The Lifelong Learner :: Do what you can, with what you have, where you are -Roosevelt ::

Archive for the 'Learning' Category

Learning Less… But More! February 1st, 2012
My New Hobby January 10th, 2012
Pleasing Everybody January 3rd, 2010
Are you a lifelong learner? December 31st, 2009
Learning Better December 28th, 2009
Expect progress, not perfection September 30th, 2009
Influencing Change March 28th, 2008
Lack of intellectual stimulation January 5th, 2008
Going on Information Diet August 22nd, 2007
15 Steps to Cultivate Lifelong Learning August 2nd, 2007

Learning Less… But More!

Am I really an effective learner?

Just so we’re clear and in context, that’s one of my goals.

I want to learn to remember. And the only way I know how to do that is if I do something with that information.

But what?

I can write about it. That’s #1. I should, as being an active blogger is one of my goals as well.

I should read more than one reference on the subject. That’s #2. Reading mutliple books, articles on the subject makes the knowledge deeper.

And finally, to seal the deal, I should apply the knowledge. That’s #3. If it’s related to programming, my profession, I should write a sample program. Applying knowledge is not always easy, and might actually consume the most time. But without it, I feel, I’m not going to put the knowledge into my long-term memory. And depends on the scope and compexity, I might have to apply it multiple times.

So to answer the question, I am slowly transitioning to being an effective learner. I used to learn a lot by reading. But that’s shallow knowledge and I easily forgot. Now I’m trying to make the learning deeper… learning less, but more!

My New Hobby

I have a new hobby. It’s an expensive one. It takes time — long time if you want to perfect it.

Digital photography is my new hobby.

I’m already fairly deep into it. I bought my first camera, Canon Xsi, a few years ago. But I wasn’t doing much with it… taking pictures and viewing them in Picasa. Nothing else. Pictures were good, but I didn’t really understand what the features on the camera mean.

But then, somehow, I came across a few books on digital photography. I think it was while browsing at a B&N. by Bryan Peterson was one of them. It turns out he’s one of the best writers on the subject. Then I discovered Scott Kelby, another guru. I read more.

So I started a deep dive. I first read . Then I read , another very good book, though a bit more advanced and dry.

I got myself hooked.

I started getting the hang of it…

I no longer only shoot with the auto or semi-auto mode. I know what the Rule of Thirds or Golden Rule means. I know what each of the triangle pieces mean (ISO, shutter speed, and aperture). I know how to get a deep or shallow depth of field.

But I’ve only scratched the surface.

My learning goes on. And I have to learn a whole lot more!

It’s exciting! I love it.

Just the other day, I was photographing my son on a bike in front of our house and I noticed that his face was over-exposed (white). It turns out the camera was focusing on a wrong spot, so I switched to manual focus, problem fixed.

I’m making progress! :)

I also upgraded my equipment. I gave away the Xsi and bought Canon 5D Mark II. It’s an advanced camera and a great improvement. Bit pricey, but I think it’s worth it (one other I considered was 60D). 

Taking pictures is one thing. Editing is another — I’m still green there. But it’s something that I or any photographer has to do. So I bought Photoshop Elements 10 and I’m currently learning how to use it effectively (not that hard, actually). That’s another skill set that I need.

Have time, money and patience? Get into digital photography like me. I recommend it. It’s worth it! :)

Pleasing Everybody

Just the other day, on a way from a bookstore, that quote appeared in my mind. Who said that? I’m sure I read it somewhere! A simple search on the web did not bring anything. But I did find something very related by Bill Cosby.

Does this affect me in any way?

Yes it does.

In a big way!

It stops me. It limits me. I don’t do things because of it!

Sometimes I hesitate, or don’t do something because I am not sure of how somebody else will receive it. I wonder, what will somebody think of me. Is this good enough for them?

Is it good enough for me?!

That should be the question I ask myself. If I like it, that’s a good enough reason for doing it.

