There is much to learn about learning and unfortunately, it's one of those topics that we barely touch growing up.
Through school and college, our learning path has been dictated for us. Meaning, the curriculum, and resources are being chosen and prepared for us. We have very little say in choosing what we learn and how we learn it.
Usually, our "say" ends at our choice of high school specialization or college major. After that, we're being handed everything. We're being fed. The university has already decided which materials we learn from, which topics are important and the order in which we're going to learn everything. The same goes for projects and exams.
It's generally good to accept advice from professionals regarding how to get to their level, however, In life things work a bit differently. Suddenly, to keep up with changes and improve ourselves, we have to decide which new subjects we need to learn. Once decided we need to figure out how to learn it, where to start.
We need to search for materials, sort them, decide which of them is of high quality and then build a study schedule. Then other questions arise:
- How do we fit learning in our life (job, children, partner, etc)?
- How do we motivate ourselves to learn?
- What happens when we have questions? Who do we ask?
- Should we waste our time learning this topic?
- How do I implement what I learned?
There are usually no teachers or mentors around us to help us learn after we get out of college. We're on our own. And apparently, we haven't practiced managing our studies until then at all. We're unprepared.
Being able to learn is an important skill. It keeps us relevant, it keeps us engaged and curious, ever-evolving. It helps us achieve more and fulfill ourselves. New knowledge might help us reach new career opportunities, Â better educate our children, better communicate with our partners.
Learning something new even helps us maintain humility. Prevent us from thinking we know everything. Help us understand that in some areas we're still new and we've so much to learn.
Another overlooked aspect of learning is the way we should practice it. Exams are just one of them, not necessarily the best one but it's not a bad one either. Another which I find more productive is the use of projects.
Projects give you a purpose, it answers the "why" which is so important in learning. Learning is a hard task, it involves getting ourselves out of our comfort zones and engage in a mentally effortful activity. A purpose helps us drive forward in these conditions. It gives us the needed motivation and helps us track how well we know the material. If we can't use it, we don't know it.
Learning is a skill that can and should be developed. It involves:
- Deciding what to learn
- Finding the right learning resources
- Designing a curriculum
- Building a learning schedule
- Choosing a project to practice with
- Figuring out use our knowledge.
We haven't even started discussing learning techniques. What's the best way for us? How do we read effectively? How do we get ourselves to think while learning, think about the bigger picture, think about the details, how they all connect. Â How do we structure our learning so that we increase our retention?
There are books and courses on this topic. Good ones among them are "Learning How to Learn" (Course, Book) by Barbara Oakley and "How to Read a Book" by Mortimer J. Adler (Book). Both are great for understanding how to learn and dive deep.
There are websites promoting fast-reading, super-learning, etc. My take on that is that we first need to learn how to properly read and learn before we become super-anything. I haven't found are any worthy shortcuts so far, so my advice is to put in the effort and develop this wonderful and important skill.
That's it for now. There is of course much more to be said about learning and a lot deeper to dive, such as the "how" to all the things described above, and I shall get into that in future posts.