5 Thoughts on Making Learning Easier

Learning is a life-long pursuit — but it isn’t necessarily an easy one. Whether you’re considering gluing yourself to your chair to just get a little more learning done or you need to teach someone else something that doesn’t seem to stick, it is possible to make the process a little more manageable, if not downright productive.

Here are a few tips from people who know:

1. Penelope Trunk, the blogger behind PenelopeTrunk.com, has started multiple businesses, earned an advance degree and recently started homeschooling her sons. Oh, and she has Asperger Syndrome.

Learn what you’re interested in. Your whole life is for learning. You don’t have time to set aside for learning. If you don’t like what you’re learning, change your life.

2. Jen Gresham just launched the No Regrets Career Academy, which includes free training materials to help design a fulfilling career. Jen is a scientist by training. She realized she needed change in her own career and learned how to design a career from scratch.

Throughout school, I made a point of asking for clarification whenever I didn’t understand a topic. It wasn’t uncommon for students to thank me after class for asking what they did not. This continued straight through my graduate school experience, getting a Ph.D. When I got into the workplace, it was those same questions that helped me stand out and get choice job assignments. People called me lucky or smart, but that wasn’t it. The best way to enhance your education and success? Ask more questions. Then work on asking better questions. If you don’t start with the former, you’ll never get to latter. Start asking questions and never stop.

3. Whitney Hoffman’s new book, The Differentiated Instruction Book of Lists, jump starts the process of individualizing the instruction students receive.

I think keeping things organized is key — whether that’s staying on top of work in a more structured learning environment (i.e. don’t get behind because things snowball and gets ugly quick) or simply keeping goals in mind when working on more personal goals. For example, I want to learn how to program iPod apps, so I need to start by gathering resources, then setting aside 30 to 45 min a few days a week to work on it — any less frequently, and you risk forgetting what you’re learning.

Keeping a plan and some structure to learning and reviewing it helps you get the cognitive hooks we all need to master new material in any area of our lives.

4. Mike Vardy has blogged extensively about productivity, as well as launched a new podcast recently: ProductiVardy.

I use checklists for my learning…I often enter the various aspects of something I’m trying to grasp into my task management app and each of the tasks turn into a larger project. For example, I’m trying to learn how to write Markdown right now. So I broke down the learning process into the various points (syntax, platforms, utility, integration into workflow, etc.) so that I could best understand it from all vantage points. Lists are what help me break down things into the finer points so that nothing slips through the cracks, and if you’re learning something and want to become an authority on it, you’d best make sure nothing falls through cracks.

5. Johnny B. Truant is a blogger known for making his own path on his site, JohnnyBTruant.com. This fall, he’s unschooling his son, as he has documented.

People learn best when they’re passionate about (or at least interested in) what they’re learning, so try to find ways to learn a skill that slant toward what you or someone else is interested in. For instance, my six-year-old son is addicted to Super Mario Bros., so yesterday I suggested he browse the Mario Wiki online and note things he found interesting. Skills learned: Reading, writing, research, note-taking. Yet none of it seems like work, and he’ll master it in no time.

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