How to Become an Intentional Learner for Never-Ending Growth

How to Become an Intentional Learner for Never-Ending Growth

We human beings are learning machines. We learn through observation. We learn through listening. We learn through watching. We even learn when we’re helping others learn.

Some of what we learn slips in without notice, like when a friend shares a story that you can’t stop thinking about. Some of what we learn is passive, like when we watch the news or when we’re listening to an audiobook while out on a run.

But when we’re intentional about what we’re trying to learn, there’s a purpose behind it, which means we want to soak more of it up and internalize it—so that we can apply the concepts in our lives.

Intentional learning is essentially goal-directed learning—learning for a specific purpose. It isn’t accidental—it’s deliberate.

Having a deliberate approach—especially when it comes to learning—is crucial if you’re the type of person who’s dedicated to a constant and never-ending pursuit of personal growth.

In this article, you’ll learn 7 tips on how to become an intentional learner so that you can make your intentional learning efforts as impactful and effective as possible—no matter what you want to learn.

How Do I Become an Intentional Learner?

Intentional learning is what happens when you focus on learning specific things for specific purposes.

Here are some examples that may prompt you to become an intentional learner:

  • If you want to learn how to start an online business, you might Google about it and read several articles.
  • If you want to surprise your spouse for your upcoming anniversary by cooking her favorite dish for dinner, you might enroll in a cooking class that’s specifically tailored toward teaching you how to cook the type of dish or cuisine she loves.
  • If you want to learn a new language, you might get some learning software, like Rosetta Stone, to help you learn it.
  • If you want to deepen your knowledge about Personal Development[1], you might read two or three best-selling books about it or listen to some Self-Improvement podcasts.[2]

Now that we’ve set the context, let’s dive into the specific tips on how to become an intentional learner. Learning these tips will help you make your intentional learning efforts as impactful and effective as possible—no matter what you want to learn.

Let’s get into it.

1. Set a Learning Goal

The most powerful way to start with intentional learning is to actually begin with intention. In other words, clarify the results you seek to achieve with what you plan to learn and it’ll be easier to retain and apply that knowledge over the long run.

Use the following questions to help you drill down and clarify your learning goal:

  • What’s the goal (desired result/outcome) you seek to achieve?
  • Why do you want to achieve it?
  • What kind of problem are you trying to solve with what you want to learn?
  • What do you need to learn to solve your problem or achieve your learning goal?
  • What’s the most effective and efficient way to learn it?
  • How will you know when you have accomplished your learning goal?

2. Have a Deep Desire

When I was around 19 years old, I decided to get myself in shape. At the time, I was what you might call “skinny-fat.” I was totally out of shape and living an incredibly unhealthy lifestyle. I rarely ever had any energy. I didn’t feel good about what I saw in the mirror every morning, and I was ready for change.

I’d tried to learn about health and fitness in the past but always half-heartedly. I’d look up some workouts and try them at the gym, but I never really committed myself.

I tried to eat healthier, but I’d inevitably give up and end up at the drive-thru.


And then one day, it just hit me: do I really want to spend the rest of my life like this?

I knew the answer was “No”.

I remember standing in front of the mirror, looking at my soft, chubby body in disgust.

At that moment, I told myself that enough was enough. I was sick of feeling this way. Sick of feeling unhealthy. Sick of not feeling good about myself physically. I was sick to my stomach.

And then I imagined how it would feel if I could turn myself around—if I could learn about exercise, nutrition, and eating healthy foods—and then apply those learnings in the gym and kitchen. How phenomenal would I feel?

I thought about all of the ways that learning how to get into shape (and then actually doing what it takes to get there) would positively impact my life. Thinking about how great it would make me feel, I’d given birth to a deep desire to make this a reality in my own life.

On that day, I began my transformation—and I haven’t looked back since.

That very same day, I spent ten hours reading and learning about diets, nutrition, and exercise. I put plans together—and actually followed them. And soon after, the results I’d imagined had become a reality. I felt healthier and more lively. I had that lean, muscular physique I’d dreamt about.

