How to Learn Anything
Shortcuts to Knowledge and Understanding


Don't Panic!

There is a lot of information in this one book. However, this may be the only book you ever need to use to learn "how to learn anything". This book was written to help different people:

1. students in college and university (and even those in high school),

2. other adult learners who want to learn on their own or through formal education programs.

The book is divided into separate chapters for each major learning skill. Depending on your learning style, level of interest, and your specific learning projects, you can use some, or all, of the information in this book to help you.

Each chapter has a content guide and a memory map to help you integrate the new information presented in it with the skills and knowledge you already have.

A content guide is a sequential preview and summary of what exists in the chapter. Content guides are used most often by people who prefer to remember information in a sequential, logical format.

A memory map is a diagram that previews and summarizes the contents of each chapter. Memory maps are used most often by people who prefer to remember information in a visual format.

There are several approaches for using these content guides and memory maps. The most effective is to use the content guide and/or the memory map to preview and review the chapter.

Add your own personal notes and ideas directly to these basic preview-review pages. Use your creativity to add personal points to these pages so that they will serve you better as a memory tool. Use different colored pens to highlight specific points or to color code significant points to information in other chapters. Change the order of the information or revise the diagrams in whatever ways you think might help you. Do not be restricted by what I have presented since the content guides and memory maps represent only one way to remember the knowledge and skills in the chapters . Take the guides or maps out of the manual and hang them up by your desk to refresh yourself about what you learned to save you time and effort.

Read the section "How do You Learn Well Now? What do You Need to Learn?" to help you choose the order in which to study the chapters.

This book is dedicated to

John van Bommel, Koos van Enckevort and Janet Klees

who made my learning possible.

My sincere appreciation to Janet Klees and Deb Thivierge whose editorial advice has helped make this book as useful as possible. Thanks also to the many people who advised me over the years as I was working on different versions of this material.


In general, we learn up to seven new things at a time. We only read or hear about 20% of the information that we hear or read everyday. Unless we review new information within 24 hours we will forget about 80% of that information. That would leave only about 4% of any new information we may need to succeed in our learning. Therefore, it is important to use whatever information you find important right away to help you remember and use that information effectively.

This book is designed to give you the learning knowledge and skills you need to remember and use a great deal more than the 4% of information you get every day.

This book was also designed to become your major source of information and learning skills forever. Learning skills are not new. The basic skills have always been the same. However, they have been largely untaught as learning was seen as natural. Learning that interests us is natural. Learning that is required to succeed at school or at work is not always interesting. Therefore, we need helpful tricks of the learning trade to learn things quickly, remember them for a longer time, and use what we have learned as soon as possible.

Although this book presents some pretty standard learning skills the underlining assumption is that learning at its best is built upon the motto: Always look for wonder in learning!

This book is based on a few key learning principles:

1. We are our own best experts.

2. We are competent in our learning and all benefit from having that learning respected and helped.

3. We learn best when we are responsible for our own learning.

  1. 4.We need an opportunity to learn at our own pace and for our own reasons.

  2. 5.We need information that is flexible enough for us to adapt to incorporate our own learning style and our cultural, religious, and economic beliefs and customs.

People with a higher education earn more money and often choose careers that interest them. Those with lower educations are often stuck in jobs they do not like. However, this does not mean that university education alone leads to a satisfactory career. There are many tradespeople who thoroughly enjoy their jobs and earn a very good living as well (e.g. construction workers, plumbers, craftspeople) after going through college or an apprenticeship program.

Regardless of education level and career choice, the most important point remains that all successful people know how to learn what they need and/or want to learn. They also know how to use what they have learned to help them at home, at school and at work.

Millions of people cannot read and write well enough to use basic government forms or to read instruction books for their computers or how to assembly do-it-yourself furniture. These millions of people with minimum learning skills need to learn these skills quickly, enjoyably and successful. Everyone can learn to improve their memory, to read better and faster, to take better notes, to research things that interest them and to help other people learn.

Keys to Successful Learning

  1. The key to successful learning is to begin with topics that interest you most. Everyone has skills. This book is designed to help you improve those skills; not to replace them.

