How To Learn Anything (or at least a lot)

How To Learn Anything (or at least a lot)

If you could learn anything, what would it be? What If I told you that you learn quicker and with less time? Learning and how to learn are big challenges that people face. However, it seems there are oceans of resources not used. If they knew these resources, it would make their lives easier and probably make them more successful. So what are these resources? Are they tools? Are they belief systems? Are they just fads or the flavour of the month? I think they are real and if they are applied properly; they will give people the power and abilities they are searching for.

In education, I found classes very difficult and I thought they had to be proven techniques and techniques to achieve success in a subject. After reading a lot about learning and development, I found out that many things were not just taught and made aware to students. One could ask; why weren’t we told? Benjamin Bloom was a professor and master educator and his thesis was on making sure everyone reached success in academia. But you might say: not everyone would be successful in academics. His theory was that although everyone is different, proper resources and tools could be used by students of every level to become successful. He outlined the taxonomy of learning in which he illustrated the stages of learning and how to achieve mastery within a subject. My experience with reading his books and the works of others have revealed things that people can apply to their search for understanding and mastery that may have eluded them.

In learning, a person might find it very useful to start from the end. What is the final product? What is the expectation of the tutor? This gives a direction and a goal for a person to orientate towards. Clearly defining a problem is a key aspect of problem-solving and learning might be described as a problem. You want to know not just the expectation but the ideology and philosophy of the subject. It may be that you need to memorize or you need to put the knowledge in your own words. If you have firm grasp of the goal, it is much easier to proceed on the road to success.

The key resource is focus. How well can you focus your attention? Can you sit and not have any distraction at all? I mean not even have those random thoughts and concerns that jump into your mind like wild gazelles. Many people have those busy minds. I can get distracted by myself in a room with only a table and chair. But, if you can have focused attention for a considerable amount of the time, it would do wonders for your study and learning. It can get you in the “Flow” state as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihayi. It will take a while but you can build it like a muscle and over time you would be flexing your intellectual prowess like Schwarzenegger. I cannot stress this enough. Focus for a long period of time is the matrix that holds everything together.

Another key resource is environment. This is also includes your social environment. Who are your friends? Who do you spend the most time around? I was surprised when someone (A YouTuber, Tibees) posited that if you are doing badly in a subject, it may mean that you don’t have good friends. If you have friends and they are not putting you through, are they really your friends? Do you want to have friends are not succeeding as well? This may seem selfish and conceited but you have to have a deliberate vision of where you want to be and your friends might be a good indicator of that. In my own experience as an MBA student, when I was struggling, I ultimately had to change my friends. I was circled by people who thought I was okay struggling and that may be just my lot. I realized that and was fortunate enough to pick better friends and things improved.

In learning, there are things that involve doing nothing. They are described as nothing but they actually have a big impact on your performance and your entire lifestyle. They are sleeping and meditation. Most people dismiss sleep. It’s even popular to boast about how little sleep one has. But, this is a grave mistake. Sleep deprivation within a few days can have significant cognitive impacts. Your brain performs poorly, you are more stressed, and this can easily increase mistakes and accidents. It can even damage your health. You need at least 8 hours of sleep a day. This is non-negotiable. But, it will improve your health and prevent things such as high blood pressure, panic attacks, illness, anddivorces.

The other thing is meditating. It is essentially not doing anything. You just focus on your breathe and just observe thoughts as they come to your mind. There are many books on meditation. However, I recommend only “The Mind Illuminated” by Culadasa. If meditation is not your thing, that’s fine. But, don’t say I didn’t tell you.

Friends and people around you also contribute to two important learning techniques: the Feynman Technique and Peer Instruction. The Feynman Technique promoted by genius physicist, Richard Feynman, states that if you want to learn anything well you should be able to teach it to a 5 year old. That means you have to explain as simply as possible without losing the importance and meaning of the topic. This forces you to have to understand and question what you have learnt. Because, how can you really learn something if you can’t explain it simply?  The Peer Instruction was devised by Eric Mazur. Eric Mazur is a fantastic professor who demonstrated that students who just learnt a topic are usually in a better position to teach a classmate who is yet to understand. This is because of what he called “The Curse of Knowledge”. “The Curse of Knowledge” is when someone who understands something finds it difficult to explain it to another because he can’t relate to a point when he was still understanding it. He finds it hard to put himself in the same position. As you can see, this two techniques would be better taught and used between friends or close associates.

Two key techniques you should employ are Active Recall and Spaced Repetition. These have tested and researched and give considerable performance of about 40% with the same amount of time. This means the difference from a D to anA-. Active Recall is trying to apply what you have learned. This may involve doing exercises such as summarizing what you know on your own using a blank sheet of paper, taking practice questions, teaching someone Spaced Repetition is giving some intervals between learning and studying. This helps more than just studying continuously. There is software available for SR and some are easily available for free (Anki e.t.c.).

Learning is personal. So, it comes down to you. But who are you? The Oracle of Delphi had a quote: Know Thyself. If you want to learn, you need to know who you are. I think that going for psychographic tests and assessments are good but some are very expensive and some are just not very useful. MBTI seems to be incomplete as it does not consider the aspect of neuroticism and IQ tests are not really a test for intelligence. I think EQ is nonsense but that’s just me. But, my point is that using a personality assessment that uses the Big 5 framework is very useful. I personally think it is the best available and top researchers and employers use it. Even, top election campaigns used it for the 2008, 2012, and 2016 US elections for voter targeting. That shows how effective it is. Penn State has a free assessment tool managed by Dr. John A. Johnson on the school website. Anyone can use it for free. Just make sure you save your results. Asit is not saved on the site and it takes about an hour to complete. Having a good idea of your own personality and behavior would be useful in your learning journey.

Another point is to be weary of bad teachers. This is a very difficult part because you may not be able to assess a bad teacher and focusing on who is a bad teacher is usually not so productive. But if you are taught something and despite your best efforts you don’t understand it, consider the possibility you need to find someone who can teach it to your properly. A good teacher, in which ever form they may appear, would be vital in your learning development and sometimes your happiness. Bad advice are abound and applying things in the wrong way is wasteful and unnecessary. So, you must be aware of the need to search for and identify great teachers.

For research and information on learning, check out authors such as Barbara Oakley,Carol Dweck, Anders Ericsson, Peter Brown et al, Cal Newport, YouTubers: Thomas Frank, Scott Brueckner and Marty Lobdell, and Scott Adams. These are very good people on the scope and understanding of how to learn successfully. Their books are worth their weight in gold.

The last piece of advice is to avoid idiots. They would drag you down and defeat you with experience.

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