Always keep learning
The key to applying what you learn is to always keep learning.
It’s a feedback loop.
Engineering and learning
In engineering school, I learned lots of things.
But perhaps one of the most influential concepts I learned was that I needed to know how to solve problems – where to find the information I needed and how to apply it.
It wasn’t about memorizing a bunch of formulas or relationships (though, in reality, that was helpful at times!) It was about breaking down the problem and identifying the areas in which I needed more information – which books to look in, what people to seek out, how to get the whole picture of the problem I was looking at. In short, engineering helped me to learn how to always keep learning.
I apply “Learn, Teach, Do” whenever I can to foster the ability to always keep learning over the years.
I like to research and then research some more. I will go on a library binge to get as much information as possible in my hands. My library has a request system (which I adore) among a number of nearby libraries, so I can usually get some great books. I prefer books, or books with illustrations rather than podcasts or internet, but if the library is inadequate, I will turn to internet research.
While the library is very good at general topics, I find that internet research can be fantastic for very specific topics, like “how to install a new faucet.” Amazing information out there! You can learn detailed information from videos – that’s a superb learning method for hands on learning.
When I am learning something new, I will actually start narrating (a form of teaching) to my family. It’s best to get them when they are stuck in one place (like brushing their teeth or washing dishes) and can’t run away from your ump-teenth discussion that starts, “Did you know…?”
I also host learning events that are continuations of teaching in my homeschool co-op. I’ll invite friends over to pressure can with me or to learn scrapbooking. Doing this hones exactly what I know and don’t know about the topic. If you are open to learning while teaching, this becomes another method of increasing your learning.
I am a visual learner, but next on my scale of education is the kinesthetic process. I love do-it-yourself learning. It’s rather empowering to know that you can do useful stuff.
Learning is a Feedback Loop
Continuous learning uses a feedback loop. Learn, (Teach), Do – then ask yourself, “How did that work?”
Then, maybe, you learn a bit more and do it again, only better this next time.
Anyway, I had refinished furniture before, but never with wax. And I never had woven a chair seat. Warp and woof, right? Well, the first chair turned out okay, but by the time I finished the third chair, it was beautiful! I kept learning even as I was doing. And I finished the last one in much less time than the first one!
3 TIPS for continuous learning & application
1. Use your new skill or knowledge right away
Here is a simple example of a vocabulary game I used to play with my mom.
One of us would come across an unfamiliar word while reading. We’d look up the word and immediately try to use it in a sentence. “Three times and it’s yours forever!” was our mantra. But rules included that you couldn’t use sentences that were vague – like, “He was feeling very truculent today.”
Using your new knowledge or skill right away in the appropriate context shows you what you know, and what you don’t know.
2. Explore new skills and opportunities
Hands-down, the most learning I’ve done in the past 25 years has been because of new experiences.
From traveling to a foreign country and cramming French travel phrases, to nursing twins, to re-learning how to cook without ingredients on an elimination diet, to growing microgreens, to keeping chickens, to homeschooling my kids – I’ve tried tons of new things and learned so much in the process.
Of course, time is a factor in all of this, too.
3. Actively study how to learn better
This is called meta-learning. Learning about how to learn. It’s a branch of meta-cognition. Fascinating. I find the brain amazing, so learning how it works and how to help it work better is always fun for me.
Some of my Experts in the field of learning how to learn
My 3 or 4 favorite experts on learning how to learn:
- Scott Young: UltraLearning (see my mini-interview with Scott)
- Josh Kaufman: First 20 Hours (see my book review here)
- Tim Ferriss: The 4-Hour Chef (he uses cooking as a sample to learn how to learn)
- Cal Newport: So Good They Can’t Ignore You or Digital Minimalism or Deep Work (see a speech inspired by his So Good book)
Things I’ve been learning
I’ve been applying some of their methods on my various projects to test out how different methods work. Recent new things I’m learning:
- How to grow microgreens
- Medicinal gardening
- Preserving jams
- Image creation for the web
- In-depth Essential Oils usage (I had a rudimentary knowledge to start with)
- Winter gardening
- Cob construction
- Dog agility training
- Pallet construction
In general, I use various methods, but I haven’t found a good balance yet between over-researching and moving on to step 2 – actually doing.
Putting it all together
Learning, Doing, Teaching… These are all part of a feedback loop that involves additional ways in which you can learn. The more paths you use, the “stickier” the comprehension. Retention and the ability to have practical application of learning increase as you use more pathways.
Here is a graph that shows how much knowledge “sticks” as you increase the different paths you use for learning.
Apply what you learn
Applying what you learn is at the highest level of retention of learning.
Always Keep Learning
When you make a habit of learning new things, you continue to grow. Now, go out there and kindle your fire!