Ever feel short-changed when learning?
You set out with good intentions to learn something new, read a new book, or attend a new course, only to find that half way through you catch a glimpse of yourself in a mirror and realise you look like a cow watching a washing machine.
Perhaps the learning isn’t doing what it promised for you, and you’re finding it dull, totally obvious or just irrelevant?
Well that’s the moment that you let it beat you, when you could have taken so much more from it.
Don’t be the average learner
Unfortunately, this approach is the way of the average learner; the learner who’s forgotten that learning can’t be done to you, it has to be done by you. You must roll your sleeves up and direct, and tame, and steer things if you want to learn fast and effectively.
One useful thing?
It’s the average learner who says things like, “well, if you go on that course, even if you take away just one useful thing it’s probably worth it.”
That sounds like positive thinking, but is it useful thinking? Seriously? One thing? Are you kidding me? Who the hell is settling for learning just one thing? The average learner is! But YOU can do so much better than that.
The strong self-directed learner
If you’re reading this, my guess is you don’t want to be that average learner. You want to learn how to become a strong self-directed learner and squeeze all you can from all you learn and then put it back into your work and your life to earn all those fantastic rewards?
So let’s take a look at how a strong self-directed learner can actually squeeze even more out of their learning than the creators of the learning content intended.
Major rewards hidden in unknown opportunities
The strong learner knows that there’s a lot they don’t know.
Everything is connected
They also know that everything is connected. More things than you might think actually work in the same way!
They can easily connect to the unknowns
And so, what they don’t know, can be connected to what they do know, via a few links, which puts it all within our reach.
So learning becomes easier and faster, when you proactively find the connections to what you do know, and work off those (something one connection away is much easier to grasp than something eight connections away which alienates us). Which is why when learning, you need to bridge the gaps effectively.
We learn from people
The strong learner acknowledges that they’re not learning from just ‘content’ but in fact from a human being. Somehow, what they are learning has been filtered by a person, an expert, an editor, an author, or a group of people.
…Who have human flaws and who hide truths
The strong learner brings the people behind the learning in to the picture. And doesn’t forget that they had limitations to work within, and biases, opinions, badly contextualised facts and statistics and other human flaws thrown in to the mix. Which means a lot of potentially useful ideas and connections to what you do know may have been omitted. That’s sure to disappoint the average learner, but the strong learner sees it as an opportunity to create sparks!
But who can be engaged proactively
Since they’re learning from people, the strong learner knows that it’s not a passive one way, but an active two way exchange of thoughts and questions between themselves and the ‘teacher’. The strong learner calls it a conversation.
To find hidden unintended gems
The strong learner knows with absolute certainty that there’s a lot more to learn from this conversation than the ‘teacher’ actually intended. And so the strong learner is revved up ready to find it. They’ve got higher learning standards.
Better ‘learning hygiene’.
Stronger ‘learning drive’.
Because only they can get at these gems
They also know that engagement in learning and the quality of their learning is down to them. They can either switch resources or conversations, or tackle the current conversation more effectively to proactively create more sparks from it.
And if they’re struggling to create sparks, they know they must rub two bits of wood together to make fire, which they do by throwing certain questions and thoughts at the content to create ‘learning friction’ (which is where sparks and useful learning actually occur).
How the strong learner creates more value
The strong learner (that’s you right now) gets more from their learning in the following ways:
They ask, “besides the obvious, how else could I use what I’m learning in my career or life?”
E.g. Someone learning about construction may find that they could turn their experience towards learning web design easily.
A computer programmer may find that they can better understand how people think in ‘lines of code’ and how you can tweak your thinking just like a computer program (“IF he says that to me THEN I feel upset” could be changed to “IF he says that to me THEN I could ask him to explain what he really means and how he’s trying to help our situation”. Now you’ve written a new ‘mind program’ that results in a new output of behaviour. Good.)
If I commit to listening to a talk, watching a video, reading something, learning anything, I’m always constantly asking myself, “how can I bend this and use this (or even a part of it) to enhance my business and better help my clients?”
Share the love
You could ask, “who do I know who would make the best use of this right now? And if I taught them it, how could doing so also help me?”
E.g. You could take what we’re talking about in this blog post and share some of the thoughts with your children or your team, or even with your social network. You might find it gives you clarity and increases your own learning quality.
You could ask, “how would this idea translate into my own industry, career or life?”
You could read business books and take the lessons and apply them directly to running your own career like a business, and enjoy what happens…
You could ask, “what’s an analogy of this? What’s this most like?”
Learning about inertia and momentum in physics might help you understand procrastination, human behaviour, and how to get things done.
Understanding gravity might remind you that unless you’re going up in your career or business, then you’re probably going down. Everything has a tendency to pull us downwards as the world moves around us and so we have to apply a consistent force against this.
You might test your creativity with, “how does this cause or solve problems in my own work/life/business?”
E.g. how does not understanding how to learn effectively truly impact your quality of life? How does learning how to learn effectively impact your confidence of taking on challenging projects?
Or, “what top 3 ideas would I add to what I’ve just learned?”
If you think that you already know what you’re learning and it’s a refresher, rather than thinking “I know this”, it might be more useful to ask, “how well and consistently do I apply it? What other opportunities should I apply it to? How will I get myself to do that automatically? Am I getting all I can from it?”
E.g. if you’re learning sales technique and you think “yeah yeah, I know this”, do you actually apply it to help those around you make smart decisions?
Are you able to move family and friends through challenging thought processes? Do they come to you for that or do you send them down paths they don’t really want to go down? Do you use your skills to attract and connect with the right people in your life? If not, why not? Have you squeezed all you can from this?
Ask, “what are my top strengths? And how could I use those right now to tackle this learning further?”
E.g. if you’re a talker, go and talk to someone about it. If you’re a problem solver, consider the problems around the topic and think about how you’d solve them. Then read on to see how your approach fits. If you’re quite physical, how could you learn this in a more physical way, by doing or discovering more?
You could ask, “what’s the most interesting thing about this to me?” and seek to learn more about that.
Or you might ask, “how would I repackage this learning content in a way that someone like me would love?”
Would you put the ideas across as a story, a list, a joke, a picture, or would you simply reorder it and cut parts out? Thinking this through is effective learning. You’re rearranging the connections in a way that makes sense to you.
Or if you feel something is irrelevant, you might ask, “when could this become relevant to me? And how might starting on it now help me get ahead?” or “If I’m going to learn this, what new opportunities could I cash in on to leverage this further?”
E.g. Are you a computer programmer forced to go on presentation skills training? I was once. I hated it. Then a year or two later I started a business publicly speaking for a living. (My first ever presentation on the presentations skills course was on ‘accelerated learning’ techniques and people found it useful. Hmm. A new opportunity, and frankly a new life for me was born…)
Turn it into actions
The average learner omits this step. They think that just ‘learning’ is the goal, and agreeing with yourself that you know it. The strong learner pulls out their to-do list or calendar, and schedules specific actions to turn what they have learned into new outcomes. And they find a way to get themselves to repeat.
You get the idea.
You’ve learned it.
But will you actually do it?
And how much value or juice can you really squeeze from this?
I challenge you to squeeze more out of the next thing you try to learn!