It has always bothered me that nobody in school ever really teaches people how to LEARN. They TEACH them things, but that doesn’t mean that anything is LEARNED beyond the scope of the next test. This is my attempt to remedy that critical failure in most peoples’ educational background.
There is a vast amount of knowledge waiting to be tapped in the world around you. You can gain this knowledge in one of two ways:
1) You can be taught
2) You can learn
Being taught is useful only as far as the subject matter you are taught by someone else. It is the “give a man a fish” method, meaning that he will have only that which you give him, and no more. It is limited by the knowledge of the person teaching you, your ability to retain information by rote memorization, and the skills the person teaching you in teaching.
Being able to learn is far more powerful, in that it can be applied to any body of knowledge without further assistance. It is the “teach a man to fish” method that will feed him for a lifetime.
Being taught is a passive activity where you take what you are given and that’s pretty much it.
Learning is an active activity that allows you to tangent off and discover new patterns and connections and use these to further refine your knowledge of whatever you are seeking to know.
Teaching has its place, however, and its best place (and sadly, the least used place) is Teaching How To Learn.
This is the first thing that should be taught in schools, but is rarely if ever actually taught there. The closest thing I can remember to this in my schooling experiences is a “Research Skills” class. While this should have been the place to teach people how to learn, it was in fact simply an exercise in how to have a book teach you the things the teacher didn’t have time to. There were no actual focused exercises in creative application of the things you were taught, no explanations of how to find patterns, extend them (except in upper math classes) and to find the connections between different areas of knowledge. Unfortunately, these are the very skills needed to foster creativity. And creative expression is one of the defining characteristics of human experience. In other words, school teaches you how to do a select number of things required by society, and little else.
Here’s the System:
Since you probably didn’t get it in school, I’ll teach you how to learn right now. Fortunately, it’s a rather simple formula:
1) Know the language.
You must be able to understand the medium through which information is communicated. This might mean being competent in English, Latin, Hebrew, Music, Mathematics, Art or whatever medium is used as a conveyor of information.
2) Develop Research Skills
You need to be able to find sources of information about what you want to learn. This will provide you with the benefits of what people before you have learned, so you don’t have to start from scratch yourself.
3) Learn Critical Analysis
Keep in mind that anything and everything you learn MAY BE WRONG. This is the critical step that many people miss, and as a result they fail to consider something as a possibility because someone else said “it’s this way” and they were wrong. There have been many widely accepted, time-tested and flat out wrong ideas in science throughout its history. The earth is flat, the sun revolves around the earth, demons in your head cause headaches, leeching blood will remove diseases and so on in a list that continues to this very day and certainly the days to come. Don’t be afraid to consider that the established beliefs may be wrong and your observations may be right. There is plenty of precedent for this in history.
4) Practice Identifying and Extending Patterns and Connections
The first three steps are simply the tools needed to get you here. With the ability to recognize and extend patterns and connections, you can go forward from the starting point that your research skills provided you with into new, unexplored territory and start figuring things out for yourself.
By identifying patterns and learning to extend them, you can see if new ideas fit the pattern or not. If a new hypothesis doesn’t fit into an existing pattern then either (1) the pattern is not completely defined or (2) the hypothesis is incorrect. The challenge then is to figure out which it is.
By identifying connections, you find the interrelationship of apparently different patterns. By identifying new connections you can gain radical new insights compared to the evolutionary insights that come through pattern work.
Additionally, both patterns and connections tend to cascade. In other words, the discovery of a new pattern often has a large ripple effect on all the things that are connected with it. Likewise, the discovery of a new connection often helps to clarify patterns within each connected body of knowledge.
That’s about all there is to it.
You now know how to learn anything you want with these four simple tools.
It may be simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy!