You probably have heard of the saying: “the day we stop learning is the day we die.” No matter who we are, what stage of life we are in right now, and what kind of career, job, or occupation we have, we are learning something new every day. While we all spend so much time and effort every day doing this crucial activity called learning, how much of that time and effort is actually spent on improving our learning?
We live in a time where we no longer have a lack of, or access to, information, but our problem is that we have too much information. We literally have the sum of all human knowledge at our fingertips. So the question is no longer: weather we can learn something. The question now is: what’s the best way to learn something, b/c we don’t have all the time in the world, and we cannot remember everything we take in.
I want to share some of my experience with you regarding learning, and challenge you to always think about the best way to learn. There are 3 main topics I’d like to talk about:
- Different ways of learning,
- Effectiveness of each way of learning,
- My recommendation for learning
Different ways of learning
What comes to mind when you think about learning these days? Probably the first thing that comes to mind is google. Of course, we can read a book, watch a YouTube video, talk to friends who know more about the subject, join an online forum, join a group or club. If you are really serious about learning something, you could take a class, or even get a degree.
Let me summarize the typical ways of learning:
- read: books, blogs, articles,
- hear: from a friend, audible book, lecture
- see: pictures
- hear and see: a video, movie, demonstration
- participate: discuss, share, give a talk
- do: do the real thing
Effectiveness of each way of learning
Take a look at this Cone of Learning
Whether you agree with this Cone of Learning or not, I think it provides a good framework for us to think about how we learn. According to this Cone of Learning, we should always strive to maximize Doing, and minimize the other ways of learning. How do we do that? What does that look like? Well, I’m glad you asked.
My recommendation for learning
There’s another saying that I have come to appreciate more and more every day, “life is the greatest teacher”. I submit to you that if you want to truly learn something, do the real thing. That’s real learning. Every other so called method of learning is simply exposing yourself to data and information. The thing you are trying to learn is not yours until you actually do it in your own life. Let me give you a couple of examples.
My wife and I had wanted to invest in real estate for many years. Finally last year we pulled the trigger. We invested in our first rental property. Prior to that I had spent a lot of time reading and talking to friends about real estate investment. But it was all just talk and theory. But let me tell you: we we pulled the trigger, when it’s time to spend a lot of your own money, you are extremely motivated to learn something really fast, and learn to do it right.
For my job as a software engineer, I constantly have to stay current with the new technologies and practices of the trade, and I spend many hours reading blogs, articles, and watching training videos. But when it comes time for a real project with a real budget and timeline that is in a new territory, the best way and only way to determine the viability, cost and timeline of the project is by writing some code with the new technology and see what it does. Every other method is simply talk and theory.
I can go on and on about why I believe doing the real thing is the best teacher, but I think you get my point. However, I do acknowledge that we don’t always have the opportunity to do the real thing even if we want to. Sometimes we just need to take baby steps and start somewhere. In that case, let me offer some guidance on what’s the best actions to take.
Here’s a decision process you can go thru to help you figure out how to learn something. Ask yourself these questions:
- why: why do I need to learn it?
- this is very important b/c if you don’t know the why, you might be learning the wrong thing, or for the wrong reasons.
- what: what is it exactly that I am trying to learn?
- This also seems straightforward, but in reality it’s not. There’s so much information out there and so much to learn about a subject. Know exactly what it is that you need to learn.
- how much: how much of it do I need to learn?
- now that you know exactly what it is that you want to learn, ask yourself: how much of it do I need to learn? Maybe you just need to know a little bit about many topics for now, and only later on you need to know a lot about one topic. Don’t waste time to try to become an expert on too many topics b/c there’s no such thing.
- how: how do I best learn it?
- now you know what you want to learn, and how much of it you need to learn, ask yourself: what’s the best way to learn it? Can I do the real thing? If not, can I at least discuss it with someone, and give a talk on it?
I caution you:
- Don’t let curiosity get the best of you.
- Don’t learn something just because it sounds interesting.
- Remember you only have so many hours in a day, and you can only remember so much.
In this blog post, I talked about
- the different ways of learning,
- effectiveness of each way of learning,
- my recommendation for learning
Abraham Lincoln once said, “give me 6 hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first 4 sharpening the axe.” Similarly, if you were given 6 hours to learn how to do something, how much time would you spend to prepare yourself for learning, or do you always just jump right in? I challenge you to always think about what it is that you are trying to learn, and how to best learn it.
Remember: there’s no better learning than doing the real thing!