Knowing how-to learn is useful in any context. It is like knowing how-to write, communicate and sell or knowing how-to manage your time and attention. As soon as you master a meta-skill like learning, the effects are long-term in terms of independence, adaptation and evolution.
No talent required… it is like a muscle, it gets better by practice and repetition.
Keep your student mindset alive, don’t assume you know, keep searching, exploring and learning. Learning is a lifelong journey. Don’t assume that what worked in the past will keep working. Learn to face your contradictions, question your believes and assumptions.
You will find new ways to solve recurring issues by creative innovation.
Finding the learning techniques and habits that works for you is a gift for your future. From there, you can learn anything you need.
Take back control of the process, by a better understanding of what works for you, you will become better at learning things that you truly care about.
In self-directed learning, you decide what you want to learn, you define your objectives. You can get inspired by existing methods and select the education materials (like books, podcast, lectures, e-courses…). Then you need to prepare and plan your week accordingly. I would recommend a pretty tight time management (see time management techniques) so that you keep being focused on your main goal (see work less, work better with Kaizen). Get started, the right time to start is now.
Don’t wait to be forced by constraints. Follow your interests, investigate and explore topics that you are passionate about. Simulation and play are powerful ways to get hooked and motivated to learn by having fun. Kids have been learning trough play since the beginning of humanity.
Experiment is a type of play that can open new doors, involve you in deeper investigation, get you to understand how certains things work and learn by putting ideas to the test. Another powerful ways to learn are by listening, reading while taking notes. The simple habits of connecting ideas and spaced repetition help to reinforce learning, your brain needs repetition in time and connecting related ideas (slides on Mind Mapping) to memorize well. As soon as you start to learn something, try to document your learning journey and share it. The ultimate learning experience is to write or teach, as you need a deeper level of understanding to be able to summarize, clarify and explain it. One of the most effective way to learn is by documenting, sharing and teaching! Best job ever to keep learning is to be a educator, a researcher or a coach, as you get paid to keep searching, experimenting and learning.
We learn by iteration and feedback. Simply put, if you want to learn how-to ride a bike: get on it, try, fail, fall and keep repeating this loop until it gets easy.
After any learning session, it is important to review and evaluate if you managed to get something from what you just learned. Simply trying to reformulate what you just read, or making a mind-map summary can allow you to evaluate what you got from the content you just tried to learn. Especially if you are looking to understand and make sense from it and not just memorize a text without getting its meaning. This simple feedback is a direct way of evaluating how much you managed to understand and memorize.
As mentioned earlier, one powerful way to increase your learning results is to repeat over time. Let’s say I want to learn Spanish business vocabulary, I would schedule one hour every other day, than repeat and evaluate what I did memorize weekly, then read business magazines or listen to related podcast to keep reinforcing this specific vocabulary over a long period of time. That’s why to learn a new language, the most effective way is to live where it’s the official language to force yourself to practice on a daily basis by real-life interactions through leisures or work.
The power of reframing
If you are truly willing to learn something new, you need to accept that you don’t know and that what you are going to uncover may question or even contradict some of your beliefs and assumptions. That’s where you are really starting to learn and grow, as you will look at the outcomes, the facts that you just learn to change the way to perceive the reality.
Now, you are not only adjusting your plans from previous results. You are really starting to adapt to the reality based on what you observed, what came out from experiments and experiences, you will reframe your vision and belief system. You may notice by then, that the more you learn, the more you realize that you don’t know much. Congrats! it’s called wisdom.
There are certain things that you won’t learn in books, following advises or by watching a YouTube tutorial like how-to play football, how-to swim, ride a bike or even cook. You need to jump in the water, get on a bike, allow yourself to fail miserably at first and be fine with it… You need practice, hands-on, trial and error repetition until you finally get it right.
Follow your curiosity, investigate, be active in your learning journey, get involved, question what you perceive. Explore, observe and document your learning journey. Be a sponge or a spy and collect as many information as you can, organize the information and connect facts and ideas, make sense out of it and as you start to get some insights, don’t hesitate to document and share the results of your investigation. By exchanging with other people about it, you will question your understanding and have to investigate further, so that you will keep on learning and develop a real expertise.
The idea is to learn by having a plan, a limited duration and a SMART goal. You want to learn by confronting yourself to real-life problems and challenges.
Let’s say, you want to learn how-to make short movies. In project-based learning, you will set a challenge: make a 1 minute movie using your smart phone within a week. The movie will have to be telling a compelling story, the images have to be of a consistent quality, you need to set a style and a clear artistic intention, sounds and music will have to be well synchronized. By accepting this challenge and commit to deliver in time, you will have to organize your time, figure out how-to use your smart phone, find the right apps. You may realize that you can improve the process by organizing it by phases: pre-production, production and post-production. In the case, you achieve to publish you first movie in time, you can then decide the frequency and start sharing a series of short movies. At this stage, you can review your first prototype to fine-tune the format and streamline the process.
With Ivor, we learn “how-to a podcast” by trying to record and share four episodes of the Blue Lotus Café podcast. We learned as we prototyped the first episodes and figured out a production process that was working well for us. From there, we decided to commit to a weekly frequency. In May 2020, we did publish 45 episodes already and we have recorded new episodes up to September 2020. Each weekly episode is an opportunity to fine-tune and improve our process. Talking about podcasting, we recorded an episode on “Learning how-to Learn” (see bellow).
LEARNING HOW-TO LEARN
This essential life skill is clearly under-rated. As a student, you are expected to know how-to learn intuitively. We think, you can learn some techniques and get better at it, no matter the subjects that you want to master.
In our conversation, we talk about simples techniques, visualization, re-framing and teaching as ways to get better at learning.
Listen this episode of the Blue Lotus Café podcast on Apple podcast. You can also find it on any podcasting platform (Spotify, Google, etc).
MOOC on Learning How-to Learn
About a year ago, I did a free online-class on “Learning how-to learn” by Barbara Oakley. It gives some scientific insights on how your brain works and some useful learning techniques.
Learning How to Learn a Coursera MOOC by Dr Barbara Oakley from McMaster University and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. They also publish a book « Learning How to Learn ».
You can read this article of the New York Times about Dr Barbara Oakley.