I built a new version of myself. And it felt incredible. It was a pivotal point in my life. And it all began with a deep desire.

So, what’s a deep desire of your own that you can fulfill through intentional learning?

Find it and ignite it.

3. Strategize and Organize

Rather than learning haphazardly, first, figure out a strategy and structure that’s best suited to your learning needs.

Look at your responses to the questions from the first two tips, and design a learning approach that will help you get the knowledge you need as quickly and effectively as possible.

Some people might benefit from reading full books, while others might benefit from reviewing a bunch of book summaries on a related topic.

Some people can learn what they need by watching tutorials on YouTube, while others need to get a coach.


Whichever strategy you choose, organize it in a way that works best for you.

Also, keep in mind that sometimes it’s helpful to let off the gas and relax a bit: we can sometimes fall into tunnel vision when we’re learning new things, but it’s important to keep in mind that learning happens while we’re daydreaming or doing seemingly unrelated things.

Give yourself time to digest your learnings like a good meal. Let your mind wander and wonder about what you’re learning from time to time.

That said, remember that your strategy and structure for intentional learning must be organized and executed around a learning priority that you want to achieve.

It should also be something that you genuinely desire to learn. Not just because your teacher told you to, or because your boss told you to—but because YOU told you to, and because you want to.

And finally, throughout your intentional learning process, be sure to monitor your methods to be sure that they’re helping you achieve your learning goals and needs.

4. Review It to Retain It

After we’ve learned something new, we’ve got a 24 -hour window of time to capitalize on retaining that new knowledge.

This 24-hour window is called the “forgetting curve.” Basically, what it means is this: unless you review the material you’ve just learned, you’ll forget most of it after the first 24 hours—and you’ll continue to lose more over the days that follow. This leaves you with a fraction of what you learned initially.

As someone who’s interested in becoming an intentional learner, you’d probably prefer to avoid that if you can, am I right?

So how?

Let’s say you’ve just read a book. You can probably recall much of what you read the next day. But what about the next month? How about a year from now?

Next year, you’ll probably still remember enough about the book to vaguely tell someone about it. But would you remember all the key concepts?

Of course not. In reality, you’d end up forgetting more than 80% of the material you read.

Compare this to one of your favorite songs—one that you can easily remember word-for-word.

Why is it so easy to remember the lyrics to your favorite song, and so difficult to remember the big ideas from a book you’ve read?


If you like a song, you probably listen to it repeatedly—this is a form of reviewing.

If you apply the same methodology to that book you’ve just read, you’d be able to remember more of that, too. Of course, it would be silly to re-read a book as often as you repeat your favorite song.

But could there be another way to review the concepts from the book?

Yes! Here’s just one way: take notes about the book as you read it, and then review those notes within a 24-hour window.

If you do that, you’ll lock-in much more of the material. Come back a week later for further review, and you’ll lock-in even more.

Reviewing doesn’t have to be rote. You can read or learn about something, and then draw pictures to help you retain the material. You can repeat what you’ve learned back to yourself in your own words. You can look over your notes.

It’s not about boring yourself to death, it’s about connecting the dots and looking at what you’ve learned from different angles.

5. Apply What You Learn

Contrary to popular belief, knowledge is NOT power.

Knowledge is POTENTIAL power.

That is to say, that whatever you learn—intentionally or passively—is useless unless you apply it.

The key to becoming an intentional learner is to take what you’ve learned and put it to use to achieve a goal—to fulfill a desired aim and ambition.

Knowledge is just like a muscle: if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.

Find a way to apply what you learn in your everyday life.

  • If you’ve learned about how eating more fiber is healthy, you might apply it by looking for the fiber content on the nutrition labels of your food.
  • If you’ve learned a new word, you can apply it by using it in conversations and writing it down.
  • If you’ve just learned a new marketing tactic for your business, you might apply it by testing it out on a segment of your business.