Try to please yourself. To like yourself. To have faith in yourself.

When I start thinking about others and their reaction to what I do, that limits me, that puts pressure on me that I have to overcome.

I know. I should be stronger. But sometimes I am not. Or sometimes I give in to that “external” influence.

And that’s what’s wrong with trying to please everybody.

Trying to please everybody might stop you from doing anything!

So what’s better?

If something that you do pleases yourself, then that’s enough.

For instance, when you write a blog, this type of thinking comes up a lot. Especially when you gain some readership. What should I write about? What if I write about “something” and this and that is not going to like it. What will they think of me? I am going to look foolish/silly/stupid. Hmm.. Maybe I should write about something else. And on and on.

This loop is very dangerous.

Stop.

You’re not in the business of pleasing others. You want to learn. You want to grow. You want to move ahead.

You see. It’s about YOU!

Why don’t you write about something that you like and you feel satisfied? And if somebody else does not like it? It’s your blog! The power of choice! He or she can choose to read something else!

Plus, if that somebody else will feel strongly about it, or see something really bad, then they will let you know about it.

I think we become too attached to something that we don’t really have. Something that we don’t really control. And that “thing” controls us! Don’t let that happen to you.

But it did.

It did to me.

But you can change it!

You want to be happy, right? You control your actions. Don’t be afraid to be yourself! And try to please yourself. (Others will like it!)

Are you a lifelong learner?

I consider myself a lifelong learner. Hint: I named my blog The Lifelong Learner. :-)

But isn’t everyone a lifelong learner?

Don’t think so.

Here’s a test. Read the statements below. It’s a general summary of what a lifelong learner does. It’s not complete, but it should give you “yes, that’s what I do” or “that’s not me” answer.

…lifelong learning is different. It’s self-initiated and self-directed. A lifelong learner doesn’t need someone to tell him that knowledge is power. He doesn’t need someone to remind him that he needs to expose himself to useful and relevant information regularly. Because he knows that there’s no someone to do that. It has to all come from himself.

So someone who’s into lifelong learning actively seeks out every possible avenue that can satisfy his (or her) thirst for knowledge, even if that means paying out of his own pocket. He sees learning materials and training sessions as investments on himself. He understands that in this uncertain global market, investment in oneself is the safest and highest-yielding investment instruments available.

It’s all about the attitude. Sure, all of us are learning all the time. But are you actively looking to learn? Are you putting a lot of effort into it, or does it “just happen?” I think that’s the difference.

It’s easy to be a lifelong learner: have an open mind and be hungry for knowledge.

You think you can do that for the rest of your life? Easy! I thought so!

Reference
Lifelong Learning: Is Your Knowledge Library Shrinking in Size?
, the conscious life blog

Learning Better

I am beginning to evaluate the way I learn. I am trying to make changes so that the time that I put into learning/reading is more valuable.
It’s probably going to slow me down, but in the end, I will learn more and become more knowledgeable and productive.

What is it?

Do more with less! Yes, I think this is the key for me. I am doing too many things. I read to much. I have too many magazines. But the end
result is that I don’t learn enough. Yes, sounds bad. But that’s really how it is.

Why so?

Because I don’t learn on a level that I can remember. When I read an article for example. Is there anything that I take out of it? What do I mean? Do I extract information that I will actually remember?

Most of the time, I have to say it’s a no!

This is not easy. Not going to be easy.

I know.

But there are ways that I can implement that will allow me to learn more.

How?

I wish I knew.

But I think I know a way. I will try it. If I can share the information that I read/gather, then this will help me remember it. It will help me digest
it in another way. It will make me learn it in a more meaningful way.  Whether it’s twitter, my blog, a wiki page, anything. The point is to extract information that will go into my “long term” memory. Only then I will remember it.

So here it is. One of my goals for this year is to alter my learning. Change it so I focus more on the things that I learn. And that I really learn.

