Apr 25, 2012

Practical Steps for Seeking and Retaining Knowledge

By Melody


In this article, I will try to outline the various steps to help retain knowledge. It is part of human nature to forget, and if we don’t take active steps in striving to remember it, the knowledge will be lost which defeats the purpose of acquiring it in the first place. As mentioned in the previous article: “Knowledge is not the prolific retention of traditions but a light which floods the heart” [Ibn Abbas]. If it provides no benefit to you and to those around you, it will not help you in this life or the Hereafter, which is a waste of your precious time and effort.

Mind Mapping
After the discovery of Leanardo da Vinci’s notes, written in a mind mapping format, Tony Buzan was inspired to develop the mind mapping technique. In this technique, notes are centred around a theme with ideas and information branching off from this central theme. It is a technique I would definitely recommend to any seeker of knowledge. To produce a mind map that can serve as an effective recall tool, the following features should be included:

· The central theme should be an illustration rather than a word. Our brain is better at using diagrams and illustrations to capture concepts rather than through words. As the saying goes: a picture speaks a thousand words.
· Lists are discouraged from being made; on the contrary, ideas and concepts should be branched out from the central theme creating a dynamic tool that allows connections to be seen and made with ease. This pattern of working is similar to how our own brain works.
· Colour should be used throughout the mind map as it aids in clarity, organisation and retention of knowledge.
· Pictures should be drawn wherever possible; even if drawing is not what you would consider your strength there is no harm in trying! You will be surprised at what you can come up with. Pictures can summarise text better than words do and the more you try the more your creativity will expand, multiply and grow in new dimensions.

The Technique 

1. Activate prior knowledge - 
Prior to acquiring new information, it is useful to sit down first and revisit your previous knowledge. See how much you know already. Start your mind map and literally write anything down and let your mind run free of the knowledge and ideas that are locked inside and bursting to be let out. The purpose of this exercise is to get you in the correct mindset before studying and hence allows you to more readily absorb new information. Our mind generates thoughts faster than we can write them and instead of writing out details, we should categorise our thoughts into key headings. These headings should be chosen so that reading them will stimulate an area of knowledge. These “labels” will be different for different individuals because certain words remind us of different things; the purpose is for us to group information into different compartments that serve as a store for knowledge. You want to summarise as much information in few words as possible. Once the knowledge is written down and organised on to a page, it becomes much easier then to make links, and for further links to be made. The more links you see, the more you are likely to remember.

2. Identify your gap in knowledge - Once your previous knowledge is organised into specific headings, it becomes easier to locate where your gap in knowledge resides. From this, formulate questions that you aim to find the answers to; these will form the basis of your learning objectives.

3. Planning - Next decide what resources you want to use to help meet your learning objectives. These may include books, websites and lectures. Skim through the materials you wish to use prior to getting started for a general idea of what knowledge you expect to gain from each. Decide how much time you wish to dedicate towards each resource and what answers you aim to acquire from the individual resources. Be as specific as you can. It is much more effective and productive having an aim prior to doing your research before plunging in blindly without any guidance. You will automatically pick out the information that is relevant and this saves you time having to plough through useless information. Knowledge can then readily be linked back to previous knowledge which helps you see the wider picture.

4. Expanding your mind map - As you go through the material, summarise concepts into labels and add those to your mind map. Remember, HEADINGS and labels only, try to avoid sentences; you want to compartmentalise your knowledge as much as possible. In fact, you may find that several mind maps can be made from the original theme you came up with and these can then be grouped together in a master mind map.

5. Review - It is interesting to note that our memory does not go down after a learning session; in fact it goes up, before going down after a certain point. If we can review our information just before our memory goes down, this will drastically help our recall and improve our general memory. For example, upon completing an hour of a learning session:

· Review the information after ten minutes for around ten minutes. The reviewing session should include completing notes in a finalised mind mapping format that will make the information easier to recall. This may stay in your memory for about a day.
· The next day, review the information for 2-4 minutes. In this session, and for the next reviewing sessions, jot down everything you can remember in mind map form, then compare this to the finalised, completed mind map and make the relevant additions. This may be remembered till up to a week.
· After a week, review for 2 minutes. This may be retained for around a month.
· After a month, one final review can be made which will transfer this information to Long Term Memory.

Reviewing information is very important; if this is not done the student is at a great disadvantage. The information will not be learnt, memory will be made worse and all that time and effort made in acquiring the information will go to waste. It is much more worthwhile to review information in short bursts because after a few sessions the knowledge will enter your long term memory where it is allowed to integrate with your current knowledge. In this way, your memory will keep on expanding and your ability to absorb and digest new information will be made much more readily.

6. Apply knowledge and teach others - Finally, in order for yourself and your community to benefit from the knowledge gained, you must follow knowledge up with action. For example, if you learnt about the high virtuous esteem that giving in charity is held in Islam, it follows that you should apply this knowledge and start to give in to charity more readily. If you learn about the rules of Tajweed, you should start applying these rules in your recitation of Qur’an. The other aspect of application comprises teaching others what you have learnt, even if it is just to your family. The more people you teach, the better. With the advancing technologies we have available, knowledge can be spread faster and easier than ever before.

To conclude, a final note to the seeker of knowledge:
· Knowledge is precious and those wishing to pursue it must realise that it is both a privilege and a responsibility.
· Clean and purity of intentions is essential.
· Always strive to seek that which is beneficial, acquire it in the best of manners and remember that the knowledge must be applied and taught to others wherever possible.

I remind myself before reminding anyone else.

Reference: “Use Both Sides Of Your Brain” by Tony Buzan.

I'd love to hear your views on this topic. Please post in the comments section below! :)


As salaam u alaikum..MashaAllah this was very informative,and will be of great benefit to me because I will put these tips into practice in sha Allah.JazakAllah khair for your efforts

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