Four ways to employ self-explaining in your own learning
In the modern economy there are few skills more important than the ability to learn. Photograph: Getty Images
In the modern economy there are few skills more important than the ability to learn. Companies may pay for training or reimburse educational courses, but the skill of gaining skills is rarely taught. One effective but often underestimated learning strategy is self-explaining. Here’s how to employ self-explaining in your own learning.
1. Talk to yourself: Self-talk is not cool to do in public. But talking out loud to ourselves is crucial to self-explaining and generally helpful for learning. It slows us down – and when we’re more deliberate we typically gain more from an experience.
2. Ask why: Self-explaining can give voice to impulses of curiosity that may otherwise remain unexplored. It’s about asking ourselves the question “why?” If we really know a topic, “why” questions aren’t that hard. It’s when we don’t know something that why questions become more difficult – and create a way to develop an area of expertise.
3. Summarise: Summarising is a simple way to engage in self-explaining since the act of putting an idea into our own words can promote learning. The next time a person gives you a set of detailed instructions, take the time to verbally repeat the directives. By reciting everything back, you’ll have taken the necessary steps to summarise that knowledge, and you’ll be far more likely to remember the information.
4. Make connections: One of the benefits of self-explaining is that it helps people see new links and associations. Seeing connections helps improve memory. When we’re explaining an idea to ourselves we should try to look for relationships. That’s one of the reasons that a tool like mnemonics works. When we spot links in an area of expertise, we can gain a richer understanding.
(Adapted from “Talking to Yourself (Out Loud) Can Help You Learn” at HBR.org.)