By: John Monarch for Fast Company, Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash
Memorizing facts or formulas is not all there is to learning. Not by a long shot.
Everyone likes to learn in different ways, but favorite methods all have one thing in common—they’re enjoyable. If you don’t like the way you’re being taught, you simply won’t retain as much of the information.
For instance, when I was in high school, I had a great physics teacher. He always dove deep into the concepts and explained the reasoning behind the rules and formulas we were learning. But my experience in high school chemistry was just the opposite. Nothing was ever really explained. The general theme was that the underpinnings were too complex for us to understand, so we just needed to memorize the formulas and move on.
Guess which subject I had an easier time with?
Effective learning methods don’t just apply to a classroom setting, either. You don’t (or shouldn’t) stop learning once you leave school. The difference is that in order to be a lifelong learner, you have to take charge of your development.
IN ORDER TO BE A LIFELONG LEARNER, YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND HOW TO TEACH YOURSELF.
Knowing how you learn best and applying that knowledge when you learn something new will take you far, both personally and professionally.
Here’s how to carve your own path toward becoming a life-long learner.
UNDERSTAND THAT MEMORIZATION ISN’T NECESSARILY LEARNING.
So many methods out there can help you learn a new subject on your own. Memorization is a common, and sometimes effective, technique.
But memorizing facts or formulas is not all there is to learning. Not by a long shot.
To truly understand a subject, you have to go deeper. You have to get to the “why” behind those facts you memorized. You have to get your hands dirty, solve problems, try concepts out for yourself.
Unfortunately, a lot of people were forced to memorize a million different facts simply to regurgitate them for a test. That’s partially a product of “teaching for the test,” which is a terrible way to gain a deep understanding of a topic because it discourages exploratory learning and critical thinking.
You may be able to remember a handful of facts through memorization, but that doesn’t mean you understand why they’re important or how they relate to the larger subject.
FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU HAD A REALLY EASY TIME LEARNING IN THE PAST AND CONSIDER HOW THAT WAS TAUGHT TO YOU.
A lot of people use brute force when learning about a new topic or skill. They’re more concerned with getting their hands on the information than they are with the style of education.
Before you start clicking through every article the internet has to offer on your chosen topic, think back to your favorite class in high school or college. What made it so easy for you to learn about that subject? Chances are, you didn’t spend the entire class reading from a book. There were probably discussions, exercises, hands-on experiments, or any number of other techniques.
To replicate that experience as a lifelong learner, look at the new topic you want to learn about in the same light. Teach yourself in the same way you’d want someone to present the information to you.
Personally, one of my favorite ways to get a primer on a new topic is by going down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, moving from one related article to the next. Suddenly, I realize I’ve spent three hours reading and have actually learned quite a bit.
Once you understand how you like to learn, teaching yourself new subjects becomes much less daunting. The tricky part is to remember what you just learned.
TO INGRAIN YOUR NEW KNOWLEDGE, TEACH WHAT YOU LEARN TO SOMEONE ELSE.
Making a difficult concept easy for someone to understand is one of the hardest things to do. But by doing so, you deepen your own understanding of the topic at hand.
Teaching and learning are two sides of the same coin. Studies have consistently shown that the benefits of teaching aren’t limited to the student. Walking a person through complex subject matter also improves the teacher’s understanding of the topic.
This is actually a common practice in the business world, especially if what you’re selling is unfamiliar to most people. For instance, I generally have to explain blockchain to our ShipChain customers because the technology is still relatively new. Not all of them have the necessary background or inclination to get up to speed on blockchain and understand how it can benefit their businesses.
The concepts behind blockchain aren’t exactly simple, but by walking through them, clarifying issues, and answering questions for our clients, I continue to deepen my own understanding of the technology.
Teaching others is a great way to keep yourself sharp, but of course, you have to be able to teach yourself the subject in the first place.
If you can figure out how you like to learn and apply that understanding to educating yourself, then there’s really no limit to the subjects you can learn about over the course of your lifetime.