Focused and Diffuse Learning

The brain is a muscle. That is why we need to treat it the same way we treat our other muscles. If we go to the gym today, we’ll start with a short cardio session and then move on to lifting weights. We’ll do a set of 12 reps and then what happens? We take a break. We give our muscles time to recover and then we do our next set.

This principle applies to our learning sessions as well. Go back and forth between focused mode (intentional focused learning) and the diffuse mode (relaxed passive state). This gives the brain time to learn new information and store it in our long term memory. And ultimately, what we want is to retain information long term. Particularly, if we’re learning a new language.

In order to create a successful study session, first, we need to eliminate all distractions around us. Our phones need to be on silent. Our environment clean and organized. Outside noise diminished. Now we can fully focus our attention on the task at hand. Like a sprinter in the 100 m race, we want to put all of our energy into learning what we want to learn. In these sessions, using recall techniques, chunking and explanatory questioning are the most fruitful. After a 25 minute Pomodoro session, take a break. This is when the brain starts to filter and organize the information processed.

In order to enter the diffuse mode, let’s look away from our workbook/worksheet. Turn on relaxing instrumental music and let our minds drift. We can also go for a short walk in nature, take a shower or do a meditation session. After the short break, we can repeat the process.

This back and forth between focused and diffuse mode will slowly help our brains gain strength. If you are a body builder, you don’t start training the day before a competition and expect to win the next day. That is why cramming at the last minute is not a good idea. Staying up all night before an exam is not a recommended way to learn. Like I always tell my students, “slow and steady wins the race.” That is why learning as an adult can be even more effective than the high-pressure environment of universities.

As an adult, you can schedule your learning without the pressure of having to write exams. You can go at your own pace and learn the things that you find relevant. And when you have a personal trainer, you have someone to keep you accountable and consistent. So if you’re ready to take your English learning to the next level, contact me today.  


  1. store (verb): keep or accumulate (something) for future use.
  2. retain (verb): keep in one’s memory.
  3. task at hand (phrase): the work someone is doing now.
  4. filter (verb): process or assess (items) in order to reject those that are unwanted.
  5. gain (verb): obtain or secure (something wanted or desirable).
  6. at one’s own pace (phrase): If you do something at your own pace, you do it at a speed that is comfortable for you.

Discussion Questions

  1. When you are trying to learn something new, do you pay attention to your environment? For example, is it clean, quiet, or cozy?
  2. Have you ever tried the Pomodoro Technique?
  3. Are you more like the tortoise or the hare?
  4. Do you know some other advantages to learning as an adult?

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