4 approaches for learning to learn

confused-businessmanThe term “learning to learn” often causes looks of confusion. Most people will state that they “know how to learn” – obviously so, as they have managed as functioning adults up until this point in their lives. However, our lives (and careers) depend on building new skills and knowledge. One of the best things we can do for our brains is to continue to learn new things.

There are always new skills to learn and techniques for us to adopt. The best leaders in the world don’t act like they know everything. They all understand the fact that they must continuously learn to be successful. This especially holds true for those of us in the workplace learning space.

Using the following approaches, no matter what your skill levels are, in topics you would like to master, can change your thinking and change your life.

Approach #1

Shifting between focus and diffused modes: When learning, there are times in which you are focused and times in which you allow your mind to wander. When we are in focused mode, we are deliberately concentrating on understanding or making sense of the problem in front of us. Spending all our time here, can be tiring and fail to lead us to the AHA moments we crave.

What becomes needed is to balance the unfocused, or diffused mode. The diffused mode is just as valuable as the focused mode in allowing your brain to LEARN something. When we take purposeful breaks that allow the brain to wander, the AHA moments break in and give us richer ideas and understanding. Ever work on a problem, and then decide to give it a rest and go for a walk? Then suddenly the answer comes to you. Yes, THAT. So — take breaks, meditate, think about other things, and give yourself plenty of time in both modes. Check out this short video which brings this concept to life.

Approach #2

Beware the “Illusion of Competence”: Or in other words, “When you actually don’t know what you think you know.” Illusions of competence or ‘Dunning-Kruger effect’ describes the cognitive bias to inflate what you think you know. It describes a mental situation where you think you’ve mastered a set of material, but you really haven’t. That guy at work who always says, “I know that” but really doesn’t…it’s an illusion he has talked himself into believing. (Remember this scene in Goodwill Hunting? Perfect example.)

Don’t fool yourself into believing you know something when you don’t. Just because you have read and reread the material doesn’t mean you know it.  A tip to take you from falsely knowing to actually knowing, is to repeatedly self-test your knowledge, in small bits and bursts, regarding the topic you are studying or researching. “Real knowledge is knowing the extent of one’s ignorance”, Confucius.

Approach #3

Make use of Learning Mastermind Groups: What is a Mastermind Group? A group of smart people meet weekly or monthly, to tackle challenges and problems together. They lean on each other, give advice, learn from each other and if necessary hold each other accountable. 

There is synergy of knowledge, commitment, and excitement that people (or peers) bring to a Mastermind Group with their own unique skills and strengths. By interacting and sharing your learning challenges, it’s almost certain that someone in your Mastermind will be able to help or guide your process and you may also be able to offer a solution or tactic to help another in the group.

Being in a group of smart brains with your peers will truly level up your learning game. You can’t help but think bigger and learn outside the box when surrounded by amazing people doing amazing things. Besides, this makes learning more fun and more interesting.

Approach #4

Take notice, not all learning comes out of books: “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth learning can be taught.” ~ Oscar Wilde.

Ask yourself “why” and “why not” about everything. Question everything. Question your beliefs, question everything you were told by your peers, your teachers, your coworkers. Question whether the beliefs you have now, are yours or were they passed on to you by others. 

Develop your own learning mindset. Don’t read just one book on adult learning, read many. Conduct interviews, compare notes, notice how life works. In general, learning should be a part of your daily function – not time set aside for unique thinking. What are you noticing? How are you capturing that information? How are you recording thoughts and actions? Debate is a wonderful thing. Create your own debates with knowledge acquired. At the end of the day, did you learn something different? Have your thoughts changed? Inquisitive thinking and constructive questioning aren’t taught in the classroom.

At the end of the day

All and all, we may be super smart, pick a great company to work for, but life can still make us feel unfulfilled. When we learn the importance of finding meaning and purpose in our lives that goes beyond the realm of a secure job and a good education is when we are ready to tackle the passion of continuous learning. Taking the critical step toward understanding the process of “learning to learn” – not learning to teach or learning to be smarter than someone else – will help us to enjoy life more deeply and be more active thinkers.