Talking To Yourself (Out Loud) Can Help You Learn

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There are few skills more important than the ability to lớn learn. But the skill of learning skills is rarely taught. One effective learning strategy is self-explaining. This approach involves asking yourself explanatory questions like “What does this mean?” or “Why does it matter?” It really helps khổng lồ say them out loud. One study shows people who explain ideas to lớn themselves learn almost three times more than those who don’t. Lớn employ self-explaining in your own learning, first, try talking khổng lồ yourself. Muttering to lớn ourselves is not cool to bởi vì in public, but it’s crucial khổng lồ self-explaining. We develop skills more effectively by deliberately thinking about our thinking. Second, ask why. Self-explaining gives voice to lớn our own curiosity. When we don’t know something, “why” questions become more difficult—and create a way khổng lồ develop an area of expertise. Third, summarize. The act of putting an idea into our own words can promote learning. Finally, make connections to make new information easier lớn remember.


When University of Illinois psychologist Brian Ross enrolled in a computer science course, it had been a long time since he’d even taken a class. With his beard and balding dome, he stood out. A decade older than his classmates, Ross was, to lớn all the other students,that guy. He was nervous.

But he had an advantage. Ross is a learning researcher, & he’s familiar with the effective, but often underestimated, learning strategy known as self-explaining. The approach revolves around asking oneself explanatory questions like,”What does this mean? Why does it matter?” It really helps lớn askthem out loud. One study shows that people who explain ideas to lớn themselves learn almost three times more than those who don’t.

To help him outperform his younger colleagues, Ross asked himself lots of questions. He would constantly query himself as he read through the assigned texts. After each paragraph, after each sentence, he would ask himself: “What did I just read? How does that fit together? Have I come across this idea before?”

By the over of the course, Ross had found that, despite his relative inexperience and unfamiliarity with computers, he could answer many questions that the other students couldn’t & understood programming in ways that they didn’t. “I sometimes had the advantage,” he told me. “I was focused on the bigger picture.”

In the modern economy, there are few skills more important than the ability to lớn learn. Around the globe, learning is highly predictive of future earnings. Companies may pay for training or reimburse educational courses, but the skill of gaining skills is rarely taught.

Here’s how to employ self-explaining in your own learning:

Talk to lớn yourself. Self-talk has a bad reputation; muttering lớn ourselves often seems khổng lồ bea sign of mental distress. It’s not cool to vày in public. But talking lớn ourselves is crucial khổng lồ self-explaining & generally helpful for learning. For one thing, it slows us down — & when we’re more deliberate, we typically gain more from an experience.

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Self-talk also helps us think about our thinking. When we’re engaged in a conversation with ourselves, we typically ask ourselves questions along the lines of: “How will I know what I know? What do I find confusing? bởi vì I really know this?” Whether we hit the pause button while listening lớn a podcast or stop to reflect while reading a manual, we develop skills more effectively by thinking about our thinking.

Ask why.

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Self-explaining can give voice to lớn impulses of curiosity that mayotherwise remain unexplored. It’s about asking ourselves the question, “Why?” Now, if we really know a topic, “why” questions are not that hard. If I asked you a why question about the town that you grew up in, the answer would come pretty easily. It’s when we don’t know something that why questions become more difficult — và create a way khổng lồ develop an area of expertise.

To illustrate the practice, let’s examine a query like, “Why are there waves?” Some of us can bumble our way to a basic answer. Maybe something like: “Well, waves have to bởi with the wind. When wind blows across the top of the water, it creates ripples of water.”

But then comes the inevitable follow-up: “Why does the wind lift the water?” or “Why are there waves when there’s no wind?” Herewe draw a blank. Or at least I do, & so I start searching for some sort of answer, spinning through the internet, reading up on how energy moves through water. In the end, I’ve learned much more.

Summarize. Summarizing is a simple way to engage in self-explaining, since the act of putting an idea into our own words can promote learning.

You probably have had this experience in your own life. Recall, for instance, a time when you read an article in a magazine and then detailed its argument for a friend. That’s a khung of summarizing —you’re more likely khổng lồ have learned & retained informationfrom that article after you did it.

For another illustration, imagine that you recently wrote an thư điện tử describing your thoughts on a documentary that you saw on Netflix. In doing so, you fleshed out the ideaand engaged in a more direct khung of sensemaking. So, all in all, you’ll have a richer sense of the movie & its themes.

You can vì chưng this in your own life. The next time a person — your boss, your spouse, a friend — gives you a phối of detailed instructions, take the time to verbally repeat the directives. By reciting everything back, you’ll have taken steps to summarize that knowledge, & you’ll be far more likely to remember the information.

Make connections. One of the benefits of self-explaining is that it helps people see new liên kết and associations. Seeing connections helps improve memory. When we’re explaining an idea to ourselves, we should try lớn look for relationships. That’s one of the reasons that a toollike mnemonics works. We’re better able to remember the colors of the rainbow because we’ve created a links between the first letter of the names of the colors and the acronymROYGBIV.

When we spot liên kết in an area of expertise, we can gain a richer understanding. This helps explain why Brian Ross had such success using self-explaining. As he learned about computer programming, he tried to explain ideas to himself, relying on different words or concepts. “A lot of what you’re doing in self-explanation is trying to lớn make connections,” Ross told me. “Saying khổng lồ yourself, ‘Oh, I see, this works because this leads to that, and that leads khổng lồ that.’”

Self-explaining should go into the learning tool kit of workers today, as the economy places new demands on making connections & adopting new insights and skills. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson says công nghệ workers need lớn learn online for at least five hours per week to fend off obsolescence. They might want khổng lồ find a solitary place to bởi so, where they don’t feel abashed about talking out loud lớn themselves.