How to learn better while reading online

Building effective habits is critical for learning better from the information you consume online These habits will allow you to be more efficient when consuming information online, ensuring that you make the most of the time you invest in learning about new topics. You'll also be able to recall information better, as well as develop actual understanding of the content you consume. Here are tips to help you learn better while reading online and consuming information across the web.

Before you start reading:

Write down what you already know about the subject / topic you are reading about.

This is valuable for three reasons: 

  1. It connects your prior knowledge to the topic you’re about to explore. You are more likely to retain information when it builds off concepts you’re already aware of.
  2. It allows you to approach the topic with awareness. Every resource has a different perspective and reiterating what you know allows you to approach the author’s point of view with context. 
  3. It activates your brain! Many of us have built passive reading habits. You might have read the same paragraph twice and still not remember what it said. In order to build effective learning habits and remember more of what you read, it helps to start with a reflection of sorts to get in the learning flow.

While you read:

Interact with the content and take a variety of notes! If you notice a question pop into your head, or something reminds you of another idea, jot it down! Use note-taking  tools or online learning tools that make it easy for you to capture your thoughts while reading online. 

  • Questions are an indication of curiosity and what you might explore next. Either the resource will answer your question, or you’ll have to seek out the answer on your own. Noting questions that come up will help you improve your curiosity!
  • Thoughts can serve as ideas and inspiration. Writing down your thoughts also helps you clarify them. They often make sense in our heads but not so much when we write them out. When a thought comes to mind, try to just jot it down and then come back to it to ask yourself, “Why did this come up?” and “Is there something further I want to do with this idea?”
  • Connections to other ideas allow information to really sink into your brain and become easier to access. Every time you connect one idea to another, you are creating a network of ideas that are easier to recall simply by their associations. If an idea is connected to another, you’ll likely recall it when you think of the idea it’s connected to. The more connections you make to any idea, the more likely it becomes to remember.  For example, it’s similar to how you learn a new language. New vocabulary in a foreign language is much easier to remember if you tie it to an existing experience or phrase. Connections and idea networks are critical to remembering all the cool stuff you’re learning, so look for them every chance you get.

If you run out of time but haven’t finished reading everything:

Immediately write down what you just read in your own words. Don’t worry if you can’t remember everything. If you took notes along the way, chances are you will remember quite a bit. 

After you’re done, write down some questions that are top of mind. 

If you have a couple more minutes, go back to the notes you took and look for unanswered questions. Add those to the list you just created. Review the rest of your notes and see if you can answer any of your questions. The remaining questions can kickstart your learning process when you return to this resource! 

The next time you review this information, you’ll have a mental bookmark of where you were in the process last session. Because of your notes, it’ll be easier to recall what you learned, how you felt, and what you’re still questioning. It’ll also be easier to repeat the process of collecting questions, thoughts, and connections to other ideas because you’ll experience the benefits of doing so immediately. 

When you finish reading the entire resource:

  1. Use your notes to reflect on the author’s main points. Remind yourself  what the core arguments and ideas were, and what the strengths and limitations of the resource were. The Feynman Technique comes in handy here! If you can reiterate all of these ideas, you’ve truly internalized what the author was trying to convey. 
  2. Look back at the questions that came up. Use the ones you answered and any other notes you took to synthesize your perspective on the topic. It’s okay if you don’t agree with everything the author says. It’s important to reflect on your opinion as well as the author’s. Write your synthesis down. You’ll come back to this later!
  3. Put the resource down and away for a while. Don’t touch it for a week. Use this time to ruminate on what you learned. This doesn’t mean you stop learning other things. In fact, it’s an opportunity to connect anything you come across in your learning process with this resource. Think about what ideas are still relevant to you days later and what you’re still curious about. 
  4. After a week, go back and reread your synthesis. Pay attention to what still feels important! What have you spent the past week thinking about? What things did you note down and forget about that are now exciting again? Just as you did at the beginning of this journey, write about what you know now. Being able to compare what you wrote to your updated perspective is enlightening. It’s motivating because you have a record of your growth, and it’s confidence-building because it’s a reminder of what you’re capable of. 

Last step: Profit!

Those notes you took and the learning experience you developed never go away. Your mind will make better connections to future learnings now that you’ve practiced this process. And you never know when you’ll be re-inspired by something you learned a long time ago. Learning tools are now being built to serve as a second brain that can help you recall and connect past learnings as you come across new information that may be relevant. Lean into better learning habits by adopting tools and systems that can help you long-term!