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How to Educate Yourself and Be an Effective Self-Learner

How to Educate Yourself and Be an Effective Self-Learner

Innovation and automation are everywhere in the many industries of the world. It’s a wonder watching it but, with it stems some problems with more and more people being replaced with robots and having to re-train or enter another field.

In order for people to do those things, most people often turn to go back to school rather than considering other options. While going back to school could be helpful, you can always consider learning how to educate yourself instead.

Maybe a long time ago that option wasn’t a reality, but with good quality information and other factors, educating yourself now is well worth considering. Even if you’re not in the market for a new job.

What Does It Mean to Educate Yourself?

What it means to educate yourself is a matter of having a series of habits that promote how to educate yourself. Going into finer details, these habits comprise of a system to help you stay up on relevant topics that you are passionate about.

As I mentioned earlier, this method has only sprung up in recent years as a valid option. The reason that’s the case was that information wasn’t readily available. Several decades ago, our information came from newspapers, radio, and television.

But now, information is being created every single day by the thousands through blog posts run by professionals or large businesses.

The quality of the information and the quantity of it has increased thanks to the Internet and further expansion of it. It’s to the point what it means to educate yourself is leveraging the information on the Internet.

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Can You Self-Educate without Going to College?

Since the internet is the best way to gather information, it’s totally possible to self-educate ourselves without going to college. Here are some ways to start off:

1. Stay Current on Industry News

Not just the news of the industry you’re in, but also in other areas you have an interest in.

As I said, the industries are changing because there is always something happening. One way on how to educate yourself is being aware of what’s going on in the industry.

The only thing to keep in mind with this is there are many ways to stay caught up in the industry. You don’t need to pay for subscriptions to several papers or magazines to stay caught up. Turn to social media and search for relevant hashtags or keywords, or sign up to news outlets mailing lists. There are plenty of free options.

2. Sign Up for Online Courses

Information has become so abundant that there are all kinds of courses available. Online learning is also a really effective way to learn these days. Some options you can turn to are sites like Udemy or Skillshare which have thousands of courses available. Here’re more sites for self-learning: 25 Killer Sites For Online Education

Some universities have even opened up courses online for free. One example of a site providing that is edX which has courses from MIT, Harvard, Berkeley University and others. And at Lifehack, we offer some free classes too.

3. Get a Mentor

Every industry has skilled individuals who are willing to teach others. Backed by years of experience in the field, they can pass down valuable lessons that no other classroom could teach you.

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This is another strong method because a mentor is likely to stay ahead of the curve. Their years of experience and understanding of the industry can lead to more specific advice. After all, traditional colleges and universities tend to focus on widespread information rather than what you really need to know.

A mentor is another way to get a personalized experience. Here’re some tips on finding a mentor that suits you: How to Find a Mentor That Will Help You Succeed

4. Take Up an Arts Class

While some people think that arts of any sort are a waste of time or a joke, it’s worth considering it seriously these days.

Recall that innovation stems from people’s ability to look at a problem and create creative solutions. Don’t you think that requires some creative thinking?

While you might not want to be an industry trendsetter, being artsy or creative can provide other benefits. Benefits that come to mind are:

  • You can do this solo. Done by yourself and taught by yourself has perks to it.
  • It is cheap to do. Want to be a better writer? Open up a document on your computer and start typing. You can do the same with any other device as well. Even if you’re looking to draw or paint art supplies aren’t that costly and you can pace yourself as much as you’d like.
  • You could meet other people. There are other writers, artists, singers and more in your town. It’s a matter of looking around for them.
  • You will learn new skills. All of these mediums provide various skills when you look at them. Not only that but you can also learn about yourself through this medium too.

5. Start Journalling

Even if the art stuff isn’t something you’re keen on, I’d at least suggest taking up journaling. Specifically journalling for the sake of reflecting.

This doesn’t mean you have to journal about your day, but rather focus on the information that you learned that day — personal or otherwise. This is important because information only stays as relevant to us as long as we recall it and retain that information.

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With this in mind, you can use the journal to jot down big lessons that day, quotes, or other little tidbits of information you want to remember. After that, be sure to check that journal once a week to go over what you’ve learned.

Try one of these 15 Inspiring Journal Ideas to Kickstart Journaling.

6. Always Be Looking Stuff Up

Google and Wikipedia are powerful sources of information. Make a point of using it every day at some capacity, especially if you’ve got a smartphone or you’re around a computer.

One other alternative to look at is bringing a dictionary or encyclopedia with you. The idea with this is to look up a new word and try to make a reference of it over the course of the day.

How to Learn Effectively as a Self-Learner

It’s one thing to know how to educate yourself but it’s another to be effective at it. Some strategies can be focusing on one of the activities above and spending only 15 minutes a day on that. However, there are other methods to consider to be an effective self-learner.

Use the Sandbox Method

The first method I’ll suggest is the Sandbox Method.[1] It’s an ongoing process for self-education and is based on how we learn and process information.

