One of the important steps of information processing is to condense what you have learned into a manageable and memorable format. The goal is to produce your own knowledge concentrate that you can later use to create new, fresh combinations of ideas and applications. Try the following approaches to knowledge synthesis:
Outlining. Outlining is a way to synthesize the material by showing relationships among various concepts. For example, law students create outlines for each subject they study on the basis of their class notes, casebooks and any additional resources they use. Their outlines are summaries of the material that list main categories, legal standards and rules, cases, illustrations, and anything else that students may find useful. The process of outlining enables students to review the material and solidify their knowledge. Outlines help students to see the big picture. Consider how certain notions applicable to advertising can be used to make the content of your outline more memorable.
Mind-mapping. Mind mapping is a powerful technique that allows you to capture the natural flow of your ideas in their relation to one another. The goal of learning is to connect the new information to what you already know. A mind map is a non-linear way of representing information. You start with a word or image that symbolizes the subject of your attention in the center of a blank page. You record the main themes by branching outward from the central image. As ideas emerge, you place key words, images, symbols on branches and sub-branches connected to the "triggers."
Wikis. Wikipedia, one of the best known examples of wikis, gives the following definition: “A wiki is a type of computer software that allows users to easily create, edit and link web pages.” A great feature of wikis is that a group of people can work on a project collaboratively, making changes, adding information, linking to other resources as needed. If you have a study group or a mastermind group, a wiki can be a great tool for brainstorming and knowledge synthesis.
Note-taking. We are all familiar with traditional note-taking. The issue is how to use it effectively as a tool of knowledge synthesis. Here are a few ideas:
- Get into a habit of taking notes as you read. Then, use the notes to summarize what you have read.
- Add an organizational structure to your notes by highlighting keywords, using meaningful subheadings, bullet points or numbers to list items.
- Be selective and concise.
- Develop a system of abbreviations and symbols for frequently used words and concepts.
- Use visuals, such as pictures, tables, time lines, concept trees whenever you can.
- Review your notes on a regular basis and incorporate them into more highly organized systems, such as outlines, mind-maps or wikis.
Q&As. Putting what you have learned into the Q&A format can help you prepare for exams and presentations by forcing you to think about the questions that can test your understanding and contexts in which the new information may appear. For example, you can create hypotheticals and then write out your answers to test yourself. For this technique to work, you should start with valid, genuine questions about the subject matter. Don’t just turn a piece of information you already know into a question.
Learning boards. Similar to a dream board, a learning board is a collection of images that represent something you want to learn. You list your learning goals, create mind maps, clip relevant pictures and articles from magazines, do your own sketches and attach them to a poster board. Try to position the elements on your learning board to reflect the relationships among concepts and ideas. Make your learning board visually stimulating to boost your creativity and aid your memory.
Presentations. Creating a presentation on the subject that you are learning can be a great way to bring various pieces of information together in an easily digestible form. You have probably heard the saying: “If you want to learn something, teach it.” When you need to explain something to others, you have to look for the most straightforward way to present the information. This brings clarity and precision to your own thoughts. You should also be prepared to explain the same idea differently to accommodate a variety of learners. Repeating the information will cause you to remember it better. If you belong to a study group, you can make presentations a component of your group meetings.
What methods do you use to synthesize information?
Orientation Series: 21 Steps to Becoming a Better Learner:
Step 1: Setting your learning objectives
Step 2: Taking an inventory of your skills
Step 3: Taking an Inventory of Your Learning Tools
Step 4: Finding opportunities for cognitive apprenticeship
Step 5: Determining the "IIQ" of what you read
Step 6: Choosing helpful books for law students
Step 7: “The Three 'P's of Performance” in Action
Step 8: Tapping into your social networks
Step 9: Identifying your learning barriers
Step 10: Finding your sources of motivation
Step 11: Managing your energy
Step 12: Focusing on how you think
Step 13: Mastering informal learning and professional development
Step 14: Asking Good Questions