Reading is a lot of fun, but it could be even more fun when I can use it in a way that can help me. What am I going to do with all the knowledge I acquire? :-) A good problem to have.

Expect progress, not perfection

I love this quote. Too many times we focus on the end result. Too many times we think we are a failure because we’re not like somebody else. Too many times we stop because we have not achieved our goal. Instead, if we focus on progress and perseverance, I think we’d move ahead further.

Am I making progress? Am I better today than I was 6 months ago? If yes, then you are on a right track! Keep going!

One great example for this is Toastmasters. I attend meetings because I want to improve my communication skills. It’s a long term process. Sure, I would love to have the skills of somebody else that I admire. But that’s not the point. I have my own talents and skills, and the most important question for me is, am I making progress. It’s really a great feeling to see progress. Yes, I’d love to have excellent eye contact, vocal variety, body movement and other skills. But I am happy to see improvement in these areas. I am happy to see results from the changes that I try. And that’s what keeps me going. I don’t get discouraged.

Focus on making progress and you’ll reach excellence.

Reference
Speak and Lead Toastmasters — the club I belong to (currently serving as President)

Influencing Change

How do you influence another person? How do you make him change? How do you get him out of this habit that’s killing you?

It’s not easy. But there are good ways and bad ways of accomplishing the task. I found this out by reading a very good book on communication skills, Messages. I extracted what I found the most useful information.

“Influencing others is an art that requires an understanding of the principles of change.”

INEFFECTIVE WAYS

Blaming, criticizing, or complaining.- your basic message is “you are bad or wrong.”

Threats.- “do what I want, or else…”

Pouting or withdrawing.- “you won’t have it, if you won’t do what I want”

EFFECTIVE STRATEGIES

Positive Reinforcement

1. Praise.Everyone is hungry for esteem and appreciation. You can praise past behavior that is similar to the changes you now want to reinforce.

2. Trading.“I’ll give you X if you give me Y.”They are effective because they acknowledge the other person’s needs and promise to provide something real as compensation for the desired behavior.

3. Building in rewards.Much like trading, but the reinforcement is woven into the desired behavior.”Come shopping with me. There’s a huge bookstore in the mall. You can browse around and see what new biographies they have.”

4. Verbal and nonverbal appreciation.Appreciation conveys the message that you are grateful, you are pleased, and you value what the person has done. It greatly increases the chance that the behavior will be repeated and you will continue to get what you want.

Negative Consequences

Negative consequences should be used as a last resort, when positive reinforcement isn’t working. They tend to create a backlash of anger and resentment.

1. Stop rewarding the person for behavior you don’t want.If you want somebody to be punctual, don’t wait for them while they’re still doing some last minute preparationsInfluencing others is bound to be frustrating when you consistently reward them for staying the same.

2. Design self-care strategies to meet your needs when the other person is unable or unwilling to make desired changes.“If a friend keeps borrowing things without returning them, a self-care strategy might be to insist that only one thing can be borrowed at a time.”

3. Identify natural consequences.“If someone is always late for your lunch dates, stop eating with them in restaurants.

ReferenceMessages: The Communication Skills Book

Lack of intellectual stimulation

Over time, is a cause of memory loss, according to Harvard’s Improving Memory publication.

Over time, people who don’t challenge their minds exhibit a greater degree of memory decline compared with people who remain mentally active. According to a 2005 study, people who held jobs that involved complex work, such as speaking to, instructing, or negotiating with people, had a lower risk of dementia than people whose jobs were less intellectually demanding.Most experts think it’s not the years of formal education or the type of occupation per se that benefits memory. Instead, a lifelong habit of learning and engaging in mentally challenging activities — like reading, playing chess, performing music, or acquiring new skills — is thought to help keep the brain in shape.