  2. The principle of using these skills effectively is to participate actively in the process of using these skills, organize your skills, persist during difficult times and to be creative. The more effectively we use our skills the more time we have to enjoy other parts of our lives.

How do You Learn Well Now? What do You Need to Learn?

Before you begin to go through this book, look at how you learn now and what skills you need to improve to be a better learner.

Many people learn best in one of three ways:

1. visually = reading and writing about information, watching videos, television programs;

2. hearing information;

3. doing something with the information in an active way (e.g. building a model of a home, sports-type activities, acting).

The learners who do best in traditional universities and high school are those that learn best by reading and writing. Those who learn best by listening or doing something actively have had to be a bit more creative to succeed in traditional learning programs. Once you have developed good learning skills, you can do well in any learning situation.

Answer the questions on the following chart "Yes" or "No" to get an idea of what skills you are already very good at. The question number is the same as the Chapter number for that learning skill. For example, question #1 is about taking notes. Chapter 1 describes different ways you can improve taking notes.

Once you know which skills you need to get better at doing (the ones you answered "No"), number them in the priority order you will learn them. For example, if you find out you need to improve how you take notes (Chapter 1), remember information (Chapter 4) and write research papers (Chapter 5) which one of the three will you learn first, second and third?

Find Out What You Need to Learn

1. When you take notes are you relaxed and able to look around without panicking that you are missing something important to write down? o yes o no priority

2. Can you read a page in a text book in less than 1 minute and remember what you read? o yes o no priority

3. Can you study for a major exam for only a few hours the night before and get to the exam relaxed and ready to do well? o yes o no priority

4. Can you remember facts and ideas easily without having to write everything done? o yes o no priority

5. Can you comfortably research and write a 30-page paper that is high quality and interesting? o yes o no priority

6. Do you schedule out your studying, working and social time so that you do not get stuck learning important things at the last minute? o yes o no priority

7. Do you handle the stress of learning so that you do not get sweaty palms and stomach aches before every exam, presentation or writing project? o yes o no priority

8. Do you know how to plan out a learning project on your own so that you do not need a teacher to tell you what to do? o yes o no priority

For every question you answered "Yes", figure out a way to treat yourself. You might as well get used to rewarding yourself for knowing things and it gives you an excuse not to read the rest of this book today!

Now that you know what you want to learn and in what order, you need to make a quick learning plan to help you accomplish what you want to learn. Fill in the following chart by putting a date beside those chapters you want to study. Again, if you found out you need to improve how you take notes, remember facts and ideas and write a research paper, put a finishing date beside each of those chapters.

For example, if you want to improve your notes first, you should be able to read the chapter and practice for a few days and finish learning what you need to know within the next week. Researching and writing a paper will take you longer, so I suggest you try this chapter when you actually have to produce a short paper for school or a report for work to get the hang of it. If your next paper is due in 3 weeks, you should finish this chapter within 2 weeks so that you are ready.

Learn the skill as you are using it. This way it is practical and you will see instant success! You can always go back to the book when you are stuck learning something new. This book is yours forever and the skills described won't change as you get older.



1: Taking Notes

2: Speed Reading

3: Study Skills

4: Improving Your Memory

5: Researching and Writing Papers

6: Time Management

7: Stress Management

8: Learning by Yourself

You now know WHAT you want to learn and BY WHEN. To manage your time well, you need a daily or weekly calendar. Write in the dates from the chart above into your calendar to remind yourself of when you wanted to learn those skills. If you haven't learned them by that date, reschedule.

I found that using a schedule actually gave me more time to spend with my friends while learning more than other students. It works!

How to Learn Anything

Below is a FREE iBook of our book How to Learn Anything.

In return for your reading and printing off this book, we ask only that you email us. This lets us know how many people are accessing this FREE information. That’s it! Just email us:

If you find the iBook helpful, please let other people know they can access it for free too!

Copyright © 1994, 2006 Harry van Bommel

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical copying, recording or otherwise, except with the prior written permission of the author or under license from the Canadian Copyright Agency.