Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Learning Advice from a Learning Life

Learning is something very personal and very individual, so having found myself being asked for generalized learning advice, I find myself both eager to share but hesitant about what to share!

So I'll simply do what I always strive to do: write from personal experiences. Share what I've found to be important in my own learning and in my own life, and hope that others can find it relatable or otherwise helpful. Much of this seems really obvious, yet at the same time I've never actually sat down and attempted to list all the things I find most important in my own learning, and seeing it all laid out like this is proving really interesting and revealing to me...

Be comfortable learning just enough and nothing more

Read the Wikipedia article, and if you're satisfied with that, stop. Go by your interest level, and don't feel an obligation to learn a lot about a subject if you're not interested in doing so.

Be comfortable focusing on one subject to the exclusion of (almost) all else

Sometimes digging deep and truly immersing yourself in something can be a wonderfully rewarding experience, and leaves you with a very deep knowledge of something or a high level of skill. If something seems wonderful enough to you to do that, go for it.

Learn alone

Books are great. So is the internet. So are solitary walks in the woods.

Self-taught ukulele player

Seek out groups, teachers, or mentors to learn

Sometimes learning with other people really feels best (for some people often, others, rarely). Whether it's in a group where big interesting discussions can happen, or finding a teacher who can help you gain the level of skill you want to have, learning with other people can be wonderful. There's nothing that says just because you're a self-directed learner you can't direct yourself towards lots of other people!

Don't force it

If you find yourself reading the same paragraph half a dozen times because you're just not taking it in, stop. Put the book down. Maybe permanently, maybe just until the next day if it seems interesting again then. But I do find, in my experience at least, that anything I've ever had to choke down or really force myself through, I've forgotten. Every single time. That doesn't mean you might not want to force yourself through a boring chapter in an otherwise interesting book on occasion, or get through a not-so-interesting article online because it's the only place you've found to get that specific information you want. Just that if you're really not enjoying something and there's nothing forcing you to do it (as in, you're not studying for a test you really want to pass), then give up. If you're not enjoying it and not taking it in, what's the point?

Learn to quit

We live in a society that despises "quitters," and we're reminded of this in small ways on a very regular basis. Quitting is usually equated with "failure" (something else we're taught to avoid at all cost), when in fact quitting is sometimes the best and healthiest thing to do. If you thought you wanted to learn ballroom dancing, but then find you hate ballroom dancing class with a passion, stop going. If you loved a subject deeply and spent all your time studying it, but now find yourself no longer feeling it's draw, find something else you want to devote your time to. If everything you've been doing for years has been towards achieving a specific goal, yet you come to the realization that that's no longer a goal that will make you happy, let go of it. This is a lot harder in practice than in theory, but I know I've found much happiness when I realize something's no longer working for me, no longer what I want, and choose to let go.

Ask for help

Even for unschoolers, who usually strive to learn from their community, asking for help can be hard (or at least it can be for this perfectionist unschooler!). But I've had to come to realize that sometimes, you really do need to just ask for help. People are usually very happy to oblige in sharing something they know about and enjoy doing!

Teacher-taught Highland snare drummer

Don't fear mistakes

Again, this is something that even unschoolers can struggle with. Personally, I generally hate learning brand new skills in groups, because I feel really self-conscious about not being good at something, and making mistakes in front of others. But as for the above, sometimes you really need to learn with and around others, and mistakes aren't something to be ashamed of.

Don't compare yourself to others

I fail at this one all the time, yet I always strive to do better at it. Don't compare your body of knowledge to other people, your level of skill in specific subjects, how long it takes you to learn something, or how you learn something. It won't help and it will most likely leave you feeling self-conscious and inadequate (or the reverse, and give you the mistaken idea you're smarter or better than someone else, instead of just that you have different strengths).

Don't let others' ideas about the right way to learn get in your way

If a particular way of learning something suggested by a friend, a teacher, a parent, or a book is working for you, awesome. But just because somebody says that X way is the best way to learn, doesn't mean it's the best way for you. Experiment, be flexible, be suspicious of anyone who says there's only one way to learn anything, and most importantly just go with what works for you.

What have you found helpful to keep in mind when it comes to your own learning? What advice would you give to others? As usual, I love hearing what you all have to say!


  1. Thank you so much for sharing these insights. It's terribly difficult and terribly important to learn how you learn without undue regard for others' opinions of teaching and learning. Keep going -

    All the best,

  2. These are all really helpful thoughts, and they clearly come from someone who learns simply for the joy involved. One thing I've been noticing lately is how uncomfortable people are with unpredictability, and I wonder if this is what prevents many from doing the things you've suggested. It's so much easier to be handed a curriculum and a reading list and a list of educational goals. Most classes are structured this way, but for life learners there will always be a degree of openendedness and uncertainty. My suggestion to others: learn to live with the uncertainty of what's ahead.

  3. Good one.
    As a lover of learning, I'm not sure I've put alot of this into words for anyone except for my kids.
    Thanks for the post!

  4. I love reading you. I'm a Spanish unschooling mum living in Spain. Thanks for all your writing, it really gets in me.

    A kiss.

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  7. I hate typos so I'm doing this again:

    I'm a teacher in training who is enthralled by the idea of unschooling. Ironic, right? Anyway, I'm glad I found your blog. I hope to learn from it. If you're interested, check my blog out, too! And by blog I mean xanga:

  8. So glad that I came upon your blog! We are an unschooling family and looking to help spread the benefits of happiness learning. I am attempting to raise money to earn my MA/PhD in Transitional Learning. I would love any support that you can give. Contact me anytime.

  9. These are some great tips. As a member of the learning disability/differences community, I find myself living by these ideas and pointing them out to others all the time.

    I had never heard of unschooling before finding this blog. I have something else to research, now!

  10. Would you consider writing a post you can submit to the homeschooling carnival? I am hostessing the Carnival of Homeschooling the first week of April and I think a post by you would be wonderful… With your unique perspective you could really make this carnival something special!

    You could feature something you've already written OR write something special for the carnival...

    What do you think?

    I need submissions pretty soon though!
    If you want to submit something, send the following information:
    Name of blog:
    URL of blog:
    Title of post:
    URL of post:
    Summary of post:
    To this address:
    Your submission will come to me.

    Thanks for thinking about it!


  11. its so inspiring bro

  12. Dear Idzie!
    I have been following your post for a while now, well a few months, because I am looking to go into unschooling! This coming school year will be my first adventure into the world of a free life! I was just wondering if you might be able to give me an example of how you like to structure your day or one of your subject/studies. I have what i want to study but i feel kind of lost as to how to study it! i have the books that I want to read and some of the activities that I want to go along with it but I think I just need reassurance by seeing someone else's work!
    Thank you!!

  13. Such a great post! Very insightful! Education is such a beautiful thing. Whether it's in a park or in a book. This post sort of reminded me of one of Ralph Waldo Emerson's poems concerning education. He spoke about how nature is a great educator herself. Great thoughts!

  14. Great article but there is a typo in the paragraph about "Learn to quit". Here is the section: "but now find yourself no longer feeling it's draw". The "it's" doesn't need an apostrophe. Great point though and I totally agree! You have made a mom of four so happy with your blog! I have even discovered something I want to do as a grown up based on my own interests, and I thank you!