Tuesday, May 5, 2020

How to Learn the 21st-Century Way

We live in an exciting time. Never before in the history are there so many resources available for individuals. Never before in the history are there so many opportunities for us. Here, in the 21st century, lack of resources or opportunities is no longer a problem. The problem is how to take advantage of them.

Let’s see some of the things you have today:
1. Knowledge at your fingertips 
With just a few keystrokes or mouse clicks, you can get to know almost anything. You don’t need to go to the library for that. You don’t need to call an expert. In most cases, you just need to go to Wikipedia. If Wikipedia doesn’t have it, Google is there for you. This is not to mention the many other resources available.

2. Easy communication 
Communicating with people from halfway around the world is just about as easy as communicating with someone next door. Not only that, you can choose the mode of communication you like. Between Twitter, Skype and Facebook, there are many flavors of communication you can choose from.

3. A voice 
For many years, individuals can only be passive recipients. In the age of radio, newspaper, and television, you were just a consumer. You couldn’t have a voice. But now you can. Everyone can start their own blog or YouTube channel and have a worldwide audience. You can become the producer and not just a consumer.
Of course, in this kind of world, we need a new way to learn. The strategy that worked well in the 20th century may no longer work today. We need to know how to learn the 21st-century way.

For that, there is one thing to keep in mind: the world is moving fast. What was popular two years ago might no longer be popular today. What is popular today might no longer be popular two years from now. So, to be an effective learner, you must be quick to adapt. You must become a versatilist. Don’t stick with things that no longer work. Change the way you do things as situation demands.

With that in mind, here is what I believe is an effective learning strategy for the 21st century:
1. Stay up to date
Before anything else, you need to know what’s going on in the world today, not just in your field but also in other fields. This is how you see new threats or opportunities coming.
I do that by subscribing to blogs and publications through an RSS reader (I use Google Reader). Some people prefer to use Twitter and that’s fine too. Just use whatever tool that works for you.
The important thing here is to keep the signal-to-noise ratio high. Get rid of the sources that don’t give you enough value for your time.

2. Make assessments of the subjects you come across
When you find something interesting from step 1, look for more information about it. For example, if you find a new term that you are not familiar with, look for the definition and some background information. If you see that a certain field is getting popular, find out more about it and why it’s getting popular.

Your goal here is not to be an expert. Your goal is to know enough about it to understand the impact it might have on your life and the world. Your resources are limited, so you need to assess how good something is before committing more resources to it.
Wikipedia is your friend here. It gives you good background information about practically any topic you want.

3. Immerse yourself in the promising subjects
When you decide that something is promising, allocate more resources (time and money) to it. Buy books, watch online lectures or tutorials, subscribe to related blogs. This is the time to utilize the abundance of resources you have on the Internet.
Here are some good sources of online lectures and videos:
iTunes U 
With iTunes U, you can find video and audio courses on many subjects. This is useful if you want to get a deep understanding of a subject. I, for instance, followed a course on iTunes U when I learned about application development for the iPhone.

YouTube has a lot of tutorials on practically any topic you want. Just enter your keywords into the search box and browse the results. If you find something you like, you might want to subscribe to the channel.

Khan Academy 
Khan Academy a good place to learn about basic science like math or physics. It also has videos on topics like economy and finance. Sal Khan (who makes the videos) is a great teacher who can explain things in a clear and fun way.

In addition, there are Q&A sites out there that you can use to find answers to your questions. Two of them are Stack Exchange and Ask MetaFilter.
The key here is to immerse yourself in the subject. Don’t just use one of the ways above; use as many of them as possible. Even better, don’t just watch or read the lessons. Do the exercises as well.

4. Create real-world projects
Real-world experiences are still your best teacher. Nothing can replace it, not even the abundance of resources mentioned above. Those resources simply help you get into the real world sooner.

One big advantage of living in this age is you can, in most cases, get into the real world much quicker and cheaper than ever before. For example, if you love to write, you can create a free blog in just  a few minutes. If you love to sing, you can record your performance and put it on YouTube in a matter of hours.

So take advantage of it. When you want to truly learn something, create something and put it in the real world. Learn from the feedback and adjust accordingly. Keep doing it and you will learn a lot in the process.

That, in my opinion, is how to learn the 21st-century way.

Remember, the world is changing fast. So keep this line from Steve Jobs in mind:
Stay hungry. Stay foolish.
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