Scientists believe that intellectual enrichment and learning stimulate the brain to make more connections, increasing the density of synapses. As a result, the “educated brain” may possess greater reserves of cognitive ability — a deeper well, so to speak — and be able to sustain more neuronal loss. Researchers refer to this enhancement of skills or abilities as cognitive reserve. In addition to increasing neuronal connections, mental activity sets into motion a host of processes that keep neurons and their interconnections alive and well.

Reference

Improving Memory, Report from Harvard Medical School

Going on Information Diet

We are constantly being overloaded with information. It seems like we live in an Information Overload age. In any day, I receive more than a dozen emails, subscribe to over 50 rss feeds, read several daily news, read other less-frequent periodicals, and read other material. Isn’t that too much? I think so. It takes time to do all of that. Plus, a lot of it is not really that useful.

I have been changing a lot of my habits in this area lately. My desire is to be more productive and not be overloaded with information. Reading blogs like lifehack.org really helps – they’re loaded with good information. Other books, 4-hour workweek also had some good points in this regard. But it all comes down to “Information Diet” – having the discipline to cut the not-needed material.

In this article, Eight Tips to Find Your Information Oasis, which appeared on lifehack.org, the author gives 8 excellent tips on how to go on such an information diet. I am already doing a lot of them and I’m trying to get into a habit of doing most.

An information oasis – where you can get only the gems of the information without the noise – is the dream land of Information Age. It is the place where the information you consume boost your personal effectiveness rather than decrease it.

But how do you get there? How can you find your information oasis in the midst of information desert? Here are eight tips:

1. Minimize your news consumption

News is probably the most noisy kind of information you could get. The reason is simple: 99% of what you read in the news today would not make it to the history 100 years from now. That implies that 99% of what you read in the news is actually not that important. There are simply too many details than you need. Reading the headlines is more than enough in most situations.

2. Read history in place of news

Rather than reading news, I believe it’s a good idea to read another kind of information which has much less noise: history. History has filtered 99% or more of the unimportant details to give you only the important. Furthermore, history also allows you to see the contexts of the events that happened.

Why is it important? Because contexts allows you to find patterns which in turn give you invaluable lessons of what to do and what not to do. Why should you repeat the same mistakes made by others throughout the history if you can just avoid it in the first place? News, on the other hand, gives you just details without contexts. You may read hundreds of pages of news without ever capturing the big picture.

3. Unsubscribe the feeds and magazines which are not essential

To find your information oasis, it’s important to reduce your information intake. Besides minimizing your news consumption, you should also unsubscribe the feeds and magazines which are not essential. Check your magazine and feed subscriptions, and assess the value you get from each. Is it really worth your time? Does it help you do the important? Or maybe it actually distract you away from the important?

4. Read quotes from the great thinkers

I love quotes because they are the kind of information that has the highest density of wisdom. In the same amount of time, you can get much more insights by reading quotes than by reading other kinds of information. Just go to quote sites like ThinkExist or BrainyQuote, browse the quotes by topics or authors, and internalize what you read there. This is among the purest kinds of information you could get.

5. For each reading, read no more than what is necessary

It is an important key to effective reading. Why should you let all the noise get into your mind if you can just get the gems? So whenever you read something, just read what is necessary and no more. That’s why it’s important to have a clear purpose before you read, especially for readings which require longer time commitments like books. Clear purpose helps you distinguish the necessary from the rest.

6. While reading, focus on getting actionable ideas

Another key to effective reading is focusing on getting actionable ideas. Actionable ideas are ideas you can act upon to improve your life. If it’s not actionable, the information might just take up space in your memory without doing anything useful for you. In other words, it might actually be noise.

7. Check your email no more than twice per day

Email is one of the main sources of information noise in the Internet Age. If you check your inbox again and again during your day, not only it introduces a lot of noise into your brain, it also distracts you from actually doing the important. It’s better if you allocate certain periods of time (at most two) during the day to deal with it so that the noise is isolated and the distractions are minimized.

