Learning to learn

Clearly there are many ways in which someone can learn something, but what is the general process which someone can utilise to help them learn?

With the speed in which technology is changing and its impact on the workplace and home, the need to continue to learn is fundamental to staying an active and engaged part of the society in which we live.

It’s currently not just technological change, but also political, economic and social change that appears to be running at an ever increasing speed and also seemingly in an unplanned if not aimless direction. This should be of concern to all of us and learning to adapt is key to survival (OK, maybe a little melodramatic), but learning is an important aspect of maintaining well-being and satisfaction with life.

Change, or more importantly the pace of change is what drives the need to continue learning.

Future Shock

Future Shock

This is nothing new, the great futurist Alvin Toffler, wrote some 50 years ago about

“… what happens to people when they are overwhelmed by change. ..[and] the ways in which we adapt – or fail to adapt – to the future.”  (Future Shock, 1970)

The key question I want to know is, ‘Why do some people want to learn, whilst others appear not especially bothered?” In some ways, I wonder if people are overwhelmed just by the thought of having to learn, which is a significant ‘change’ condition for them.

Maybe this is one of those questions where if the answer was known for each individual then someone would be especially rich (from a financial perspective).

Thinking about my own experiences, the most significant feature which I think has help is being interested in the subject area that is to be learned. This provided the initial motivation to engage with the learning process. If that interest and motivation was missing then this would be a barrier which would need to be addressed and broken down.

Once the interest has been initiated, then this would need to be maintained (some may say endured) for a defined duration.

What was the duration of the learning period? A plan would need to be produced to make sure everything that was planned to be covered, could be covered within the required or desired time frame.

Breaking down the planned outcome, i.e. “What is the purpose for which I am carrying out this learning?”, into manageable chunks, each of which were ‘milestones’ along the learning journey. These would be important features of the learning plan.

I would be able to look back on each of these ‘chunks’ and say that I have understood that part quite well; I would then be building my confidence to develop further and progress to the next chunk of learning. This helped to maintain my interest.

This is where the process of learning would need to be linked to learning procedures which would include how best to learn a particular element – maybe through reading and note taking, combined with self generated questions to reflect on what has been learnt, or the use course self-reflected and set questions to aid learning; watch a video / film; listen to a podcast; or  hands on practice and manipulation of data or a physical activity; maybe carrying out a field survey; essentially whatever I thought would be the best way, for me, to take on board what I was learning. This is the active / engaged learning part.

As the chucks were built up into my ‘knowledge bank’ I would be thinking of how this could be applied outside of the immediate area of learning, in essence reflecting on creating new knowledge and innovations.

Monitoring progress against the plan. This always ended up being a tricky part. Often I would spend too long on one section of section and have to then compromise a bit on another to ensure progress was maintained. I was never too concerned about this so long as I kept to a sort of plan and didn’t fall too far behind at any one stage.

The message is really one of being active in what you do and engaging constructively as well: it should be fun, to some degree at least, and have some relevance to you, whether for a work or home / general interest situation.

This is just a small part of the overall learning to learn process, but I think it helps set the scene for future articles. Enjoy and keep learning.

Chris Gray, 29th January 2018