Reading an brief article in the New York Times, Sept 9, 2010, I read how common accepted beliefs about how learning and studying are wrong. The article brought up four different concepts, that I have always used, that I know work, and these simple techniques can dramatically improve how much you can learn from studying and how fast.
These concepts undermine the assumption that to master a topic requires immersion.
Alternating Study Environments - don't stick to one study location but alternate rooms or places that you study. Forcing the brain to make multiple associations with the same material may give that information more neural connections. I often will read or study by leaving related course materials in two or three places and when there, pick up where I left off last time I was there. I also will read for twenty minutes at a time, and then will get up and walk around to refresh and think about what I read, often repeating key concepts three times spacing them apart by one minute.
Mixing Content - don't focus on a single topic but study distinct but related concepts in one sitting.. When the context is varied, the information is enriched. Use multiple types of material - alternating in one session vocabulary, reading, and speaking in a new language. Musicians and athletes mix up workouts and practice sessions. I will read two to three related books on a subject, jumping back and forth, and also listen to audio podcasts or books when unable to read. On key concepts I will often write them down so that it helps lock it into my memory and then often will post on line so I can review from other locations ( this blog for example.)
Spacing Study Sessions - Spacing in study sessions, an hour tonight, an hour on the weekend, another hour a week later will allow you to hold and build concepts longer. The idea is that forgetting is a friend of learning as it allows you to learn, and then relearn, and to do so effectively.
Self Testing - testing is a powerful tool of learning more than it is a tool of assessment. Testing not only measures knowledge but changes it and charges it with more certainty than less. I often will try to do a concept to see if I understand how it works and test myself, or find on line tests to see if can complete.