My relationship with continuous learning began in 2015.
As I was driving home, a question came to me that changed everything:
“If you have access to a giant amount of information in the palm of your hand, why aren’t you proactively consuming it?”
The answer to that question led me down a path I never would have imagined, where I spent the last few years learning one topic per month that I was curious about. This is how I covered topics from neuroscience, meditation, juggling, emotional intelligence, tantra, breathing, artificial intelligence, etc., etc., etc.
But today, I would like to share with you the result of many years of failures and successes learning topics to which my curiosity led me and that over time, I managed to understand the elements that are part of effective learning by grouping them in a Framework that I call the “Learning Cycle”.
Now, let’s internalize the elements of this cycle:
By 2008 it was estimated that the average person consumed 100,000 words per day, equivalent to 34 GBytes of information, an increase of 350% since the 80’s. Compared to our grandparents, we are exposed to more information in one day than they were in their lifetime.
Currently, our information consumption comes mostly from smartphones and computers, both of which present endless forms of distracting and informational content. However, very rarely are we careful with the quality of what our minds consume. So being careful in selecting what enters our minds is the first step toward conscious learning.
On the other hand, we need to make the most of new information consumption formats such as Podcasts, YouTube videos, digital and real books, mentors, etc., in order to achieve effective learning.
Just as when we consume food our body proceeds to break it down into substances that can be absorbed by our metabolism, in the same way our mind is responsible for separating and classifying the ideal pieces of information to become knowledge.
But not all the information needs to be absorbed, but only those pieces of it serve as a basis for creating new ideas of our own, for example the Principles, Strategies and Tactics of the topics we want to learn. These are the ingredients that make up our knowledge, and which are essential to generate our own ideas.
So consolidation is digging through the dirt and finding those gold nuggets that really provide us with value.
Consuming information and consolidating it into knowledge is only part of the effective learning process, but without a way to store and retrieve that knowledge in a timely manner, we would be wasting our time and mental resources.
Imagine this: you are Lio Messi, the soccer player, and you find yourself alone in front of the rival goalkeeper. Your goal is to score the goal, and you have a lot of dribbling and shooting in your arsenal to accomplish the goal. You have less than 1.5 seconds left to decide or you will lose your chance. Which one do you choose?
Two very important elements play here: the knowledge of your alternatives, and the rapid recovery of the ideal alternative. In other words, we’re talking about your memory.
So, our memory is the bridge that helps us connect knowledge with its practice, and to exercise our memory we have a wide variety of techniques used and tested for millennia and available to anyone.
(To learn more about memory techniques, check out these interviews with memory experts Pablo Lomelí and José María Bea.)
Theory combined with memory are useless if the knowledge is not put to the test.
Thus, regardless of the complexity or mysticism of what we are learning, it is necessary to find ways to exercise it. Only then will we fail (and FAILING (in Spanish: F.A.L.L.A.R is good!) to get feedback and continually refine the knowledge, through practice.
The moment of truth, the official test or test occurs when we put what we have learned into practice.
But unlike school or college tests, practice will not fail us with a low grade, but rather, show us the objective reality of our abilities at any given time. This is where the mentality we have will make the difference between abandoning our learning mission, or moving forward.
The Learning Cycle is only consolidated when we share what we learn with other people.
Without pretending to be a teacher trying to teach our (limited) knowledge to others, I mean by sharing what we have learned to generate a back and forth conversation.
By sharing in a humble way, our audience (family, friends, colleagues, etc.) will most likely generate questions that would not have even crossed our minds and that we definitely will not know how to answer.
This will create new questions in us, feeding our curiosity and taking us back to consume information and thus close this cycle of learning.
The previous five elements cover the mechanical part of learning, meaning, the techniques that anyone can obtain and exercise. However, none of these are useful to us if we don’t have a solid mindset to lean on.
So let me ask you the following:
How many times have we said to ourselves (mentally or verbally) phrases like…?:
- “I’m not good at numbers.”
- “I can’t understand as quickly as the others.”
- “I have bad memory.”
- “I always fail to put what I have learned into practice.”
… I bet many times, and how many times have we asked ourselves questions like…?:
- Are my beliefs verified?
- Are there other ways to learn that I don’t know about yet?
- Who already solved these problems and what can I learn from them?
… I bet very rarely.
To really be effective when it comes to consuming, consolidating, storing, practicing and sharing knowledge, meaning, to be effective in exercising the learning cycle, we need to be very aware of ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses, our prejudices and beliefs.
It’s not for nothing that meta-cognition, understanding how we think, is what gives way to meta-learning, understanding how we learn.
Therefore, the mentality is that muscle that cannot be measured, but it’s the one that reveals itself in moments of peace, but especially in moments when nothing works well.
Success in any area is 80% mindset and 20% mechanics, and this applies to learning as well.
So far with this brief description of The Learning Cycle.
Now it is your turn to analyze which of these elements you will focus on to improve how you learn, and always keep in mind that everything starts from curiosity.
Keep on Learning