How to learn anything part 2: What you need is an operating system for learning…


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I started my riff on How to Learn Anything in another post which you can read here.

Basically, what I’m suggesting is that you don’t need to be smart to learn new stuff. What you need is a combination of grit plus a toolbox of tools to help you learn.

A reliable system, in other words, is all you need to learn anything. And this system is not any kind of secret knowledge. It’s in plain view and the tools are accessible to anyone.

But what you might need is someone to help you put all the pieces together. To show you what the tools are that you need in your tool box.

So the next question is… what would this system look like? Here’s the answer:

In broad terms, it’s an operating system for learning. There are specific tools to use at each stage, but as an overview your operating system for learning looks something like this:

  1. Seek to understand context and connections: Try to work out, investigate, and understand the context for what you want to learn. And look for connections within this context between chunks of content as well as outside to other areas, particularly areas that seem – on the surface – to have no relationship to what you’re trying to learn. This is ongoing. It’s not just something you do once.
  2. Work out what you don’t know: This can be difficult. After all, how do you know what you don’t know, right? However, start with the big picture, your broad goals, or  desired skills and then break it down from there. Deconstruct where you want to be – the intended outcome or state – into smaller and smaller chunks. And you have to break this down into specific kinds of learning. e.g. practical skills, vocabulary, being able to read and understand the source material.
  3. Work out where you are now: In order to move forward you need to have a sense of where you are now in relation to where you want to be. You need a way of knowing how much you know about your new learning goal as well a how competent or proficient you are. This might be easier particularly if you’re starting something new from scratch.
  4. Work out what the next steps are: What you want is a sequence of highly focused next steps to take you to your goal. You want to be able to target each of these next steps in your development with the precision and focus of a crack shot military sniper. And in these next steps you need to know what to do. Here you are going to need strategies for learning skills, reading complicated materials, dealing with new language and more.
  5. Have ways of measuring your progress: This is critical. How will you know that you’ve made progress or arrived at your goal? You need clear ways of measuring your progress that are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound).
  6. Have ways of measuring your effectiveness: What we’re talking about here is you reflecting critically on what you’re doing and figuring out what has worked and what you need to do differently to keep moving forward.

Next we’ll need to know what some of the practical tools are that you can use at each stage.

Paulo Coelho

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