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Re-learn How to Learn in the Information Age

Re-learn How to Learn in the Information Age
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When you scroll through Facebook, you can see posts about simple stretches to relieve back pain, how to make a s’mores, and how to be single and happy. Or if you go on Youtube, you can find gurus talk about makeup tips, or Youtubers teach playing guitar.

But those stretching exercises, the way to make a s’mores, how to be happy being single, how to do a good makeup, and how to play guitar better are things that most people never master doing at the end.

Technology has brought a surplus of information to the world, but it hasn’t made people smarter. The mere exposure to data doesn’t make people better thinkers and learners.

The fact is, most people have never learned how to learn properly.

On average, people spend 50 minutes per day on Facebook alone.[1] Being exposed to information is not the same as internalizing and adapting the knowledge. Even during formal education, students acquire knowledge quickly to write papers and take exams; turning what they learn into wisdom that they can apply throughout their lives is uncommon.

The conventional systems of knowledge acquisition fail to make use of the brain’s potential.[2] Unless we use that information, we’re bound to forget it.

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Taking in Knowledge— Then and Now

How to apply knowledge is different today because it’s easy to expose to a lot of information every day. Traditional learning styles often involved apprenticeship or immediate active application of skills.[3]

If you were trying to learn to ski before the Information Age, you’d likely start by finding an instructor. The experienced skier would help you understand the equipment and act as a guide while you learned the mechanics of the activity. You’d constantly work to apply what you learned by practicing on your own time, the bulk of your learning was done on the slopes. Eventually, you wouldn’t need your instructor, and you’d consider yourself a competent and confident skier.

Today, when you decide that you want to learn to ski, you spend hours perusing the internet for every blog post and article about skiing. You watch videos of people skiing, research the best gear, and join a Facebook group for winter sports enthusiasts.You may feel like an expert in all things ski-related after you dig into these resources, but have you actually learned to ski? There’s a big difference between reading about putting on skis and actually hitting the slopes.

Today, the quality of the knowledge is sacrificed for quantity.

There’s an imbalance between the knowledge we take in and the information that we use.[4] Human brain is working as quickly as it can to send data from the working memory to the long-term memory, but it can’t retain everything.[5]

The chase for more information is thrilling too. The desire to keep up sends most people scrolling through Facebook on a frequent basis. People are plagued by the fear of missing out (FOMO) to the detriment of authentic learning.[6] Most are up to date on sensational stories, and are sharing like mad on Facebook and WhatsApp, but convenient access to knowledge is no replacement for deep learning through effort and concentration. Only very little of the easily-accessed information have people really applied in their lives.

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How to Realistically Absorb and Apply Information

While it’d be perfect to absorb and apply 100% of the information, it’s not quite possible. Perhaps there are a few hyper-productive individuals who can achieve this level of success. But most of us aren’t Albert Einstein, and we’re pressed for time. We have to be pragmatic about how we approach information if we want it to stick.

If you want to hang onto information for the long-haul, you’ll need to be selective about what you choose to absorb. Without a plan, getting information from the internet is like trying to eat the entire buffet in one sitting. Break the overabundance of resources into easily digestible pieces so that you can give the information time to become meaningful to you.

1. Get a brain filter — filter out information that won’t improve you.

Scrolling through the internet is a passive form of knowledge acquisition. The amount of information that we can access is always going to be more than we can process. To filter the information you take in, focus on what you need to improve. What must you learn to be successful? Taking this simple step enables you to pass over unrelated and tangentially-related information.

As you continue to grow your knowledge and skills, you can update the parameters of your filter.

If you return to the skiing example, you establish your filter by deciding what you need to learn about skiing right now. Are you trying to figure out how to put on the skis properly? Do you know how to stop when you’re heading down a slope? If you are working on the fundamentals, it won’t be valuable to spend time learning about advanced tricks. After you’re proficient in the basics, modify your filter so that you continue to grow your skills.

2. Take information into the real world — do what you’ve read to confirm your learning.

Knowledge isn’t useful until you can apply it. If you are trying to learn a new skill, you’ll have to do the things that you’ve read about in your research. Until you’ve made multiple attempts to master the ski-trick you saw on Youtube, you haven’t internalized it. When you can land the trick without thinking or recall information without struggling, it is yours.

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It isn’t always easy to take information from the computer screen into the real world. There’s a fair chance that you are going to fail the first time you attempt something.

When you are learning to ski, you are going to fall. You’ll probably fail to execute a smooth turn, and even when you do succeed, you’ll undoubtedly compare yourself to all the other skiers on the slope that day. Giving up when you fall or allowing your brain to spin a self-defeating narrative keeps you from learning. Making mistakes is a potent part of the learning process.[7]

Practice, get feedback; and practice, and get feedback.

Getting into the habit of applying what you’ve learned is excellent, but there is only so much that you can do on your own. You need the input of others to take your skills to the next level.

You can initiate a feedback loop by performing a self-assessment to take stock of where you are in the learning process, but if you want to make more growth, seek feedback from others.[8]

It is easy to stop at the self-assessment stage and convince yourself that you are doing everything well, but you don’t know what you don’t know. Insights from others can help you determine where you should focus your learning efforts next so that you are always improving.

When you start to build new skills, you may be able to process instructions in the moment, but if you don’t continue to practice, you won’t internalize the knowledge. You’ll have to repeat your actions or process until it becomes second-nature.

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For example, when you learn a new word, you have to go through the slow process of looking it up, repeating the definition, and using it in a sentence several times. If you don’t use the word, you will forget it, but if you use it enough, it comes to mind with ease.

3. Stay alert to what to learn next — avoid wasting time on unnecessary information.

When you target your searches as opposed to mindlessly scrolling, you’ll retain more information.

Take opportunities to reflect on what you have learned along the way. You’ll not only feel better about your progress, but be able to make use of what you already know when you take on a different challenge.

To refer to our skiing example for a final time, imagine that you’ve mastered the basics of movement. You can turn smoothly and stop when you need to. What do you need to learn next? How will the things that you already know about skiing impact the way that you approach new techniques and challenges?

Knowledge Is Not Meant to Be Known, but to Be Applied

To know something deeply, you’ll have to engage with it on a consistent basis while giving yourself plenty of opportunities for self-reflection and objective feedback. Knowledge is cumulative. The greatest minds and most skilled athletes of our time didn’t become that way by scouring social media or reading books — they put in the time to make meaning of their the data that was relevant to their studies.

True learning is not always easy. You’ll experience struggles as you tackle new challenges and wade through the ephemera of the Digital Age. If you can focus your efforts and make deliberate choices about your learning, you can navigate the abundance of resources to make meaningful gains in your life.

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Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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