Get motivated to learn, using six approaches provided by the science of learning. Also: Remember more without trying, use your emotions to improve learning, and find out how to get—and keep—someone's attention.
 I'm Annie Murphy Paul, a book author, magazine journalist, consultant and speaker who specializes in explaining scientific research on how we learn and how we can do it better. My book Brilliant: The New Science of Smart will be published by Crown in 2014, but in the meantime I've been doing a lot of other writing on the subject, highlighted here—along with content you won't find anywhere else.

Maybe it's the August heat that's making us all droop, or maybe it's the looming start of school in September, but I've been fielding a lot of questions lately about motivation—how to get kids, or employees, or ourselves excited about learning. Fortunately, scientific research has provided us with a number of ways to get the learning juices flowing, none of which involve paying money for good grades (more about that in the section devoted to this month's most-read blog posts). All that plus this month's most popular columns—enjoy, stay cool, and be brilliant!

Comments or questions? I'd love to hear from you. Email me at And if you'd like to read even more about learning, you can visit my website, follow me on Twitter, and join the conversation on Facebook.

6 ways to get motivated to learn1. Fine-tune the challenge. We’re most motivated to learn when the task before us is matched to our level of skill: not so easy as to be boring, and not so hard as to be frustrating. Deliberately fashion the learning exercise so that you’re working at the very edge of your abilities, and keep upping the difficulty as you improve.
2. Start with the question, not the answer. Memorizing information is boring. Discovering the solution to a puzzle is invigorating. Present material to be learned not as a fait accompli, but as a live question begging to be explored.
3. Beat your personal best. Some learning tasks, like memorizing the multiplication table or a list of names or facts, are simply not interesting in themselves. Generate motivation by competing against yourself: run through the material once to establish a baseline, then keep track of how much you improve (in speed, in accuracy) each time.
4. Connect abstract learning to concrete situations. Adopt the case-study method that has proven so effective for business, medical and law school students: apply abstract theories and concepts to a real-world scenario, using these formulations to analyze and make sense of situations involving real people and real stakes.
5. Make it social. Put together a learning group, or find a learning partner, with whom you can share your moments of discovery and points of confusion. Divide the learning task into parts, and take turns being teacher and pupil. The simple act of explaining what you’re learning out loud will help you understand and remember it better.
6. Go deep. Almost any subject is interesting once you get inside it. Assign yourself the task of becoming the world’s expert on one small aspect of the material you have to learn—then extend your new expertise outward by exploring how the piece you know so well connects to all the other pieces you need to know about.

this month's most popular columnsRemember More Without Trying, on
How To Get—And Keep—Someone’s Attention, on
Born to Be Bright: Is There A Gene For Learning?, on
Why You Shouldn’t Model Yourself On Top Performers, on
“Cognitive Apprenticeship”: The Best Way To Learn On The Job, on
What Do Emotions Have To Do With Learning?, on MindShift
Can E-Readers Ease Reading For Dyslexics?, on MindShift

this month's most-read blog postsShould We Pay Kids To Try Hard?, from the Brilliant Blog
How To Memorize Without Drilling, from the Brilliant Blog
Learning Through Stories: How Did You Become A Reader?, from the Brilliant Blog
Should Everyone Learn Code?, from the Brilliant Blog
Forget "Smart" and "Dumb": A New Way Of Thinking About Intelligence, from the Brilliant Blog

All my best,

This Month's Brilliant Quote “Fluent readers can use an author's images and metaphors to go below the surface of what they read to appreciate the subtext of what the author is trying to convey. For young readers who are moving from simply mastering content to discovering what lies beneath the surface of a text, the literature of fantasy and magic is ideal. The worlds of MIddle Earth, Narnia, and Hogwarts provide fertile ground for developing skills of metaphor, inference, and analogy, because nothing is ever as it seems in these places. To figure out how to elude ring wraiths and dragons, and how to do what is right, calls on all of one's wits. The world of fantasy presents a conceptually perfect holding environment for children who are just leaving the more concrete stage of cognitive processing.”—Maryanne Wolf, Proust and the Squid

Copyright © 2012 Anne Paul, All rights reserved.

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