning endeavor, it is critical to have effective learning strategies - an understanding of how to learn itself.   

Learning how to best grasp new concepts, retain information long-term, monitor understanding, and apply that knowledge is what’s known as “meta-learning.” Whether trying to learn a new language, instrument, or complex technical skill, having an intentional meta-learning approach is the difference between superficial familiarity and deep embodied understanding.   

The key principles of meta-learning include:   

Focused Attention   

It’s virtually impossible to actively absorb new material if you are simultaneously distracted. Multitasking has been repeatedly shown to significantly reduce comprehension and content retention. Give your full, focused attention during deliberate learning by eliminating distractions, concentrating intensely on the instruction methods, and taking useful notes to reinforce key ideas.   

Example: When learning a new programming language, turn off phone notifications, close other tabs, and work in a quiet space without distractions to fully concentrate on the educational videos and documentation.   

Spaced Repetition    

Cramming large amounts of information right before an exam or presentation is an incredibly common but ineffective way to learn. Our brains require substantial time between learning sessions, spacing out repetition over days or weeks, in order to properly consolidate new memories and neural connections. Use spaced repetition techniques thoughtfully, reviewing content over progressively longer intervals based on how well you have retained information. Apps and tools can help optimize scheduling for maximum sticky retention.   

Example: Use flashcards for vocabulary when learning a language, but only review cards once you’ve started to forget items after a few days. Tools like Anki allow optimal spaced review.   


When learning multiple things, mix up the order instead of learning each one separately from start to finish. Interleave the subjects by switching frequently. This boosts the ability to discriminate between concepts and apply them appropriately in context.   

Example: If learning about World War II, the Cold War era and Vietnam War in history class, mix up reading about each topic instead of finishing all WWII content first before starting others. Quiz yourself randomly on facts from different time periods.   

Retrieval Practice    

Recall and actively apply information rather than just passively reviewing material. Testing yourself via reciting, quiz-taking, explaining concepts out loud in your own words, etc , makes memories stickier. Even just generating answers vs choosing options shows improved outcomes.   

Example: For memorizing important dates in history, repeatedly write them down from memory instead of just reviewing them repeatedly by reading a textbook. Making the effort to retrieve info strengthens retention.   


Frequently reflect on the current state of your understanding–analyze how well you have really grasped key concepts, where there are still gaps or flaws in your knowledge, and whether you can effectively put that learning into practice. Quizzing and testing yourself serves not just for better embedding through retrieval practice, but also allows honest assessment of what you do and do not know well yet. Adjust your strategies based on self-feedback.   

Example: After learning physics concepts, self-test your understanding by attempting practice problems. If areas reveal gaps in application, review the material again and pinpoint weaknesses for focused learning.   

Transferring Knowledge    

Isolated practice of a skill itself is not enough - work to apply it in real-life contexts and settings. Physically, go to the environment where you would use a skill, implement your knowledge to solve problems, teach it to others without notes, and discuss ideas. Successful transfer cements true learning.   

Example: After studying French verb conjugations via a workbook, actively use them conversing with a language partner rather than just doing rote exercises, forcing you to apply grammar appropriately.   

Cultivating a Growth Mindset    

Research shows that believing intelligence and abilities are developable through effort and persistence provides greater motivation and more effective learning behaviors. View challenges, failures and mistakes as valuable feedback for improvement rather than judging them as evidence of a fixed, innate inadequacy. Fostering a growth mindset aligns with the incredible lifelong neuroplasticity of our brains, allowing us to continually strengthen neural connections required for mastery.   

Example: Struggling in statistics class despite hard work is frustrating. But avoid thoughts like “I’m bad at math,” which worsens motivation. View difficulty as constructive feedback for adjusting strategies.   

Prioritizing Deliberate Practice    

Experts estimate it takes roughly 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to achieve world-class mastery in complex skill domains. Learning progresses exponentially faster when you carve out time to focus intensely without distractions from responsibilities or multitasking. Maintain self-discipline in setting clear goals for skill development, identifying your weaknesses through self-assessment, creating tasks to strengthen those vulnerabilities and practicing diligently while eliminating interruptions. Treat learning itself like a gym workout regimen requiring plans, progressive overload and commitment.   

Example: Scheduling regular 1-hour coding sessions with exercises to apply Python concepts increases skill faster than sporadic passive video watching when available.   

Optimizing Cognitive Load    

Our working memory and cognitive bandwidth to process new information at any single time is inherently limited and easily overloaded. Carefully manage the intrinsic load (level of innate complexity) of concepts you are trying to internalize, and reduce extraneous sources of information and distraction hampering germane load (available mental effort). Do this by simplifying instructions, relating new ideas to prior knowledge, repeating core ideas across multiple modalities of text, audio, visuals, building foundational competencies first before adding complexity and actively monitoring understanding.    

Example: A new management trainee becomes overwhelmed trying to master customer support system functions while also learning sales presentation skills. Focus first on building competency in one area before tackling the next demanding one.   

Whether trying to master a new coding language, play the guitar, or develop management skills - a metacognitive, evidence-based learning approach magnifies the success of your efforts. Experiment with research-backed techniques like spaced repetition and interleaving and retrieval practice tailored to your learning tasks. Assess comprehension gaps, belief mindsets and bad habits honestly. Growth and achievement flow not just from persistence but from learning actively and wisely.   

The principles above provide a blueprint to maximize learning capacity for any goal. Consistently applying meta-learning strategies - how to effectively absorb, retain, and transfer knowledge - saves time and energy on the path to success.    

The Editorial Team

The Editorial Team

Hi there, we're the editorial team at WomELLE. We offer resources for business and career success, promote early education and development, and create a supportive environment for women. Our magazine, "WomLEAD," is here to help you thrive both professionally and personally.

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