How to think of learning in the modern world to stay productive and enjoy the process along the way
Knowing how to learn means being able to see one's life as an uninterrupted development process
When we were starting LLLab, the main thesis reflecting our company was, "we explore how to learn and teach in a world where the only constant is change." We borrowed the phrase "the only constant is change", allegedly coined by Greek philosopher Heraclitus, from a guidebook to Tokyo architecture.

No one expected that the concept would become so relevant, and the developments happening in the world would force us to reinvent education so quickly.

In an instant, we were left one on one with a ton of content. Education companies big and small opened up their courses for general public. Pick whatever strikes your fancy—learning new things with Сoursera or listening to Arzamas podcasts. Simultaneously, universities and schools were rushing to move operations online. To be honest, I, too signed up for a whole bunch of courses in March, but, three weeks into quarantine, my ability to digest content ran out of steam. In the end, I started adding any new video or lecture to a long list titled "Things to watch when I have the energy". Clearly, most of the items were doomed to stay in that list indefinitely.

One of the most popular requests these days that I get from educational companies is not about moving programs online (everyone seems to have managed to do that), but, rather, how to teach people to learn online and independently turn their knowledge into skills, preferably, quickly and all while staying at home. Just like companies introducing working-from-home regimes revealed lots of unviable work systems, business processes and interaction, in the sphere of education, too, though slowly and reluctantly, everyone got exposed to more choices, and together with those came responsibility that no one actually wished for.

In light of all that, let's find out what it means—to know how to learn. The process of learning includes three stages:

  • Awareness and goal setting
  • Action
  • Reflection on gained experience

Each stage has its own emotional, cognitive and behavioral processes. The cycle is never-ending—reflection is followed by new goals, new actions and another reflection.
Let us review each stage in detail.
1. Goal setting.
Learning always stems from a need for changes in life. We do not learn out of our own free will simply to complete the program. Therefore, goal setting begins with the realisation of what one really wants. For example, "I want to become a hairdresser"—great! “I want to hang out with people who share my views” —not bad, either. “I want to understand how the world works”—even better. Interestingly, if we honestly begin to dig deeper into what kind of changes we want to see, some educational goals might become irrelevant. A participant of our course really wanted to enroll in a master's program abroad "to start a business." But after the session, it became clear that she could start working directly towards her goal instead of making a detour and getting a degree first.

Then, one can try to understand what skills one needs and what the desired outcome of the learning process would be. If the field or profession you are mastering is new to you, then try the SkillsFuture project developed by colleagues at the Institute for Adult Learning Singapore. They analyzed a huge number of job roles and compiled a set of required skills and possible training programs, so that anyone can build their own learning path to become, say, a director in aerospace industry or a game designer.
In Singapore, adult learning is part of the official government agenda

Once it is clear what skills one already posesses for a new field and what skills need to be improved, the question pops up, "Is it really necessary to work on one's weaknesses or is it better to focus on one's strengths?"

Martin Seligman studied the syndrome of learned helplessness—a phenomenon when a person, faced with frequent failures, stops even trying to do something to turn the situation around. In this case, he suggested using the concept of learned optimism, when the student recalls and finds in their experience strengths that help them build foundation for change.

Everyone decides for themselves, depending on their goal and circumstances, what skills to work on in every particular instance.

2. Actions.
Someone who decides to become an active learner also has a lot to decide:

  • What to do?
What is the best learning style for me? Do I start by gathering information first or do I dive straight in? Do I study actively with a team or by myself? Do I put stickers with new words around the house or do I start listening to podcasts? For those interested, here is an in-depth analysis of theories about learning styles and strategies, or one could just reflect on their previous learning experience to try and answer the question, How do I learn best?

  • How do I support myself when the drive declines and I'm not making any progress?

  • How to enjoy the process?
How to set exciting goals, focus on the process and find constructive feedback? Interestingly, the usual tools of motivation (reward or recognition) do not work for creative tasks. For more on that, watch Daniel Pink's video or read his book "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us."

This process is filled with surprising discoveries. And the more active role we play in the educational process, the brighter the insights we get and the more relevant the skills that we master become.
3. Reflection.
This one is my favourite topics and a subject of multiple discussions with colleagues. Reflection, and not events, are paramount in our trajectory of development. Meaning, it is not the experience that's important, but what we've learned from that experience.

The events of the previous stage can be scheduled as well as can happen spontaneously. Have you ever noticed that once you set a new goal all of a sudden you become surrounded by people who keep mentioning the subject? Or you had plans to learn to make flower arrangements and your new neighbour turns out to be a professional in that field? This is the influence of being focused, and it would be wasteful to miss such opportunities for development.

Generally speaking, reflection is not a way to assess the achievement of outlined plans, as we often think of it, but rather, a way to see one's life in its entirety as a learning process. Studies on the importance of reflective thinking in learning give me comfort and support my belief that in a world full of overachievers who announce on Facebook the completion of yet another course, or those who watched all Arzamas lectures, there is also a place for us, people who are constantly contemplating. If you have zero energy to learn something new right now—do not force it. Think about how these times change you, and what skills you have already acquired, for example, when switching to working from home.

Honest reflection allows us to understand what our priorities are, as well as realise our true goals and intentions. After all, if you fail to learn to speak Portuguese once again and keep reading pedagogical papers all through the night instead—maybe the first goal is not so relevant right now?
To recap
Without goals, our trajectory becomes chaotic, without events —it's lackluster, and without reflection it doesn't work. It is good practice to be able to combine all three stages of self-development process.

When we finalised the concept of LLLab, we came up with another phrase describing what we do. We really want educational methods to become more "human-centered" and people—"more focused on method", so that everyone can become one's own instructional designer.
I wish you all to have a pleasant journey into the unknown, as well as become authors or at least producers of your own development trajectories! If you are interested, join our course!
Co-founder of Lifelong Learning Lab
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