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, you might read two or three best-selling books about it or listen to some Self-Improvement podcasts.
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?
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. 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.
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
- How to Learn at Work in the Most Effective Way
- 12 Learning Goals For Personal Growth And Self Development
- How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive
Featured photo credit: Chris Benson via unsplash.com