This method recognizes that we don’t always need to memorize facts, formulas, or other specific bits of information. Instead, the method helps us to develop a deep understanding of the skills we’re using and expose ourselves to a lot of information around that topic. We can then use that information to improve ourselves and to encourage further learning.

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Here is a breakdown of the method:

  1. Build the sandbox. What this means is determining where you’re getting the information, and what the information is about. Your sandbox by the end should be cheap or free to do, have low-stakes, and have some public element to it.
  2. Do the research. Start off with how-to’s and general information about the area you are learning. These get you to practicing your skills which give us a better grasp of the topic.
  3. Implement and practice. Once you’ve done the skill on your own, the next thing is to make it more public. For example, if you are wanting to learn how to bake, start baking goods for guests or for a party.
  4. Get feedback. Once you’ve done something, go back and do some more research. Keep filling in gaps of knowledge. Create your feedback loop. Maybe there is a better method to baking a pie? Or perhaps your form was off when lifting weights? Whatever the case is, you want to be certain you’re doing it right or finding ways to improve your current performance.

Take Up These Learning Habits

While the sandbox method is a great method, there are other alternatives. Namely strong habits that while alone may do little, but with many can give you a well-rounded learning experience.

Here are some ideas that come to mind:

  • Having a studying environment. You don’t have a classroom, so the next best thing is making a place you frequently go a place of study. It could be a library, a room in your home, or a cafe. Regardless, have a place where you can study and learn with purpose.
  • Highlight information. If you’re the type to buy books or e-books, make use of highlighters. You can also consider other note-taking apps where you can store specific bits of information. Apps like Evernote or OneNote are great for that.
  • Learning from various mediums. There are 7 styles of learning we can use though we prefer only one or two of these methods most. Figure out which ones you like and challenge yourself to learn in a different way.
  • Set goals. To get into learning as a lifestyle, it’s important to keep up the habit. Goals are a good way of staying on track of the habits you want to have.
  • Consider tutoring. Not only can you get paid to tutor people, but this also reinforces things you learn as well. Tutoring is also a way to validate and reassure what you are learning is sticking with you too.

Final Thoughts

Being a self-learner is all about adopting and embracing various methods on how to educate yourself. While going to university are still valid options, the sheer amount of information available allows any person to learn about anything.

So save yourself the massive time and money sink to go to university and consider these habits. These habits can pay off in big ways over time.

More Tips for Self-Learners

Featured photo credit: Cassidy Kelley via unsplash.com

Reference

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Published on March 1, 2021

What Is Double Loop Learning And How Is It Valuable?

What Is Double Loop Learning And How Is It Valuable?

As someone on the Millennial/Generation X cusp, one of my first memories of a news story was the devastating crash of the Challenger space shuttle. I couldn’t process the severity or the specifics of the event at the time, but looking back, the Challenger explosion represents a heartbreaking example of what can happen when systems fail.

A part of the shuttle known as the O-ring was faulty. People from NASA knew about it well before the disaster, but NASA employees either ignored the problem—writing it off as not that bad—or were ignored when they tried to alert higher-ups about the issue.[1] This is a tragic example of single-loop learning where organizations focus on what they’re doing without reflecting on how or why they’re doing it, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Single and Double-Loop Learning

Chris Argyris describes the difference between single and double-loop learning with a metaphor. A thermostat that turns on and off when it senses a pre-set temperature is akin to single-loop learning. The thermostat being able to reflect on whether or not it should be set to that temperature in the first place would be more like double-loop learning.[2]

Imagine the difference if NASA would have encouraged and addressed employees’ questions about how they were doing, what they were doing, and whether or not they should be doing it at all—you’ll start to see how an extra layer of questioning and critical thought can help organizations thrive.

Single Loop Learning

Single-loop learning is when planning leads to action, which leads to reflection on those actions and then back to planning, action, and more reflection. Now, you might think that because reflection is involved, single-loop learning would be an effective organizational model. However, because there isn’t room for critical questions that ask why actions are being taken, problems begin to bubble up.

The Double Bind

When organizations are operating in single-loop learning, they get stuck in what Argyris calls the Double Bind. Because there’s no value placed on questioning why the team is doing something, team members are either punished for speaking up or punished for not speaking up if something goes wrong down the line.

Primary Inhibiting Loop

When an organization is stuck in single-loop learning, the double bind leads to what Argyris calls the primary inhibiting loop. Real learning and growth are inhibited because team members withhold information from each other. This withholding leads to distrust and is difficult to remedy because even if employees attempt to become more forthcoming, lack of trust sours interactions.

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Secondary Inhibiting Loop

Because information is being withheld, team members play unconscious games (not the fun kind) to protect each other’s feelings. For example, I might try to distract my colleagues from worrying about a problem in our plan by shifting the focus to another project we’re working on that’s going better.

When you’re stuck in single-loop learning, the organization does whatever it can to continue taking action after action instead of stopping to truly reassess the bigger picture. This leads team members to hide information from each other, which causes distrust and behaviors that try to mask flaws in the organization’s structures and systems.

