How to Efficiently Learn On Your Own
The art of thinking, reading, observing, and interviewing.
Posted February 15, 2021 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma
So much can be self-taught. And that has huge advantages:
- You learn just what you’re motivated to learn.
- You learn at your own pace.
- You learn whenever you want—No MWF, 7-8.
- And it’s free.
Here are thoughts on how to make the most of these five ways to learn on your own.
Sometimes, the best and certainly most empowering and active approach to learning is to think. Perhaps while pacing, if only for a minute or two, think about what you'd like to learn. Perhaps jot notes or a diagram. You might even talk aloud and try to explain to yourself what you know and don't know. Sometimes, that can teach you a lot or at least organize your existing knowledge.
Articles and videos
Google-search scours millions of articles, videos, and book excerpts, and its algorithm tends to yield on-target articles at or near the top of the search results. Of course, for Google-search to do its thing requires you to use a good search term. Don't be too narrow or too broad. For example, if I were trying to learn about using Instagram in job-search, I wouldn’t be narrow—Instagram “job-search” tips video. That would focus on video. Nor would I be broad—Instagram job search. That could include much content other than how-to tips. I’d first try: "job search" Instagram tips.
If the top two or three resources don't yield enough good information, scan Google-search's two-line thumbnail of each one to find a more on-target search term. For example, I found the term: “Instagram profile.” My next search might be: Tips "job search" Instagram profile. For more on the art of Google-searching, see this.
Sure, you might want to read whole chapters or even an entire book if you’re confident it’s nugget-filled or will give you enough pleasure to justify the time. But typically, you can reach the point of diminishing returns in just minutes. Amazon can be extremely helpful in that.
First, find one or more books on your topic. Amazon's search algorithm puts top-rated books at the top of the results. It's particularly likely to unearth something you'll like because Amazon's algorithm searches literally millions of books, more choices than you'd get from browsing 100 brick-and-mortar bookstores or libraries.
At Amazon’s page for a book whose title and four- or five-star rating intrigues you, read the top few reader reviews. Amazon’s algorithm first lists the most user-praised reviews first. Often a book's top reviews contain lists of the book’s nuggets. That may or may not be enough to reach your point of diminishing returns.
Want more? Use Amazon’s photo of the book's back cover. The publisher wants you to buy the book, so it will often include its best tips as a sample.
Want still more? Use Amazon’s Look Inside This Book feature. Often you can learn much of value merely by reviewing the table of contents. For example, you might learn a useful list of subtopics, which could trigger your own thoughts. Of course, click on any chapter title that intrigues. Sometimes, you'll be able to read it but, more often, you'll only be able the read the book's first pages, which also tend to contain some of the book's best ideas.
Of course, if the aforementioned makes you want to own the book, Amazon usually has them new at a discount and used for an even bigger discount, and it will be usually be quickly delivered to your door.
An axiom of teaching (as well as of fiction writing) is "show, don’t tell." We do tend to better remember what we see. To take a psychology example, watching a master therapist may be more valuable and memorable than reading about his or her methods. Beyond the visual, watching shows you subtleties that even the therapist may not be aware s/he is using. Of course, the benefits of watching a master in action extend to a wide range of professions: from physician to manager to craftsperson. Is there someone you should ask to observe and perhaps debrief with afterward?
Often, it’s infeasible to observe a master, but s/he may be willing to answer questions, for example, on Zoom, by phone, or in an email. Usually, it’s wise to first ask a question the person can answer easily. For example, a job seeker in an informational interview might start with, “Would you tell me how you got into this career?” Save for later any questions that are harder or that an honest answer might require revealing a wart. For more on the art of questioning, see this.
Of course, there are times when a course, a certificate program, or even a degree is needed. But more often than we might think, efficient self-teaching can be a great way to learn what you want, when you want, and yes, for free.
I read this aloud on YouTube.
The previous part of this series explains how to make the most of an online class.