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
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.
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.
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.
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.