This report and other recent studies show that online learning, distance learning, and self-learning in general, are not only more convenient, but, in fact, more effective than the classroom, for high school, college and adult learners. In the last decade, the Internet, the MP3 player, the iPhone, and other mobile devices,as well as social networking sites, language exchange communities, online learning systems, university courses online and more, have changed how we deal with knowledge. Independent programmer-entrepreneurs are constantly developing new learning applications. The language lab is already obsolete, can the college lecture hall be far behind? The walls of academia, and the costs of learning, are crumbling before our eyes and ears.
For those who are conditioned to think that learning only happens in a classroom, the world of self-learning can be a little daunting. How do we best take advantage these new opportunities.
1. Get interested
Make no mistake. Your interest in the subject is the essential driver of success. You can’t learn what you do not want to learn. Emotion is an important part of the learning process. If you are even moderately interested in a subject, give yourself a chance. The key is to get started. If you can create some pleasurable routines, you may find that the subject grows on you. “L’appetit vient en mangeant” (the appetite comes with eating) as they say in French.
2. Expect problems and you won’t be disappointed.
Don’t expect to understand things, much less remember them, the first time you study them. Trust that things will get clearer as your brain comes to grips with new information. It is like a jig-saw puzzle or a cross-word puzzle. As you start to put the pieces together, or string the words together, the full picture becomes clearer. The brain learns all the time, but on its own schedule. Learning does not take place according to a schedule laid down by a curriculum or teacher. Some things are easier to learn than others. Some things just take longer to click in. Keep at it, and you will gradually find that things that seem difficult at first, will become second nature with time.
3. Cover the same ground from different angles.
Your brain is struggling to form patterns to cope with new input from your learning activities. Sometimes, no matter how long you focus on one subject, your brain is not going to pick it up. If you are stuck, move on. Then cover the same general information from a different source, a different book, or a podcast, or an online lecture or a video. Try to become a grazing learner, roaming the countryside, rather than a feedlot learner, just standing there in one spot, munching on the same bale of hay. The broader your base, the easier it is to learn. Just as the “rich get richer”, the more you know, the more you can learn.
4. Anytime is learning time.
Take full advantage of the Internet, iTunes, and various mobile devices, not to mention good old-fashioned books and magazines. Learn during “dead time”. Listen in your car, on the train, or while jogging. Have your learning with you while waiting in the doctor’s office, or listen while checking out at the supermarket. Anytime is learning time. Remember, you are learning through exposure, not by nailing things down. It is more like moisture accumulation in a cloud, rather than building a brick wall.
5. Be a multimedia learner.
The more varied your learning content, and the more varied the ways in which you learn, the clearer the puzzle will become. Different learning activities suit different people, at different times of the day. Vary your activities in order to keep your interest level up. Even if listening and reading work best for you, treat yourself to the odd video lecture, or get-together with other learners. This will renew your batteries.
6. Join learning communities.
The “loneliness of the distance learner” is a thing of the past. Join a learning community on the web, where members share their knowledge and experience. Search for the communities that suit your interests and learning style. You will find encouragement, advice and stimulus from fellow learners, as well as from tutors, teachers and coaches. In these communities, you can measure your progress against your own goals, or compare your experience with that of other learners. You can even teach and help others, which is a great way to learn.
Never has it been easier nor more exciting to be a learner. Let constant learning be a major part of your life-style. The rewards will be constant, personally, socially, and professionally.
Steve Kaufmann is a former Canadian diplomat, who has had his own company in the international trade of forest products for over 20 years. Steve is the founder and CEO of LingQ.com an online language learning system and Web 2.0 community. Steve speaks eleven languages, having recently learned Russian at LingQ. Steve maintains a blog on language learning,and has written a book on language learning called The Linguist, A Language Learning Odyssey.