- Elon Musk, Investor & Entrepreneur
The Internet and all of its associated digital tools contain enough knowledge that a person could theoretically become an expert in dozens of subjects through the web alone. You no longer need to attend an expensive university to learn dense scientific or artistic subjects. However, if you don’t have someone to teach you, you’ll have to rely on yourself.
But many people find self-learning to be difficult. But you can discover how to get better at self-learning by following these key tips.
BENEFITS OF SELF-LEARNING
Learning never stops, even if you’re older and wiser than many younger students. But while it’s always admirable to want to learn more about either your favorite subject or multiple, it isn’t always possible for you to get a teacher depending on your funding, accessibility to universities, or other limitations.
Self-learning, or rather learning how to teach yourself, is a skill that you can learn like any other. If you master self-learning, you’ll eventually be able to teach yourself just about any subject except for a few technical concepts that might require the help of a master. Still, self-learning is a valuable tool that you can use to keep your mind sharp and continue expanding your portfolio of skills or competencies.
With self-learning, you can remain adaptable and always be ready to start a new business, join a new company, or come up with a new idea. Furthermore, self-learning allows you to always pursue answers and knowledge at your own pace instead of being limited to the schedules and costs of traditional learning pathways like college.
Here are five major steps you can take to get better at self-learning.
HAVE CLEAR GOALS IN MIND FROM THE START
Whenever you decide to learn a new skill, subject, or competency, it helps to have clear goals written down from the start of your attempts. Yes, really write down your goals on paper or a Word document so you have an accountable worksheet to refer back to at every step of the process.
For instance, if you want to learn how to play the piano, you can self-teach yourself the skill using books, YouTube tutorials, online classes, and more. But you should have goals and checkpoints to your ultimate goal written down for the next few months at a minimum. Your overall goal might be to play one of Beethoven’s symphonies on piano like an expert. So you’ll need to master intermediate steps like “learn how each key works in relation to the others” if you don’t have any experience already.
Having goals in mind will help you maintain your motivation and prevent you from burning out too soon. Your intermediate goals can even provide boosts in motivation. Once you pass one of the many steps to your ultimate goal, you’ll feel empowered to continue the effort and become even better at your chosen skill.
HAVE A DEDICATED LEARNING ENVIRONMENT
Whether you’re learning from a master or self-learning, you need to set yourself up for success. You wouldn’t attend a college class without the necessary supplies, right? Similarly, you should have a dedicated learning environment you can return to when you want to teach yourself a new skill.
So don’t try to learn a new skill or subject in a cluttered or distracting environment. Opening up a book in front of the TV while one of your favorite shows is on is a poor way to study. On the other hand, having a desk with only your learning materials ready to go will train your brain to enter the learning mindset as soon as you sit down to work.
The specifics of your learning space can vary dramatically. The point is to have a single spot or have it you can return to over and over. The great thing is that, by building up a learning environment, your brain will get better and better at recognizing when it’s time to put its nose the grindstone and learn.
One last note: don’t try to study or learn in bed. Your bed is probably quite comfortable, but your brain is already used to thinking of bed as a space for relaxation. You don’t want to cross those wires – you may accidentally prevent yourself from reliably falling asleep!
THE 50/10 RULE
The “50/10” rule is a rule of thumb that states that the human brain can only focus for about 50 minutes at a time. In other words, in a given hour you should only try to learn or focus on your subject for 50 minutes before taking a 10-minute break.
This also prevents you from burning out and will help you maintain energy and motivation throughout the day. This rule is especially important if you plan on learning your new skill or subject relentlessly. While you might feel energized at the beginning of an hour and intend to study nonstop for the next four, if you try to do that without giving yourself breaks, you’ll eventually feel tired and your productivity will grind to a halt after an hour or two.
TEST YOURSELF FREQUENTLY
Your brain can only truly learn the new information it’s taking in if you test it. That’s because taking information absorbed and applying it to an actual problem is one of the best ways to test your new knowledge and solidify the information within your brain cells.
If you’re self-learning, you might not have a teacher giving you a new test at the end of every week. But you can make up your own tests or use ancillary testing resources on the Internet. The point is to try out your new skills or test your brain about its information regarding the new subject every so often.
In the aforementioned piano example, it’s not enough to learn how to play by reading a book. Sit down and try to play some of your favorite songs using your newfound skills. You’ll retain the information much better.
REFLECT AND RESTATE
Lastly, it always helps to return to your learning goals or schedules and reflect on what you’ve learned so far. This is similar to testing your new skills, but it’s more passive. Instead, it helps you feel accomplished after seeing how far you’ve come and motivate you to learn even more.
It may be helpful to restate your goals or write new goals when you achieve your current ones, too.
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Thought leaders & celebrities share their tactics for success on the Lisnic podcast by Lisa Teh & Nick Bell