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Last Updated on March 11, 2020

7 Steps to Make Self-Learning Effective for You

7 Steps to Make Self-Learning Effective for You

You know at least one self-made individual who stood out and made their skills known and appreciable, for example Nikola Tesla and Steve Jobs. Although self-learning was considered a great feat some time back, it is no longer as difficult as it once was. With huge amounts of free resources and access to hundreds of content and online courses, all you need is to spend a judicious amount of time and energy into learning something new.

If you are wondering what exactly is self-learning, here is the answer:

Self-learning is anything you learn outside a classroom environment by yourself without a set curriculum or examinations.

Unlike traditional methods of schooling, your self-learning efforts are not measured by how well you perform in an exam. Self-learning lets you gauge and improve your knowledge via practical applications with no matriculated evaluation. This makes it all about pure learning.

Besides the knowledge factor, self-learning also helps in developing your skill levels and enrich your experiences by practical applications. Here are some reasons why you should consider self-learning:

  • Self-learning helps you develop your problem solving skills.
  • Self-learning is stress free. There are no exams, no deadlines. Only pure satisfaction and curiosity being answered.
  • You gain secondary skills that will help you advance your career.
  • Self-learning comes out of your personal desire to learn something new. Thus, you get a feel of accomplishment and get a purpose to learning.
  • You get to choose the way you learn. You can find your comfortable medium, videos, texts, experiments or webinars, and other diverse mediums can be efficiently used to learn.

So, how can you start learning by yourself?

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1. Be Curious

The first step to learning anything is to be curious about it. The desire to learn is what will keep you motivated to keep learning. Allow yourself to ask questions and be naturally curious about what you are interested in. Start your learning with a purpose. Ask yourself various questions:

  • Why you need to learn?
  • Why is it important?
  • How useful will this learning be?

Do you know that when students are not curious enough, they tend to take in or absorb less information from the curriculum? On the other hand, if you are studying on your own, this is entirely for your own benefit, where you are curious and ask the relevant questions to get through the course.

2. Set Learning Goals

Setting realistic goals will help you focus and improve your productivity. It lets you work towards something achievable and give purpose to your learning.

For instance, if you are trying to learn a programming language, try to set a goal to create an application using that programming language. Or, if you are training yourself in a foreign language, you should set yourself a goal to invest some time in this language. This could be writing an article, or reading some poetry in that language or picking up a song in the foreign language and so on.

These kinds of goals actually keep you motivated, providing you with some ambition to fulfill in the end.

3. Assess Your Learning Resources

This is an important step you need to focus on. As self-learners, it is necessary to verify the authenticity and correctness of the materials you use to educate yourself. You should also look into what is accessible to you to make your learning progress.

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Unlike traditional classroom learning, self-learning can be a sporadic process that does not follow a set plan or syllabus. Try not to lose focus and absorb the necessary information from whatever channels you stumble upon.

Here are some pointers to help you assess your resources:

  • Verify everything. Be aware of outdated or incorrect information as internet is filled with fake information. Cross check references and challenge every content you go through.
  • Make use of peer reviewed academic databases like Google scholars, science journals that have proper citations.
  • Make use of online learning platforms.

For instance, if you are engaging in some software or tool course via self-learning methods, you could always go back and check how updated the tool is. If the course is meant for the 2013 version of the tool and you are using the 2019 version, the course could actually prove to be redundant for you. This way, you might end up learning something that does not meet your requirements.

4. Engage in a Learning Process

Start learning today. The more you keep putting off your learning process, the more difficult it becomes for you to start learning.

Set a schedule and engage in your own approach to self-learning. Leaving gaps will make you procrastinate, so try to stick to a self-made process to your learning efforts.

Decide on how you want to assess your improvements. It could be self-made quizzes, online tests or anything that lets you be assured of your progress. Just create an effective feedback loop to help you learn faster.

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5. Apply What You Learn

The best way to retain knowledge is to use it. So when you self-learn something, try to find a real world application to use the knowledge you gained. For instance, if you are trying to learn a new language, try speaking it with a native or fellow learner. This way you will get more confidence in your learning and will also be able you remember what you studied better.

A project oriented learning where you will try building or creating something as you learn is a good way to gain experience through self-learning.

For instance, if you are working on a web development coding language, you could actually take time out to build a small tool online or a web page that could help you exercise your skills. The idea is to keep yourself motivated in the self-learning process. Anything that serves as a live example of the course you are going through will come in handy in the near future.

