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Why Your Classes are Boring

Why Your Classes are Boring
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    Does your textbook make your eyes glaze over? Is the desire for a degree or diploma the only thing keeping you focused on your classes? I’ll admit the lecture format most schools use to teach material isn’t the best way to hold your attention. But I think there is a more important factor when deciding if classes keep you interested:

    Are you actually using the information you’re being taught?

    Find a practical purpose for the courses your taking. Not only will this help your attention span, it will help your grades. If you can actually apply the information from your courses to daily life, the significance will help the information stick.

    Here are some courses you might be taking and potential uses for them in your life:

    1 – Statistics

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    Do you run any personal experiments? Knowing statistics can help you in designing your own tests and interpreting the data. Personal experiments are a great way to make targeted improvements. The foods you eat, things you buy and time you spend can all be tracked. Statistics can help you become more self-aware about the experiments you run.

    2 – History/Culture

    A history class may seem far removed from your daily life. I’ve found that classes that examine historical events or other cultures can give you a different perspective for viewing your life today. Going into Ancient Greece, India or Africa can be like a cultural exchange without leaving your home.

    The practical value of this new perspective can be in recognizing your assumptions. Different cultures look at the world in different ways, the ability to switch how you view your own world is powerful. Especially if the current lens you are using isn’t enough to solve your problems.

    3 – Economics

    Few courses break down how a society works more than economics. Whether you run your own business, want to understand political debates or invest in the stock market, basic economics is a must.

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    If you’re creative you can apply economic ideas to situations without money. Relationships, time-management or health can take on new perspectives if you start looking for the relative scarcity in a problem.

    4 – Psychology

    Psychology and sociology courses can be excellent when trying to understand your behavior and what makes people tick. Almost two-thirds of the psychology course material I’ve studied could be easily applied to my life. Operant and classical conditioning when changing habits. Cognitive biases and heuristics to improve my decision-making.

    Some universities are even including pop-psychology or “how to be happier” classes. I haven’t taken one of these courses, but I’m sure it goes a step further in connecting psychological principles to practical issues.

    5 – Computer Science

    Learning how to program computers can have many applications (no pun intended). Programming can help you solve technology related problems and when merged with your other creative skills it can be a valuable asset in a career or business.

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    Beyond the straightforward uses of programming, I’ve found it gives many useful metaphors for looking at everyday problems. Is your time-management system buggy? Do your habits produce the output you want for the given input?

    How to Find Hidden Applications in Your Courses

    Those five subjects are just a small fraction of the ways you can apply courses to your daily life. The best way to find practical uses is to start looking. If you believe your course has no practical purpose, it will be impossible to find one. Even the most abstract courses can be transformed into a useful study with a bit of creativity.

    Here are some different ways you can use information you learn in school:

    Give Yourself a New Box

    Thinking outside the box has become a tired cliche for thinking creatively. But the image it conjures is accurate. All of our problems exist within boxes of thinking. The assumptions form the walls of this box, and solutions outside the walls are ignored.

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    The best way to apply courses in your daily life is to take the problem solving methods you use in one setting and apply it to another. How would you solve a relationship problem if it were in an economics class? Psychology? Computer Science?

    Most people don’t think outside the box because they don’t realize its there. You actually have many different boxes, all for different types of problems. You spent good money and study time to make a new box for a subject, why not apply it to a different type of problem?

    Expand Your Abilities

    Courses that teach a practical skill (accounting, computer science, design, etc.) can be helpful in giving you new tools to tackle daily life. When I began learning statistics, the new abilities expanded what I could do when running my own personal experiments. Instead of relying on intuition and guesswork to interpret data, I could use statistical methods.

    My challenge to you is to go through all the course material you’re currently taking. Look for one way you can apply one idea from a course in your daily life. This could be writing a simple computer program to track information for yourself. Or it could be using operant conditioning to change a habit.

    Once you get into the pattern of applying academic concepts to the real world, the information sticks. The difference is in just viewing an idea inside your mind and actually holding it in your hands. Experiencing an idea for yourself will make your classes less boring.

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    Scott H Young

    Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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