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Published on July 21, 2020

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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 unsplash.com

Reference

[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

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Dean Bokhari

Author, Entrepreneur, Podcast & TV Host

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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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