You can apply whatever you’re learning about within your daily life. In fact, the more intentional you are about doing this, the more of an intentional learner you’ll become.

Take immediate action on the things you learn and you’ll understand them better.[3] Applying what you learn helps you make new connections to things you’ve already learned as well—which further enhances your understanding.


6. Revise and Reflect

Have you ever frantically reviewed something right before a test in hopes of keeping it fresh in your mind?

Hate to break it to you, but it’s not as effective as you think. When it comes to learning something, it’s not about freshness—it’s about depth. If you want to internalize information, the real key is in the quality of your reflection.

Take some time to think about the knowledge you’ve just learned. Digest it. Imagine how it works in different scenarios.

Think about it before bed. Think about it when you rise. Set aside some time to revise the material.

Personally, every Sunday, I sit down to review and reflect upon everything I’ve done and learned about over the week. Throughout the week, I’m checking things off and making notes about new ideas and things I’ve learned and would like to remember. All of this goes to my journal. I’ve even laid out the whole process in an episode of my podcast here.[4]

The bottom line is this: you want to engrave and embed the new knowledge in your mind. And regularly reflecting upon what you learn helps you do that.

You don’t need to practice every type of reflection I’ve mentioned above. You just need to practice some form of reflection to take what you’ve learned and make it stick.

7. Teach What You Learn

We’re saving the best—yes, the best—tip for last.

The most effective method for becoming an intentional learner is to teach what you learn.

Teaching what you learn is potent and powerful because:

  • It requires you to thoughtfully organize information such that others can understand it as you teach it.
  • It allows you to gain useful feedback about whether what you’ve taught is actually sinking-in, by observing how someone else is interacting with it.
  • When you’re teaching something, you force your mind to find effective ways to describe the material, so that it can be absorbed by the learner.
  • You’ll come up with new metaphors and examples to illustrate what you are teaching.

And all of this combines together to help reinforce the concepts in your own mind.

It’s Time to Become an Intentional Learner

All good things must come to an end, and now, my fellow intentional learner, we’ve come to ours. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop.

Now it’s your turn to use this information for never-ending growth as an intentional learner. Take this new knowledge you’ve just read about and begin to apply it within your own life.

Use it, review it, apply it, and teach it to others. Knowledge, after all, is meant to be shared.

More Tips for Learning Effectively

Featured photo credit: Chris Benson via



[1] Dean Bokhari
[2] Apple Podcasts Preview: Dean Bokhari’s Meaningful Show
[3] Dean Bokhari: Action Leads to Motivation
[4] Apple Podcasts: Dean Bokhari’s Meaningful Show

More by this author

Dean Bokhari

Author, Entrepreneur, Podcast & TV Host

How to Develop Self-Empowerment to Live the Life You Want 50 Self-Affirmations to Help You Stay Motivated Every Day Why You’re Not Interested in Anything And Have No Motivation How to Actually Make Your Goals Happen 7 Things That Cause a Lack of Motivation (And How to Fix Them)

Trending in Learning

1 23 Killer Sites for Free Online Education Anyone Can Use 2 10 Remarkable Traits of Successful Learners 3 10 Powerful Learning Hacks to Boost Your Learning Ability 4 How to Stop Information Overload and Get More Done 5 How to Become an Expert (And Spot out One Nearby)

Read Next


Last Updated on August 11, 2021

23 Killer Sites for Free Online Education Anyone Can Use

23 Killer Sites for Free Online Education Anyone Can Use

Whether you’re five or ninety five, the internet has a lot to offer. Particularly when the topic is education, the resources on the internet are endless. Best of all, many high quality sites are completely free. From history to coding, excellent, free online education awaits on the following 23 sites.

1. Coursera

Coursera is a website that partners with universities and organizations around the world. This brings a wide variety of topics and perspectives to one searchable database.

Coursera is a powerful tool for free online education and includes courses from many top universities, museums and trusts. This gives the site an extremely wide range of in-depth courses.

