In this video, Benedict Carey shares how changing your environment can help you retain more information.
Consistency is drilled into our heads from an early age – have a dedicated study desk and time, eliminate distractions. But what if this well-known practice is wrong? What if being inconsistent can work in our favour?
An experiment from 1970 examined what happens when people study the same material twice, but in two different places. A group of students were presented a list of 40 words. They were given 10 minutes to study the words, except that half of the students studied in one room only, while the other half performed the study sessions in two different rooms. In the end, the "one room" group recalled 16 words on average and the "two rooms" group remembered 24. Therefore, a simple change in venue had improved the student’s memory by 40%.
However, it is not just about where you study or practice. How you do so is also part of the environment. Writing notes by hand is one kind of activity. Typing them is another. The same goes for studying while standing up versus sitting down. Despite what traditional advice tells us, when it comes to learning it is consistency, not change, that is limiting. So mix it up, try another room, another time of the day, take your guitar to the park, go to a different cafe, read in silence and with music on. Each alteration of your routine further enriches the skills being rehearsed, making them more accessible to you for a longer period of time. That is the heart of real learning after all - to carry the skills and knowledge with you and make them available when needed, regardless of the environment.