Elon Musk thinks a human’s hardware is her physical body and brain and her software the way she learns to think, her value system, her habits, her personality. Learning, for Musk, is simply the process of “downloading data and algorithms into your brain.”
We are, in fact, downloading data and algorithms with every day and every new experience. Human beings are learning machines. We spend our lives learning. We can’t help but learn. The only question is what we will learn and how it will affect our lives.
Unfortunately we have been conditioned by the school system to think that learning can only take place in a classroom. We need to take charge of our own learning. Here are four steps:
1. Forget the classroom.
As the influential German neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer said in his book Learning: The Human Brain and the School of Life, learning doesn’t take place in classrooms, it takes place in our brains.
Roman school children learned from their masters and wrote things down painstakingly on clay tablets. Today we have electronic tablets that connect us instantly with knowledge and information that no Roman could have imagined.
But classroom education hasn’t changed. Teachers are perceived as the source of knowledge: “If they don’t teach we don’t learn.” The problem with this model is that it disempowers the most dynamic performer in the learning process, the learner. When we are dependent on others for our learning, we lose out.
For Musk, the greatest frustration with formal classroom learning is the “ridiculously slow download speed” of sitting in a classroom while a teacher explains something. Musk learned mostly on his own, through reading.
Good teachers know that their role is to encourage and stimulate, not just to teach. However, many teachers prefer their students to be dependent on them. Often in school, we are told not to get ahead of what the teacher is covering. This diminishes the learner’s curiosity, enthusiasm and independence.
Albert Einstein wisely said ” I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” Create your own conditions for learning!
2. Work on becoming an effective reader and listener.
Reading and listening on our own are not only efficient ways of learning, they help us improve our communication skills. The top four skills employers are looking for in the modern workplace are: oral communication skills, listening skills, writing skills and presentation skills. These skills require high literacy and are most easily acquired through broad based reading and listening.
The better our reading and listening skills, the more knowledge we can acquire. The broader our general knowledge, the more we can understand when we read and listen. When it comes to literacy, words and general knowledge, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It is either a virtuous circle or a vicious circle. This is true for conventional reading, and for listening to podcasts and the other sources of information and knowledge that we can find on the Internet.
In today’s job market, we have to constantly learn new technical skills. Technical material, manuals and the like, have some of the highest literacy requirements of any reading material, higher than for newspapers or popular literature, for example.
Be like Musk, equip yourself to learn on your own, rather than waiting for a teacher to download information to you in a classroom. Start reading and listening. The more you read and listen, the better you get at it.
3. Stop wasting money on ineffective learning methods.
Educational institutions are both ineffective and expensive. Public expenditure on education represents five to seven per cent of GDP in most developed countries, close to the amount expended on health care. In addition, many students graduate from university deeply in debt.
We often hear appeals for more money to be spent on education, more money for teachers, textbooks, and stakeholders in the present education system. Research on education assumes that learning is centred around a teacher in a classroom.
Yet today the teacher is only one of many resources available. The Internet has created a new paradigm. We are able to find not only books that can help us in our learning, but all kinds of resources, including online university courses, podcasts and more. Much of this is free. It is for the learner to decide how much of the learning should happen in a classroom.
Learn on your own, and limit your exposure to a system that may saddle you with large debt.
4. Even if you have trouble reading or listening, take charge of your future.
Some people have reading disabilities which prevent them from becoming powerful readers and independent learners. This is true whether the learner is in a traditional classroom or not.
If you are dyslexic, find out about the causes and what you can do for yourself. It appears that dyslexia is related to our ability to hear and process sounds and words.This is not surprising since when learning a new language, it is important to combine listening and reading in order to understand what is at first incomprehensible. Combining reading with listening, and repetitive listening if necessary, is an important strategy, not only in language learning, but in improving literacy and overcoming dyslexia.
All learners, and especially people with reading problems, should actively search for the tools that can help them become effective listeners and readers. Poor readers are usually poor listeners as well. There is no shame in having these learning problems. They are widespread. However, there is no reason to be dependent on other people to overcome these problems. There are vast resources and systems available on the Internet to help people develop their learning skills.
Everyone should take charge of their own learning. Go for it now!
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