Five Learning Tips for Smart Adults

Alternatives to the course.

Posted Jan 15, 2018

Pexels, Public Domain
Source: Pexels, Public Domain

Perhaps you’re preparing for a new career. Or you’re wanting to build skills in your current one. Or you’re trying to skill-up in some avocation.
Some people find the traditional method—courses—time-ineffective: The pacing is too slow and/or the content too obvious. If that sounds like you, here are alternatives that come from my new book, Careers for Dummies:
Read Google-Search-found articles and videos.
A Google search curates much of the world’s content to find, in order of likely value, material on your search term. It curates them by considering how well it scores on indices of utility, for example, how often it has been cited or linked to. Competent Google searching often enables you in just a minute or two to identify a few, well-selected articles that can teach you for free, when you want, concentrated digests of you’re interested in, with content more up-to-date than that in most lectures in a course.

Of course, a search result's quality depends on the quality of the search terms you use. Each of these improves your prospects:

  • Use Google Search’s commands such AND, OR, and NOT, and put phrases in quotation marks if you want only results using that word string in a phrase.  Here’s a tutorial. (Do click on the advanced tips.)
  • Pick search terms at the right level of specificity. Since this is an article aimed at “smart people” let’s use an example related to intelligence. Let’s say you want to start learning about the genetics of intelligence. If so, your search term might simply be [intelligence genetics]. If you’re looking for something more specific and advanced, a search term might be as complex as [“David Hill” “polygenic score” “explained variance” intelligence].
  • When scanning the search results, note words, phrases and acronyms in the search-results' mini-descriptions that could be used in a subsequent search. (Usually, it's time-effective to even just scan the first few results.) For example, the first few results in the previous search would reveal a few uses of the acronym, “GWAS.”  If you then search on that term, you learn that GWAS refers to an important type of study used in studying the genetic roots of human characteristics.

Make the most of a tutor. A tutor allows individualized instruction on the content you want at the pace you need. Key, of course, is to find a tutor with the expertise, communication skill, and patience you need. The good news is that s/he needn't self-identify as a tutor. If you don’t already know such a person, the aforementioned Google search may well identify one or more relevant experts who may be willing to tutor you, or at least to try one session to see if you both find it worthwhile.

Almost as important as who the tutor is is the tutoring's structure. It’s usually assumed that the tutor will structure it: start teaching material and give assignments. A more student-driven approach is usually wiser: You study the material your Google search has unearthed, and each time you don’t understand something significant, you email a query to your tutor. That gets you help on exactly what you need and faster than weekly tutoring sessions.

Of course, you might choose to supplement that with regularly or irregularly scheduled sessions, by phone, Skype, or in-person.

Join online groups. Online groups exist for thousands of interest areas. Posts on such forums aren’t very curated, certainly less so than a journal article or Google search, but they are current and explore issues that in addition to exposing you to content, provides a vehicle for asking questions and contributing your ideas. Plus, they facilitate your connecting with experts and others who share your interest.

Usually, you can find an on-target group on LinkedIn, Yahoo!, on your professional association’s website, or by doing a Google search. So, for the example used in this article, if you search on [GWAS forum], up pops a group devoted to discussing GWAS.
Maybe attend conferences. It’s often worth the cost of attending a conference that focuses on what you’re trying to learn. Perhaps surprising, the main reason to go is not so you can attend sessions—You can usually get sufficient content using a Google search or by, before a session begins, getting the session handout. The best reason to attend a conference is so you can have one-on-ones with a number of people, including some you might have trouble accessing; presenters, attendees, and exhibitors. Such one-ones provide current information, allow for your questions, and help you foster relationships.
Form a board of advisors. Consider forming a few-person board of advisors that meets regularly, perhaps weekly or monthly, for an hour. Use or, for videoconferencing, Google Hangout, or Zoom. The meeting structure could be simple: A member takes the floor to share something s/he’s excited about or on which s/he wants the group’s input. When the person feels ready, s/he cedes the floor to someone else who wants the floor.
The takeaway. These alternatives to courses won’t work if your goal is to get credentialed, for example, as a psychologist, lawyer, or physician. But many fields do not have formal licensure requirements, everything from nonprofit graphic artist to for-profit executive. And no matter what your field, once credentialed, you might at least supplement your continuing education courses with these You U methods. And it's certainly a good way to skill-up an avocation.

I read this article aloud on YouTube.

This is part of a series of articles with tips for smart people. The others in the series are: Five Tips for Smart People in a Not-So-Smart World, Tips for Smart Gardeners, Nine Time Management and Procrastination Tips for Smart People, Seven Stress Management Tips for Smart People, Five Tips for Smart Job Seekers, Four Dating Tips for Smart People, Seven Money Tips for Smart People, and Ten Tips for Parents of a Smart Child