September  2008     Edition 41
Learning to Learn

Think back to your school days

when you had to write papers. Remember all those hours you had to spend at the library, or reading books, or if recent, on the internet, looking up stuff, digesting it and putting it in your paper.  While you learned about a particular subject or individual, you learned something much more valuable than a few pieces of information.  You Learned a little about how to learn. You learned how to do research, how to find information, perhaps even how to distinguish important information from just noise, and maybe fact from fiction.  The most valuable lesson from those assignments wasn’t the knowledge you gained, but the skill to gain the knowledge.

"Learning" vs. Learning to Learn"

Let’s say your child is reading a book and comes across a word they never heard before.  They ask you, “What does this mean?”   You can answer by simply giving them a definition.  Alternatively, you can ask them how they could find out the definition, and a discussion might occur around dictionaries, the internet, asking other people and what they might do if they encounter multiple definitions.   In the former case, they have learned the definition of a new word.  In the later case they have learned how to find out the meaning of any word they don’t understand.  Which is more powerful?

Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) wrote that "Knowledge is Power",

and with the skills to learn, your knowledge is limitless.  While no one has all the knowledge in every subject, if you have the skill to learn, then you can gain the knowledge in any subject, when you need it.

What about your business?

   If you’re a manager, are you helping your team learn to learn?  Are they gaining more insight as to how to find information, how to interpret it, how to communicate it, or are they just learning answers?  Are your employees gaining more knowledge, or gaining the skills so their knowledge can be limitless.  Are you teaching your employees how to fill out a performance review, or are you teaching them the skills to evaluate performance?  Are you teaching them answers or how to find answers?

And what about you?

   If you want to succeed in the 21st century, you need to learn how to learn in the 21st century.   You’ve heard the expression that you’re never too old to learn something new.  What about learning to learn?  While you learned a lot about learning to learn in your childhood and early career, what about now? There are new ways to learn, new tools to help you learn, new techniques to evaluate complex problems.  Let’s look at just one medium to learn, the internet.  Do you know an efficient way to interpret and gain knowledge from the thousands, sometimes millions, of webpages that have information about your subject matter?  Did you know that there are tools available that allow you to go beyond search, that allow you to ask a question of a real group of people and get numerous answers?  Do you subscribe to feeds that automatically provide you with information you are interested in?  Do you know how to use filters? Are you a member of a group that meets in hyperspace and discusses new ideas?

The Takeaway:
   Learning to Learn gives you the skills to learn on demand, about any subject, and obtain answers to questions, and solutions to problems, beyond your knowledgebase and beyond what just learning can do.   You’ve heard the advice about never stop learning.  Go beyond that … Never stop learning about new ways to learn!   Oh, and if you have kids, one of the greatest gifts you can give them is to teach them how to learn; not by giving them answers, but by giving them questions.

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