Lock yourself up, log out of Facebook, turn off your phone and don’t let yourself out until you’ve learned the material you were planning to learn.

This mantra has been repeated so many times that it no longer seems effective.

And it wasn’t that effective in the first place.

People have different study patters and no techniques will work for everyone. Sometimes, you need to take a counter-intuitive approach to achieve results.

That’s why, if you’re experiencing a decrease in learning productivity, maybe you should consider not-so-popular techniques. I’m describing my favorite ones here, but there are many more of them and one could not possibly fit them all in an article.

Change locations and build associations

Your brain has the ability to memorize things and settings and then associate them with what you’ve learned. Have you noticed that sometimes, you memorize where a certain information is located in a book unintentionally. Somehow, your brain registers that.  So why not use it for your benefit? When you’re learning, your brain makes “ties” with the things surrounding you, helping you memorize the material better.

And when it comes to making artificial ties, a change in location will also help. There is a mnemonic technique where you memorize a sequence of things, associating them with pieces of furniture in your room. When there are many such sequences to be remembered, different locations will work better than a single one.

Teach instead of learning

When the problem is in memorizing things rather than just understanding them, it helps to shift the focus from learning to teaching. Ever wondered how language teachers manage to memorize all the exceptions to grammar rules? It’s not because they repeat it again and again. In fact, they were able to memorize them from the very first try simply because of the change of paradigm.

It’s hard to explain this phenomenon – at least I don’t have the appropriate knowledge or the stamina to find an explanation – but it works miracles in some cases. Pretending to teach won’t help. Find a person who’s struggling with the same material and make use of it.

Take a test – then learn

If you are learning something the knowledge of which can be easily tested online, try taking a test first. This technique works especially well with languages. When you read up after taking the test, your brain will identify the parts that you’ve had problems with while taking the test and store them for you.

The feeling of finding an answer to a question that’s been bugging you is a nice one (“I wonder where I saw this guy…”) and it simplifies memorizing, too.

Don’t dwell, move on

It’s considered effective to deal with one topic at a time. Change that. If there are a few adjacent topics within the subject you are studying, try moving back and forth from one to another. You might have a learning pattern where your brain needs frequent change to perform at its best ability.

You’ll end up with more comprehensive and solid knowledge than by focusing on a single topic at a time.

Learn active reading

The active reading technique includes developing a point of view on what you are reading and writing it down. Yes, that’s exactly what I mean – making pencil notes in the book. Read slower, process what you are reading, and decide what you think of it. Much more material is retained by your brain when you read this way. If speed-reading doesn’t seem to work, why not try the opposite?

Write about it!

Here’s a heavy weight. If you can’t possibly remember things, write about them. Even simple re-writing by hand improves your chances of memorizing. And if you add your opinions to it, you’ll give your brain a solid framework to put your newly acquired knowledge in.

If you want maximum memorizing, write an opinion piece. You can use this annotated bibliography writing guide for reference. It will take time, of course, that’s why I recommend it only for extra-important and extremely hard to memorize things.

Here is one last thing that you should remember: every person is different. If a certain learning technique works for others but doesn’t work for you, it means you need a different one. Keep experimenting. There is nothing wrong with being different. In fact, that’s what will help you stand out