Learning how to learn | Modern Manual Therapy Blog - Manual Therapy, Videos, Neurodynamics, Podcasts, Research Reviews

Learning how to learn

"The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go"-- Dr. Seuss

I debated for several weeks about what to write about for my inaugural post exclusively on this site. My decision was greatly influenced by a question just recently posed to me by a fellow PT in California, with whom I correspond with. He asked me how I apply things I read into clinical practice and how I recall things that I read about. 

My general approach to clinical practice has been read/observe/listen-->apply-->reflect.

When I read or learn something that is either brand new, or possibly refreshing a skill or some knowledge that I have let slip, I try to apply it into my clinical practice immediately as a way to more fully ingrain that information. There's a knock on physios that we tend to do whatever we just learned in the most recent con-ed class. However, I don't look at that as necessarily a negative thing. When I teach courses, I usually bring the students' attention to the "Forgetting Curve," developed by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus. It essentially is the concept that memory and the strength of retention can be related to time. He demonstrated that within 48 hours, almost 80% of what was previously learned can be forgotten. How then to prevent this from happening? Implement, practice, fail, practice, and then practice some more.

The forgetting curve of information which has been learned only once. The retention of the information decays in an exponential way.

For example, when learning new manual techniques, I encourage students to take every opportunity to practice them over the next several weeks, whether it be on colleagues, patients, friends, family, whoever. Because if a month has passed and you finally decide to try it, the likelihood that it will be performed successfully is very low. The same can be said for applying skills like pain science education. And believe me, that is a skill! To take a very complex topic, distill it and then relate it to an individual in a way that they can not only understand, but embrace, is a definite challenge. I have conversations on this topic almost every day in my clinic so I try to regularly employ new things that I read or listen to. It doesn't always go well, in fact, it frequently doesn't. But as Henry Ford said, 

"Failure is the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely"

So, when I hear Mike Stewart (@knowpainmike) use the metaphor comparing managing pain to managing asthma, I make a mental note to try to use a similar example at the next appropriate moment. And when I read Todd Hargrove (@toddhargrove) on his blog, bettermovement.org, comparing pain to taste, I start to visualize a patient interaction scenario where I might be able to utilize that comparison. (In front of the patient, of course, I'll pass it off as my own brilliant idea :) ) 

This leads to another technique that I've found helpful to recall things I read; and that is to pretend that I am going to be teaching someone else that information. Because, often times, I am. It may not always be to a room of people, but it still happens on a smaller scale ten to fifteen times a day. Patients want to know "why" and I'd like to be able to give them an explanation to the best of my ability. So the more I am able to comprehend, the better curator of information I can be for my patients/customers, and the better value I am able to provide. 

 "If knowledge is power, learning is superpower"-- Jim Kwik 
Memory coach Jim Kwik (@jimkwik) of Kwik Learning uses the acronym FAST when discussing keys to learning:

Forget what you already know about the subject. This helps remove bias which may prevent you from recalling and learning what you are currently reading. Cognitive psychologist George Miller is perhaps best known for his description of the magical number seven, +/- two, in regards to the number of things that we are able to keep our attention on. If we are busy thinking about the game from last night, what to eat for dinner, or what to get your significant other for the holidays, the amount of new information we will be able to recall and retain will be less. 

Be Active-- take notes, share. Active involvement in what you're learning, through highlighting, note-taking, and even sharing information, (like tweeting), is another form of making the information more personal and helps with retention. However, I know from experience that it's not too difficult to occasionally get carried away with the tweeting (see any quote I've ever tweeted from "Louis Gifford"). 

State--what is the current mood of your mind and body?  A positive attitude, being well-rested, and well-nourished will help boost the combination of physiological and emotional processes that help learning and memory. "Emotion tied with information becomes long term memory." "As your body moves, your brain grooves" are phrases I've heard Jim say while a guest on several podcasts. It helps to be active while learning, i.e. sitting up straight, (standing may be better), or even walking around. 

Teaching-- (as mentioned above) How would you learn if you had to teach the info the next day? After all, they say teaching is the best way to learn. Renown physicist Richard Feynman also uses this method when it comes to learning. He recommended taking a blank sheet of paper and writing down what was learned as if you were composing a lesson plan. If you get stuck, it's an opportunity to go back and refresh the content. Over time, you will be able to explain concepts in your own words which further enhances your understanding. 

When in doubt, consider the the three "R's": Read, wRite, Relate. I will also add my own "R"--Repeat. Just like manual techniques or learning to play a musical instrument, obtaining knowledge can be thought of as a skill. And like any skill, it takes practice. Did you get a lot out of a book or article or podcast? Excellent, read or listen to it again! I always pick up things I missed the first time through. Bottom line, figure out what works for you and run with it.  

Thanks for reading!


Interested in live cases where I apply this approach and integrate it with pain science, manual therapy, repeated motions, IASTM, with emphasis on patient education? Check out Modern Manual Therapy!

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