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Become an Infinite Learner in 8 Steps

Published on Oct 08, 2019 by Spencer on Learning

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We have an abundance of knowledge at our fingertips We can learn for free with a few clicks We are more connected to people and resources than we have ever been

So why are most people not progressing?

It was supposed to disrupt education by bringing a new level of decentralised, freely available and accessible education to everyone, but instead, the promise of the EdTech revolution never really came to much. Loads of investment dollars, millions of users, schools in the cloud and yet very few people are really learning anything at all. This leaves me with a burning question -

When all of the worlds knowledge can be accessed in an instant for free, why isn’t everyone trying to make their life better?

I think it comes down to one thing — motivation.

Without the motivation to learn, people won’t. So how can we build the motivation we need to make the most of the opportunities in front of us?

1 — Learning is different from Education - it’s all down to you

Learning and education are not the same. Education is something that happens to us. It generally happens between the ages of 4 and 22, then it stops for all but a small minority of people.

Education is knowledge transfer from the ‘More Knowledgeable Other’ (teacher, parent, lecturer) to a young person. The knowledge, passed down from the elder, is memorised for just long enough to be regurgitated in the format the assessor is looking for, in exchange for a grade. It’s this grade that motivates, no, incentivises young people in education. Without it, people fear they will not be qualified to get their dream job.

(I know there are other purposes of education, but for this article, I consider the primary purpose being ‘preparation for the outside world’ and therefore a good career is key).

Learning, on the other hand, is something which is opted in to — it’s an active decision made by the learner.

I believe that people want to learn in the same way they were educated. By turning up to class — by stepping onto the conveyor belt of knowledge and coming out the other side better. But learning is hard and requires serious commitment, time, resilience and drive. There aren’t any short cuts. You can only make the change you desire when you realise that you’re the only person who’s able to make yourself progress.

Learning is different from education. It’s all down to you, go get it.

2 — Realise the world is changing - you need to too

Everyone considers themselves an expert in education, at least everyone believes they know how to learn and why they need to learn — but the painful truth is that most people just don’t think they need to continue to learn.

It’s commonly felt that we are going through the fastest pace of change we’ve ever had. Worse still, it’s slower now than it might ever be again — that’s pretty scary and exciting.

This constant change in the way things work, how we work and what’s out there means we have to adapt in order to remain relevant and not left behind. Jobs are changing, many will disappear. If you work in a job that involves repetitive tasks the very best you can hope for is that your job is done using more technology to help, the worst is of course that you are no longer needed. We’ve heard this all before and we’ve seen it over the last few hundred years with the first 3 revolutions.

Even with this threat, people are blindly walking into a world of personal irrelevance. Where there is no longer any demand for the skills they possess. It’s a simple demand and supply problem - businesses exist in order to increase the shareholder value, this means the demand for more effective, efficient and reliable technologies will continue to rise.

The only way to protect yourself from being part of the massive displaced workforce is to continually adapt by constantly learning.

Everyone needs a trigger to start something — you may have to wait until the reality of this potential future directly impacts you — when you lose a job and can’t get another one, when most of your job is done by a machine or when a young techy kids comes in and automates everything you once did manually.

When it does happen, take action — find out what the world needs and work towards providing it.

3 — Prepare to work for it - signing up is not enough

Learning requires people to do more than just signing up & showing up — it’s more about how & why you show up. How many of us have signed up for online courses but hardly got passed the first module?

Whilst it might seem like a good idea at the time, life gets in the way and you lose the motivation you had to start with. One thing that matters enormously in learning is practice. Practices are the things that we do daily and it requires us to get into a habit. Habits are notoriously hard to break and make, especially when it requires pain or discomfort.

Imagine if we could create habit-forming learning in a similar way to the way social media platforms have created habit-forming products.

Prepare to work for it, signing up is not enough

4 — Understand there’s always time - just stop wasting it

Online learning platforms are not just competing with each other, they’re competing with Netflix, Instagram & YouTube for our time (along with many other time sinks).

It’s important to note that competition doesn’t have to be direct, competition comes in many different forms and might not even be one single solution. In the same way that kale competes with coffee, learning competes with your family, the news, entertainment, socialising etc.

Understand there is always time — so before getting into the rabbit hole of an infinite scrolling social feed, pause to think if there’s something else that you could consume that will add to your value.

5— Have long term learning goals

When we leave formal education, we generally focus our learning very tactically — on problems we have right now, rather than long term strategic problems. This itself is not a bad thing — far better to learn stuff that’s relevant to you now. The problem is that focusing on short term needs can only result in short term goals being achieved.

Tactics change therefore your likelihood of completing a substantial period of learning is far lower than if it was a part of a long term strategic goal. We must view the full system to understand how changing ourselves will result in a better world for ourselves and those around us.

A year or two may seem like forever away, but in a world where we may be working until 70, 80 or even later, a couple of years focused on your own learning goals is nothing.

6 — Narrow down your choice - focus on one person or topic area

Choosing what to learn is often out of our hands when we’re young, or at least the choices we have are massively reduced. We make choices 3 or 4 times in the UK — for GCSEs (aged 14), A-Levels or equivalents (aged 16), then whether to do a degree, apprenticeship or go straight into work. These education choices generally follow-on from each other and are often made based on interest or what we’re good at.

When deciding what to learn as an adult (assuming you’ve made a conscious decision to actively learn), you are faced with an infinite library of knowledge. Imagine having never read a book and walking into the British Library — where would you start?

This paradox of choice can be paralyzing.

What if I commit to the wrong thing and waste my time and money?

What I find I hate it or I’m not good at it?

This fear often results in nothing happening, which means you risk being left behind as everyone else around you who is constantly re-inventing themselves.

Narrow down your choice by focusing on one person who inspires you or one topic area that you love — then build from there

7 — Learn from everywhere - it all helps

Most of us look back at our education and think of it as unnecessary or ineffectual — a disappointing experience. It’s with this perspective that learning is often viewed. This view is exacerbated with the dreadful experiences so many people have had in their work environments — shockingly bad onboarding, tick-box compliance training and clicking through the Learning Management Systems.

Arguably, none of this constitutes learning — which I class as the process of making meaning.

Learning doesn’t have to be that way. There are some incredible resources out there, most of the best are not even classed as courses.

Learn from anywhere — Change your channels — instead of cat videos on YouTube, watch lectures, TED talks or discussions about topics that interested you. Then write your summary and share it across your networks.

8 — Build your learning network

Traditional educational institutions are places of learning networks — they have teachers, students, curricular, objectives and ultimate outcomes, but as we step out the formal education domain, we lose the access we once had to a learning network.

Some have built informal networks around them — both physical and virtual, but it’s generally hard and the barriers to entry are high.

Without this network, you’re on your own — as the old African proverb says “if you want to go fast go alone if you want to go far go together”. To succeed at learning you need support, you need peers, you need coaches, experts, mentors.

Everyone needs a learning network — go build one

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