Simple Questions to Make your Learning More Effective

Learning how to learn is one of the most fundamental skills you can develop.

At the heart of improving how you learn is understanding how to relate new knowledge to existing knowledge so that everything you learn enables yo to have the maximum impact possible.

This requires a high level of self-awareness. The first thing you need to do is honestly reflect on your existing mental models of the world, the lenses through which you see the world, its events and information about it. And you need to understand how those models drive both your ideas and your action.

New knowledge is most effective when it drives you towards new insights into the problems you most want to solve, and then drives you on to action that will help implement that solution.

There are two key elements here

  • Do you know exactly what it is that matters to you? Do you understand how this shapes the way you see the world and your place in it?
  • Have you opened pathways between any new knowledge you acquire and those overarching goals in your life? That is, when you learn something new, how easy do you find it to ask yourself, “how could this help?” Do you examine everything you learn in case it helps you form the basis of a solution you hadn’t previously considered?

I want to suggest two steps to opening these pathways, making your learning more effective by turning it easily from idea to action.

  1. Connect your knowledge to a value-based view of the world. It’s your values that motivate you to act on the facts you learn. Without values, facts are simply interesting stuff that sits there not really doing anything. But if you really understand your values, then you begin to understand how new knowledge can help you achieve them. There are three stages to this:

a. Understand exactly how you want the world to be.

b. Understand where the gaps are between the way the world is and the model of how you want it to be.

c. Ask yourself how bridges might be formed from one to the other — is it that you need to discover a new material that will enable you to make something sustainable? Is it that you need to unlock funding or change a political system? Or is it simply that you need the people you love most to understand you? Knowing what would make the world as it is more like the world you want will help you understand what questions to ask any new knowledge you acquire.

2. You need to develop beliefs about your place in the world. Specifically, you need to believe that you can change things. You will never really be able to unlock the power of your knowledge to create a better world if you don’t believe you are capable of effecting change.

Once these elements are in place, you will never be learning in a vacuum. You will be able to ask yourself constantly as you learn:

  • How can I use this to get me from where I am to where I want to be?
  • If I can’t use this now, how might I be able to use it in the future? How can I situate this piece of knowledge most usefully so that if I do need it in the future I’ll be best able to access it effectively and realise its usefulness?