Learning about learning

Learning about learning

Learning about learning

Technology moves fast and there’s always something new to learn. The pressure to stay up-to-date is always there. Nobody wants to be old, curmudgeonly, all-used up, and still cranking out jQuery widgets and playing pogs while the whole world passes them by. 

It often feels like there are too many things to learn in the world. Our lives are bookended  by work on one end and sleep on the other until one day you find yourself pushed off the end of the bookshelf itself, your pages flailing in the air.

I’ve been wondering how to use those precious moments efficiently. In fact, I’ve been wondering for some time, ever since I was eight years old, when after hearing about Einstein, I wondered what I could do to become a genius too. After a few moments of hard thought came the idea of reading the hardest book I could find cover to cover. The book I found had something to do with engineering calculations. That was the only thing I learned from this experience as I looked at every single page, concentrating with all my might, as if from sheer willpower, osmosis, and magic the book would impart genius and wisdom in my brain. After a few hours I walked away unchanged.

I did however learn something about the process of learning and I continue to learn about this process to this day.

Some things that don’t work:

  • Osmosis – simply reading, watching, or listening to information without any real thought, reflection, or effort. This goes for podcasts, video courses, lectures, and books. There was a time I would listen to podcasts at 3X speed and then pat myself on the back as my playlist quickly disappeared.   Unfortunately, I didn’t put any effort into the learning process and retained almost nothing. The lazy consumption of content without effort results in wasted time.
  • Power hours – concentrating or studying something just once, hoping it’ll stay put without thinking about it again
  • Complaining about not having time to study – complaining doesn’t get you closer to achieving your learning goals. Closely related — blaming somebody else for not having time to study.

Some things that seemed to work for me:

  • Engaging actively with what I’m learning. Stopping periodically to make sure I understand the main concepts.
  • Comparing what I’m learning with other things. Even ridiculous seemingly unrelated things.
  • Taking responsibility for making sure I have time to study and prioritizing it over other competing tasks.
  • Explaining the concept to a real or imaginary person.

Some things I haven’t tried but would like to explore:

  • Memory markers and memory palaces
  • Mind maps
  • Doodling while listening to educational materials

I’m planning on reading a few books and taking a few classes in the next few weeks to see if I can figure out a more efficient way to learn. I’ll update you all as I learn more about learning.

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