6. Collaborate with Other Learners

A great thing about online communities is that it allows you to meet with people from all over the world with similar interests and learning aspirations. Try your hand at collaborative learning. Some benefits of sharing with fellow learners include:

  • More access to resources you may have not known earlier.
  • Knowledge transfer and sharing with no set prejudices.
  • Clarifying concepts and discussions on subject topics will stimulate more interest and let you see the different views of the same problem.
  • Getting a new perspective of the same topic or idea could help you refine your knowledge in the same area. This will actually serve as a classroom environment where different people come together to learn, discuss and share ideas among one another.

7. Share Your Knowledge

The final step would be to give back to the community. The more you teach, the easier it is for you to keep learning.

Albert Einstein said it well:

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“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

When you try to explain a concept to someone, you will be focusing and gaining a better understanding of the subject along with the ability to retain the information better. It will also help you look at what you learn in a different perspective as in collaborative learning.

This is a great aspect of self-learning. Anyone can be a teacher and everyone can be a learner. There is a common belief that knowledge is one thing that increases on sharing with others. In order to get yourself closer to the classroom environment, it is highly recommended that you share your ideas and knowledge in the communities, groups and forums.

Bottom Line

Don’t wait anymore to exercise your brain. Let your curiosity find its way to greater knowledge. There are enough resources to help you out in the internet. Self-learn what you want, when you want, and the way you want to.

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Featured photo credit: Adeolu Eletu via unsplash.com

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Last Updated on July 24, 2020

A Comprehensive Guide to a Smart Learning Process

A Comprehensive Guide to a Smart Learning Process

One of the most crucial aspects of our lives is the ability to learn. We often take this skill for granted since not many of us pause and think about our learning process. In fact, if we did, we would probably uncover that we engage in ineffective learning mechanisms.

Think about it. Has your learning helped you recall things you learned last month? Go back a year and ponder.

A lot of how we learn was tucked away in school. Our exposure to school learning is the basis of how we learn moving forward. However, over the past few decades, learning has evolved into different stages of learning, and that becomes the main issue.

No longer are we looking at examinations of people’s characteristics about understanding and learning. Instead, scholars have created learning processes that use materials that support our interactions with others and our goals.

As a result, we can learn new things more smartly and effectively – which will be covered as we proceed further in understanding the learning process.

The Essential Steps of the Learning Process

In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell states that the key to success is for us to practice 10,000 hours on a specific skill. It’s also worth noting that the skill needs the correct learning direction. If you’re learning how to do something the wrong way, you’ll continue to use it the wrong way.

But before understanding the learning process, we must understand the stages of learning. Written in the 1970s, Noel Burch created a model called the Four Stages of Learning. [1]

From there, we can use the stages of learning as a basis for how to learn effectively.

1. Unconscious Incompetence

Think of a skill that you are good at and that you use every single day.

Now think back to when you first developed that skill. Were you good at it? Probably not.

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You never heard of the skill or had a desire to learn of it until that point. This is the first stage: You know nothing about it.

2. Conscious Incompetence

Once you have heard of the skill, you begin to delve into it.

Driving a car is a perfect example. Before this stage, you never felt the need to learn how to drive. Nevertheless, once you became of legal age, you had to study to get your license. You likely made several mistakes on the driving test as well as during the written test.

This is the stage where you feel learning is slow, and you’re also aware of your mistakes.

3. Conscious Competence

By this stage, you know pretty much everything you need to know. At the same time, though, you are also aware that you need to focus and concentrate on what you are doing.

This stage can be that you know the rules of the road and can drive well. However, you feel you can’t talk to anyone, play any music, or look away from the road. You feel like you need total silence to focus and concentrate on driving.

At this stage, learning can be even slower than the previous stages. The learning isn’t consistent, nor is it a habit yet.

4. Unconscious Competence

By this stage, you’ve made it. You know everything in and out about the skill. It’s become a habit, and you don’t need to concentrate. You can relax and let your unconscious mind take over.

Exceeding the 4 Stages: Flow/Mastery

While Burch only covered four stages, there is another stage that exceeds it. This is the flow or mastery stage.

You may have heard of something called a flow state. [2] It’s the mental state where someone is performing an activity and is fully immersed in it. They feel energized, focused, and get a sense of joy from doing this activity.

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Flow or mastery can stem from all kinds of activities like Writing, reading, jogging, biking, figure skating, and more. It’s also characterized as complete absorption in what you’re doing, making you unaware of space and time.

Different Types of Learning Process

Another aspect of the learning process is the types of learning. While every person goes through those stages of learning, how we learn is different.

Having covered four learning styles in 4 Learning Styles to Help You Learn Faster and Smarter, I’m recapping the different types of learning in psychology.

