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. 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. Unless we use that information, we’re bound to forget it.
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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|||^||New York Times: Facebook Has 50 Minutes of Your Time Each Day. It Wants More.|
|||^||Scientific American: What is the Memory Capacity of the Human Brain?|
|||^||The Atlantic: Why Germany Is So Much Better at Training Its Workers|
|||^||Huffpost: The Internet May Be Changing Your Brain in Ways You Never Imagined|
|||^||National Bernstein Network Computational Neuroscience: How is Information Transferred Into Long-Term Memory|
|||^||HuffPost: Social Media, FOMO, and the Perfect Storm for the Quarter-Life Crisis|
|||^||Teach Thought: 10 Ways to Honor Mistakes in the Learning Process|
|||^||Fast Company: Why You Hate Getting Feedback but Still Need More of It|