8. Ruthlessly stop consuming information whenever the value you get is no longer worth it

Whenever you consume information, don’t forget that diminishing returns applies. Over time, the value you get from consuming the information is decreasing. Eventually it will reach a point where you can get more value by doing other activities than by consuming the information. To minimize noise, you should ruthlessly stop at this point. More than that and you are introducing noise into your life.

ReferenceEight Tips to Find Your Information Oasis, Donald Latumahina, posted on lifehack.org

15 Steps to Cultivate Lifelong Learning

An excellent guide to follow in your Lifelong Learning quest.

1) Always have a book.It doesn’t matter if it takes you a year or a week to read a book. Always strive to have a book that you are reading through, and take it with you so you can read it when you have time. Just by shaving off a few minutes in-between activities in my day I can read about a book per week. That’s at least fifty each year.

2) Keep a “To-Learn” List

We all have to-do lists. These are the tasks we need to accomplish. Try to also have a “to-learn” list. On it you can write ideas for new areas of study. Maybe you would like to take up a new language, learn a skill or read the collective works of Shakespeare. Whatever motivates you, write it down.

3) Get More Intellectual Friends

Start spending more time with people who think. Not just people who are smart. But people who actually invest much of their time in learning new skills. Their habits will rub off on you. Even better, they will probably share some of their knowledge with you.

4) Guided Thinking

Albert Einstein once said, “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.” Simply studying the wisdom of others isn’t enough, you have to think through ideas yourself. Spend time journaling, meditating or contemplating over ideas you have learned.

5) Put it Into Practice

Skill based learning is useless if it isn’t applied. Reading a book on C++ isn’t the same thing as writing a program. Studying painting isn’t the same as picking up a brush. If your knowledge can be applied, put it into practice.

6) Teach Others

You learn what you teach. If you have an outlet of communicating ideas to others, you are more likely to solidify that learning. Start a blog, mentor someone or even discuss ideas with a friend.

7) Clean Your Input

Some forms of learning are easy to digest, but often lack substance. I make a point of regularly cleaning out my feed reader for blogs I subscribe to. Great blogs can be a powerful source of new ideas. But every few months I realize I’m collecting posts from blogs that I am simply skimming. Every few months, purify your input to save time and focus on what counts.

8 ) Learn in Groups

Lifelong learning doesn’t mean condemning yourself to a stack of dusty textbooks. Join organizations that teach skills. Workshops and group learning events can make educating yourself a fun, social experience.

9) Unlearn Assumptions

You can’t add water to a full cup. I always try to maintain a distance away from any idea. Too many convictions simply mean too few paths for new ideas. Actively seek out information that contradicts your worldview.

10) Find Jobs that Encourage Learning

Pick a career that encourages continual learning. If you are in a job that doesn’t have much intellectual freedom, consider switching to one that does. Don’t spend forty hours of your week in a job that doesn’t challenge you.

11) Start a Project

Set out to do something you don’t know how. Forced learning in this way can be fun and challenging. If you don’t know anything about computers, try building one. If you consider yourself a horrible artist, try a painting.

12) Follow Your Intuition

Lifelong learning is like wandering through the wilderness. You can’t be sure what to expect and there isn’t always an end goal in mind. Letting your intuition guide you can make self-education more enjoyable. Most of our lives have been broken down to completely logical decisions, that making choices on a whim has been stamped out.

13) The Morning Fifteen

Use the first fifteen minutes of your morning as a period for education. If you find yourself too groggy, you might want to wait a short time. Just don’t put it off later in the day where urgent activities will push it out of the way.

14) Reap the Rewards

Learn information you can use. Understanding the basics of programming allows me to handle projects that other people would require outside help. Meeting a situation that makes use of your educational efforts can be a source of pride.

15) Make it a Priority

Few external forces are going to persuade you to learn. The desire has to come from within. Once you decide you want to make lifelong learning a habit, it is up to you to make it a priority in your life.

Reference

15 Steps to Cultivate Lifelong Learning – lifehack.org – authored by Scott H. Young

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