Remembering key dates and facts will allow you to be successful. It may allow you to pass a test, opening options for further study, but it goes beyond that. Any type of education is for a purpose – what you learn, you should be able to use.
Else, why even bother?
Anyone who has studied education will be aware of “Bloom’s Taxonomy”, a classification system of different skills involved with learning. It’s often shown in a simple pyramid as below, with more complex tasks being at the top of the triangle.
When people undertake the task which they call “learning”, they will often stop on the first rung of the ladder. If you can remember what happened in the book, then that counts as learning? Well, yes and no. Yes, it counts as learning, but no, it doesn’t pass as high-quality learning.
Let’s say that you read the classic novel Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (one of my favourites, might I add). You may remember the characters and the plot – good for you. Could you summarise each chapter (understanding)? Do you understand the historical context in which the book was written (analysing)? Could you write an honest review of the book (evaluating)? Could you teach a class everything you know about the book (creating)?
No matter what your field is, or what you want to learn about, aim to perform tasks in the higher end of Bloom’s Taxonomy as a means of pushing your content knowledge to its limits. This is why people who try and learn a language don’t get as far by just memorising key words. You have to act out situations in that language, you have to invent your own sentences with the words you know, and you have to identify language rules or patterns so how to use new words come to you more intuitively.
You can execute many of these higher-order learning strategies from the comfort of your own home. If you want to solidify your expertise on a topic, then record a podcast or write an article. Give yourself a unique prompt that you don’t know the answer to yet, and then write a response to it.
Even for the most repetitive content, you need creativity in how you practice if you want to fully master it. Try something new – remember, if it feels uncomfortable, then that is your brain telling you that you’re learning! Nobody ever got strong by going to the gym and lifting the lightest weights.