Double Loop Learning in Organizations

A common misconception is that the opposite of single-loop learning involves focusing primarily on people’s feelings and allowing employees to manage themselves. However, the solution for single-loop learning is not about doing the opposite. It’s about adding an extra later of critical analysis—double-loop learning.

With double-loop learning, questioning why the organization is doing what it’s doing is an organizational value. Instead of moving from planning to action to reflection and back to planning, in double-loop learning, people are encouraged to reflect on why they’re doing what they’re doing. This can help the organization take a step back and reconsider what’s best for all stakeholders instead of being stuck acting and reacting.

Ultimately, double-loop learning gives team members the time, space, and systems to ask tough questions and have them addressed in meaningful ways.

Let’s think back to the Challenger disaster. If NASA had created an organization that uses double-loop learning, employees wouldn’t have felt compelled to stay silent, and the employees who did speak up would have influenced the process enough to reconsider the timeline and develop a solution for the O-ring problem.

Single-loop learning is like a train with no breaks. Double-loop learning provides the extra layer of critical thought that allows the organization to stop and pivot when that’s what’s required.

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Think back to Argyris’ thermostat metaphor. Instead of just reacting—turning on and off when it detects a certain temperature—double-loop learning invites the thermostat to reconsider why it’s doing what it’s doing and how it might do it better.

How to Shift to Double Loop Learning

So, how can organizations shift from single to double-loop learning?

1. Stakeholders Must Level With Each Other

The first step to shifting from single to double-loop learning is for all stakeholders to sit down and talk openly about their expectations, values, and goals. These sessions should be led by organizational experts to ensure that old single-loop learning habits of distrust, withholding, and game-playing don’t keep people stuck in single-loop learning.

One of the keys to team members leveling with each other is listening. Focus on creating an environment where everyone can speak up without fear of judgment or punishment.

2. Create Benchmarks for Lasting Growth and Change

Old habits die hard, and single-loop learning is no different. If systems, check-ins, benchmarks, and periodic times to reflect and reset aren’t put into place, old habits of withholding and mistrust will likely creep back in. You can guard against this by making it a norm to measure, assess, and improve how new double-loop learning systems are being implemented over time.

3. Reward Risk-Taking and Critical Feedback

Double-loop learning requires squeaky wheels. You have to create a culture that rewards criticism, risk-taking, and reflecting on the system as a whole and the reasons the organization does what it does. Think big picture stuff.

This is about walking the walk. It’s one thing to tell employees to speak up and give their feedback, it’s another thing entirely to have systems in place that make employees feel safe enough to do so.

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Kimberly Scott’s Radical Candor comes to mind as one way to start shifting to a more open and critical environment. Radical Candor is a system that incentivizes employees and managers to start speaking up about things they used to sweep under the rug. It’s a roadmap and a way to assess and improve open and reflective feedback between all stakeholders.

Double Loop Learning for Individuals

Double-loop learning isn’t only for organizations. You can also apply Argyris’ ideas to your learning.[3]

Here’s how that might look:

1. Level With Yourself and Seek Accountability

Instead of being stuck in a single-loop learning cycle, break out by adding another layer of critical reflection. Why are you learning what you’re learning? Is it important? Is there another way? Think big picture again.

Become clear on what you want to learn and how you’re currently trying to learn it. Then, open yourself up to others to keep yourself accountable. Leave the door open to completely shift major details about your learning goals.

2. Create Benchmarks and Don’t Put Your Head in the Sand

Just as with organizations, individuals also need to create goals and continuously reflect on whether or not they’re moving toward double-loop learning. Schedule times to meet with the people keeping you accountable for your learning plan. Then, ask yourself whether or not your learning goals still make sense.

Ask big picture questions. Are you in the right environment to learn? Is your learning plan working? Do you need to change course altogether or shift your goals entirely? If it’s double-loop learning, you can’t be afraid to ask questions about why you’re doing what you’re doing and change course when the need arises.

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3. Value Risk-Taking and Accept Criticism

You’re also going to need to shift your mindset from simply learning and reflecting to accepting criticism, being critical of yourself as a learner, and taking risks and experiencing discomfort as you ask big questions and make drastic alterations to your learning plan over time.

Instead of concerning yourself with grades and GPAs, double-loop learning would mean you’re allowing yourself time to step back and analyze why you’re learning what you’re learning, if there’s a better way, and even whether or not you should be on that learning trajectory in the first place.

Final Thoughts

Think back to the thermostat example. Doing homework, handing it in, and then receiving a grade is single-loop learning. Thinking about why you’re doing any of that and making appropriate changes that align with your learning goals shifts you into double-loop learning, and that’s a great way to see the bigger picture and get the best results.

Learning and reflection are two of the most important things when it comes to organizational or personal development. This is why double-loop learning is key if you want yourself or your organization to succeed.

More Tips on Effective Learning

Featured photo credit: Cherrydeck via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] NPR: Challenger: What Went Wrong
[2] Harvard Business Review: Double Loop Learning in Organizations
[3] Journal of Advanced Learning: The role of reflection in single and double-loop learning

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