Coursera is extremely useful if you’re looking to study many different topics, or want courses from different schools and groups. However, the free courses are now quite limited, so you’ll have to

2. Khan Academy

Partnering with many post secondary schools, Khan Academy offers a useable, well-organized interface. Also curating many courses from around the web, Khan Academy offers impressive depth on many different subjects.

Among the more well-known educational sites, Khan Academy is also incredibly user-friendly, which may make it easier to keep learning goals. If you’re looking for a free online education, you can’t go wrong with Khan Academy.

3. Open Culture Online Courses

If you are struggling to find exactly the material you are looking for, try Open Culture’s listing of free online education courses. The page highlights 1000 lectures, videos, and podcasts from universities around the world.

The site features a lot of material found only on universities’ private sites, all in easy-to-browse categories. This means you can find hundreds of university courses without having to visit and search each university’s site.

Open Culture’s list features courses from England, Australia, Wales, and many state universities around the United States. It’s a very helpful resource for finding many courses in one area of study.

4. Udemy 

Udemy’s free courses are similar in concept to Coursera’s but additionally allows users to build custom courses from lessons.


Working with many top professors and schools, the site mixes the customizable platform of other sites with a heavy emphasis on top-quality content. This is another site, however, that mixes free and paid content.

5. Lifehack Fast Track Class

Lifehack believes in skills that multiply your time, energy, and overall quality of life.

In this rapidly changing world, traditional education skills just don’t cut it anymore. You can’t afford to take years learning a skill you’ll never really practice. Besides offering some paid courses that will help you become a better self, it offers a list of free courses which aim to train some of the Core Life Multipliers including:

These are cross-functional skills that work across many aspects of life.

6. Academic Earth

Another site with courses from many different schools is Academic Earth. Much like the three sites above, Academic Earth brings together top notch courses from many different sources and focuses on offering a wide variety of subjects.

Academic Earth lists courses by subject and school, so it might be easier to find what you’re looking for.

7. edX

Another great option for free online education is edX. Also bringing together courses from many different schools, the site has impressive, quality information for everyone. edX covers a great range of topics from universities such as Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley, meaning a high-quality, free online education is entirely possible here.

8. Alison

Unlike the previous sites on this list, Alison is a free education site offering certification in some areas. Alison offers courses mainly in business, technology, and health, but also includes language learning courses.

It’s a great option if users need a professional certificate for their learning, as Alison also offers school curriculum courses.

9. iTunesU Free Courses

A very convenient place for free online education is iTunesU, because it integrates seamlessly with your iPod or any app-ready Apple mobile device. On an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, users download the iTunesU app.


Desktop users can access iTunesU on the upper right hand corner of the iTunes Store. iTunesU is also convenient because the store is categorized much like iTunes.

Users can search learning materials in many different ways, including by genre and topic. However, courses are often a mix of free podcasts or videos and paid content.

iTunesU does include courses on a variety of topics, but it does not integrate with Android, Google or Windows mobile devices.

10. Stanford Online

Your hub for all the online offerings from Stanford University, Stanford Online offers self-paced and session-based courses. While Coursera features some courses from Stanford, many classes are only available via other hosts. Some courses require iTunes, but most are completed in your web browser.

Stanford Online is a great site for high-quality courses, though the topics are somewhat limited compared to sites partnered with more than one school. If you’re looking for free courses, make sure to mark the “free” option on the left-hand side.

11. Open Yale Courses

Open Yale Courses echoes Stanford Online, in that it offers only courses from Yale. While the site is similarly limited to topics taught at the school, Open Yale Courses offers a lot of videos of actual campus lectures. The availability of videos makes the site a great option if you’re looking for quality courses but learn better by watching than by reading.

12. UC Berkeley Class Central

Much like the other schools on this list, UC Berkeley has a variety of free online education options. The school has slightly fewer courses than the schools above, but it includes some supplementary lectures, webcasts, and RSS Feeds, making it easy to keep up with the topics you choose.

