The ability to learn effectively has never been as crucial as it is now.
Old world and the new world
Are you worried about your job? I used to be. Coronavirus pandemic accelerates changes in the job market that were undergoing for years. There’s no going back to the way things were. A few decades ago, you could go to school, learn something, get the first job, learn even more, and stay in the same company/career path for years or even a lifetime. If you needed a change, you knew what positions are open for someone with your expertise.
Now you can’t be sure if your job will exist in 3 years, let alone a decade. At the same time, there are dozens of new jobs and opportunities. Some of the “old” jobs are also on the rise. The world is open with a myriad of possibilities; countless free or cheap courses are waiting online. They promise to teach you every skill imaginable.
You need to make a decision — what to learn next; how to stay relevant. Maybe you should go into tech? Learn data science or artificial intelligence? Or should you join the ranks of content creators, learn to blog, or create videos? What about the care industry? Society is growing older, and someone has to take care of the people, maybe learn how to be a nurse?
You shouldn’t learn any of those things. First, you need to learn how to learn.
I’ve majored in international relations and law. My first job was in a large consulting firm as a tax lawyer. After a few years, it was clear I don’t want to do it for the rest of my life. I decided to follow my childhood passion — programming.
After six months of learning, I was discouraged and almost decided to get my old job back. Fortunately, I came across a course on learning to learn. It boosted my skills and allowed me to grasp complex concepts in less time. After a year of learning, I finally landed the first job.
I could change my career because I’ve acquired a bedrock skill — the ability to learn.
I like my job a lot. Solving problems is my thing: I enjoy fixing things even more. I may stay in business for life. But what’s more important, I don’t have to.
Now I’m convinced I can master almost anything because I know how to learn things. Lately, I decided to start writing. It turned out that college and work as a lawyer don’t make you a good writer. My writing is convoluted and cautious. But I’m making progress — I’ve got a bunch of posts published at Medium, and a few more to come. I’m also writing a book with my brilliant colleagues.
Learning to learn — how to start
Learning to learn feels like getting back to primary school. But it’s not. In primary school, nobody told you how to learn. Teachers expected you somehow know that. Also, now you have to find learning materials on your own. It’s a challenge, but I can help you with it.
A great place to begin is a free Coursera course — Learning How to Learn. It’s author, Barbara Oakley, is the leading expert in the field. She wrote the book with this same title if you prefer books over classes.
Another resource I recommend is 10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades (While Studying Less). That book will help you to learn and also to take useful notes. Notetaking is crucial in learning, as it’s easier to absorb material when you write it in your own words.
To learn effectively, you need to be able to pick valuable information sources. How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading is a classic book on the subject. You’ll learn how to read a lot faster and how to judge whether any book or article is worth your time.
If you’d rather do your research, here’s a shortlist of terms to get you going: active recall, spaced repetition; testing; Feynman technique; deep work; eat your frog first.
Remember, we are all different, with distinct preferences and predispositions. Not every technique will suit you; some may be awkward or impossible in your circumstances. Your task is to try as many as possible and stick with the ones that feel right. Being a slave of a particular technique won’t get you far. Your goal is to become a lifelong learner; for that to happen, learning should be fun, not just a chore.
Create your own story
When you know how to learn, it’s time to pave your path. Try to learn some new things. If you don’t know where to start, think about your background, skills, hobbies.
What did you enjoy doing in life? Maybe it’s time to try it again. Devote one month to read a book or two, enroll in the online class. It may be the start of your potential new career. And even it won’t be, you’ll become a better learner, more able to acquire new skills in the future.
We live in a transitional world, and there’s no recipe for success. But there’s a method to increase your chances — learning to learn.