Psychiatrists have narrowed how we learn down to seven learning styles as below:

  • Visual (spatial): Learning through pictures, graphs, charts, etc.
  • Aural (auditory-musical): Learning through sound and music.
  • Verbal (linguistic): Learning through spoken or written words.
  • Physical (kinesthetic): Learning through the body, hands, and a sense of touch.
  • Logical (mathematical): Learning through logic, systems, and reasons.
  • Social (interpersonal): Learning through groups or talking to people.
  • Solitary (intrapersonal): Learning individually through self-study or individual assignments.

You may be asking why all of this matters and actually how we learn plays a significant role. How we internally represent experiences stems from how we learn. What we learn not only establishes how we recall information but also impacts our own word choice.

It also influences which part of our brain we use for learning. Researchers uncovered this through various experiments.[3]

For example, say you’re driving to a place you’ve never gone before. How you learn will determine which method of learning you’ll use. Some will ask people for directions, while others will pull up Google maps. Some will write the directions out, while some won’t and merely follow street signs.

Knowing how to learn to this depth is vital because once you know what style you use, you can then develop a learning process to be a more effective learner.

How To Become an Effective Learner?

The learning process varies from person to person. Generally speaking, though, consider the following steps and considerations:

1. Improve Your Memory

Learning doesn’t only require that we learn information, but to retain it. If we are to learn something, we will have to learn and relearn. This means recalling and having a sharp memory to keep that information.

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Improving our memory can range from a variety of things. From memory palaces to practicing other memory improvement tactics.

2. Keep Learning and Practicing New Things

Learning a new skill takes time, but there is nothing wrong with learning a few other things. International Journal of Science – Nature: Changes in grey matter induced by training[4] reported that those who juggled between learning different topics increase their gray matter which is associated with visual memory

3. Learn in Many Ways

While we have our own go-to style, delving into other types and stages of learning can be useful. If you learn by listening to podcasts, why not try rehearsing information verbally or visually?

It will not start great, but by improving your skill to describe what you learned orally, you are further cementing the knowledge in your mind.

Judy Willis MD, M.Ed in her publication on Review of Research: Brain-Based Teaching Strategies for Improving Students’ Memory, Learning, and Test-Taking Success[5] states how the more regions we keep data stored, the more interconnection there is in the collection information that we later process.

4. Teaching What You Learned to Others

It doesn’t have to be in a tutoring situation, but this method is still a reliable way for two people to grow.

Regardless of learning styles, we retain the information we tell others more effectively than if we keep it to ourselves. Was there a random fact you told someone a few months ago? You are more likely to remember that information because you brought it up to someone.

5. Use Relational Learning

Relational learning is relating new information to things you already know.

A typical example of this is remembering someone’s name. You can better recall that person’s name if you associate that name to something or someone familiar.

6. Gaining Practical Experience

Nothing beats learning than trying it for yourself. Sure, seeing information does have its strong points -and most learning styles benefit from exposed information – there is something to be said about getting your “hands dirty.”

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7. Refer Back to past Info If Need Be

The learning process is not perfect. We’ll forget at certain points. If you ever struggle to remember something, make a point of going back to your notes.

This is key because if we try recalling, we risk ourselves learning or relearning the wrong answer. And again, there is a difference between learning the right way and the wrong way.

8. Test Yourself

While this step may seem odd, there are benefits to testing yourself. Even if you think you know everything about the topic, going back and testing yourself can always help.

Not only does testing improve our recall, but we may realize that we learned a concept or task incorrectly. That knowledge can enhance our effectiveness in the future.

9. Stop Multitasking

While we should be learning new things all the time, we shouldn’t be trying to do several tasks at once. We ought to focus on one activity at a time before moving onto other tasks.

By trying to multitask, we are learning less effectively and are only hindering ourselves. Check out how multitasking is merely another way of distracting ourselves.

Bottom Line

Psychologists define learning as the process of a permanent change in a person’s behavior resulting from experience. The understanding of the learning process is up to us, but do consider the bigger picture. Be aware of what style works best for you, and work to improve it while enhancing other learning styles. The only way we can advance a skill is to learn continuously. Even in the skills you have mastered, there are always new developments.

You can learn more about how you can cultivate lifelong learning and attain an edge in every niche that you get associated with today!

Featured photo credit: Aliis Sinisalu via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Gordon Training International: The Four Stages of Competence
[2] Habits for Wellbeing: Flow: the Secret to Happiness: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
[3] Training Industry: How the Brain Learns
[4] International Journal of Science – Nature: Changes in grey matter induced by training
[5] Judy Willis MD, M.Ed: Review of Research: Brain-Based Teaching Strategies for Improving Students’ Memory, Learning, and Test-Taking Success

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