13. MIT OpenCourseWare

Similarly, MIT offers a variety of free courses. The school has a comparable number of courses to the schools above, and it includes very in-depth course materials on the subjects available. MIT also offers free RSS feeds, a convenient way to continue learning.

14. Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative

Carnegie Mellon’s free online education site is comparable with the other school’s on this list. However, Open Learning Initiative also covers a smaller range of topics, but for the topics that are covered, impressive, in-depth material is available.

15. Codecademy

Codecademy is a website dedicated specifically to teaching coding. Where other coding sites follow an example/practice session workflow, Codecademy includes a live practice window. This means you can practice coding while still viewing the lesson material.


The courses at Codecademy are well-written and easy to follow, and the website is organized very nicely. Codecademy features a centralized dashboard where you can monitor your progress, and it organizes lessons into complete modules. This lets you learn an entire language without needing to pick the next course manually.

16. Code

Code is another website focused on coding and app writing. A site with high-quality courses, Code also features learning options for kids.

In addition to kid-friendly courses, Code offers free online education classes on a wide variety of technology topics. These classes include app writing, robotics, and Javascript.

Most of the courses are also geared in a such a way that they can be useful in a classroom setting. This makes Code a great resource for harder to find coding topics, as well as various learning settings.

17. University of Oxford Podcasts

The University of Oxford features many different podcasts. Most are public lecture series or lectures from visiting professors, with several different recordings available.

The advantage to this particular site is that podcasts are organized into series, making it easy to subscribe to multiple lectures on one topic. This is another great site for thoroughly in-depth lectures.

18. BBC Podcasts

For the more casual learner, the BBC offers a wide variety of podcasts on many different topics. Most podcasts are updated weekly and focus on everything from finance, to sports, to current events.

Through the World Service line of podcasts, there are also many in different languages. The focus of these podcasts are less in-depth and theory based, which may be more accessible to the average person.

19. TED-Ed

Another great destination for more general learning and free online education is TED-Ed. From the same people that brought you the all-encompassing, motivational web series comes a site chocked full of educational videos. Most include impressive animation, and all are ten minutes long or less.

Not only is TED-Ed an excellent site for the curious, but it also includes supplemental materials and quizzes on the videos. This makes the site extremely useful in formal education settings, as well as in entertaining ways to brush up on new discoveries and topics.


20. LessonPaths

LessonPaths is another great tool for those looking for a more usable and convenient way to access learning material. On this site, users create link playlists of their favorite learning materials from other sites. Users then rank these collections, making it easy to find many different high-quality, accessible sources on a given topic.

21. Memrise

Another impressive free online education site offering ease of use and convenience is Memrise. Available both on desktop and as an app, Memrise is a particularly powerful tool if you are studying a language. The site encompasses many other topics as well, though some of the course material is user generated content.

Part of what makes Memrise special is their integration of games into the learning materials, mixing learning with entertainment.

22. National Geographic Kids

The kids site for National Geographic is another site that makes free online education applicable for younger users. For those looking for kid-friendly education, a large variety of games, puzzles, videos and photos keep kids interested on this site.

National Geographic Kids doesn’t organize learning into courses, making materials available by topic and medium instead. This makes National Geographic Kids a good option for those looking for a more casual learning environment.

23. Fun Brain

Fun Brain is another great option for kids looking for free online education, as it focuses on games and fun puzzles. Particularly focused on math and reading, Fun Brain’s game-based approach can be valuable if the child in question struggles to pay attention.

Fun Brain offers rewards and challenges as well, and it is another site aimed at a casual learning experience for kids K-8.

The Bottom Line

With so many amazing free online education resources, everyone has the ability to boost their skills and knowledge. Whether you’re interested in picking up some interesting trivia for your next party, improve your resume with some coding or business skills, or become a more well-rounded person, these resources are perfect for you.

More About Online Learning

Featured photo credit: Dai KE via

Read Next