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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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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

The Faster You Learn, the Easier You’ll Fall Behind

The Faster You Learn, the Easier You’ll Fall Behind

Garry Kasparov is a chess grandmaster – and also a former world chess champion. Over the last few decades, he’s beaten hundreds of first-class chess players. It’s no surprise then, that many people consider Kasparov to be one of the greatest chess players of all time.

However, in 1997, Kasparov lost a game of chess to a computer. A year earlier, he had played against IBM’s Deep Blue chess computer and defeated it. But the computer was to have its revenge, as just one year later, when the rematch took place, Deep Blue defeated Kasparov.

    Over the next few years, humans and computers traded chess moves and blows. Fast-forward to 2017, and the picture is crystal clear: today’s best chess programs can easily beat the world’s best human chess players.[1]

    As the Kasparov story demonstrates, even the world’s top players – who practiced a lot – can end up losing.

    Now consider your friends, family and colleagues. How many of these people think they’re doing well in what they do? And how many think they are doing better than the average and have stopped looking for ways to improve themselves? The answer is, a lot.

    Why Learning Can Lead to Stagnation

    When people learn well – they pick up knowledge and quickly become skillful. And the smarter the people, the easier they pick up knowledge, and the easier and faster they become very good at something.

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    These types of individuals find learning effortless, and therefore, they pick up knowledge and skills much better than the average person.

    Take a look at the picture below. The tool in their hand represents the skill they have learned, and the cloud is the level they are currently on – in this case ground level.

      When these learners become knowers, they believe that they know what they’ve learned extremely well. This may be the case, but in reality, they’re already better than average. Because of this, they are unlikely to find anyone who can surpass them. It’s at this point that they may think to themselves, “I’m good enough” and “there’s no need for me learn anything more.”

        As I’ll show in the next few paragraphs, people’s egos can stop them from learning and improving themselves.

        For example, let’s take a look at an expert pianist. They can perform proficiently because of their hard work and practice that they’ve put in over the course of many years. To help them, they may have had a tutor who developed their skills and brought out their talent.

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        The consistent tutoring and practicing led them to become an accomplished pianist – one who regularly performs paid concerts in front of decent-sized audiences. However, their success has led them to believe that they don’t need to make any further changes or improvements to their musical skills.

          When experts stop learning – they start to fall behind. This is because others will keep improving, and eventually get ahead of them.

          The world is constantly changing, so sticking to the same way to practice (and failing to improve) will lead to people dropping the ball. A recent study predicted that one in five U.K. employees are under threat of losing their jobs to automation. A person who’s comfortable in their job today, may find themselves replaced by a computer or robot tomorrow. If this prediction comes true, millions of people will soon find themselves out of work.[2] This is a real life example of how people can fall behind when they stop learning and improving themselves.

          Clearly, any experts who stop learning and improving, will be replaced by those who keep learning – whether these are humans or machines.

            When You Think You’ve Learned Enough, You Fall Behind

            The cloud depicted in the visuals isn’t concrete, and it’s prone to fall and disappear any time when you stop paying attention to your own learning and development.

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            Everyone, no matter how good they believe themselves to be at something, should never stop learning. Reaching an ‘acceptable’ performance only means that you’re doing okay. It doesn’t mean that you’re doing it to the best of your ability or potential.

            As I stated earlier (but well worth repeating again)… When you stop learning, you’re falling behind.

              Push Yourself to Reach New Heights

              To keep ahead of your competitors, you need to keep learning and practicing. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean doing things in the same way. You may need to step outside of your comfort zone in order to improve.

                Do what you can’t

                When you think you’re doing something well enough, find what you can’t do – and then do it! Here are four key things to remember about pushing your boundaries:

                1. If you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve.
                2. Getting out of your comfort zone means trying to do something that you couldn’t do before.
                3. Sometimes you’ll run into something that stops you in your tracks. Find ways around these hurdles by focusing on improving your skills and knowledge, and then practicing them until you become proficient.
                4. Don’t be afraid to experiment. You may need to try different ways to make things happen.

                Set yourself specific goals as you practice

                People who achieve great things set themselves definite goals. And I highly recommend that you do the same.

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                One great way to do this is to follow the SMART and Stretch goal methods, which will help you set a big goal, while at the same time giving you baby steps on how to reach it. When SMART and Stretch goals are combined, your goal setting will have genuine purpose and power. You’ll be motivated by the giant goal, while having confidence in the small, incremental steps that will lead you there.

                Find out more about goals setting in my other article: How to Get Bigger Things Done in the Coming Year

                Along the way, you need to get feedback to help you improve

                It goes without saying that to make progress, you’ll need feedback to identify exactly where and how you are falling short. This feedback can be from yourself or from outside observers (e.g., your audience, your mentor, your peers).

                Do you know why computers can beat humans at chess after those times they’ve lost against them? The answer is, that people who program the computers have learned through all the steps humans have performed. They also gathered valuable feedback through their computers losing against some competitors. The programmers pick up the clues and change the way the computers perform in their next matches.

                Learning Should Never Come to an End

                When we’re young we naturally crave learning. We constantly seek out new knowledge, skills and experiences. However, as we mature, there’s a tendency for us to stop learning new things.

                If this happens, you can be sure that stagnation is just around the corner. And as nature shows, nothing (even stagnation) stays the same for long. Things are either building up – or breaking down.

                To avoid the latter, you must maintain a positive outlook that embraces big goals and constant learning. By doing these things, you’ll stay fresh, lively and ahead of the pack of hyenas snapping at your heels!

                Reference

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