In today’s fast-paced world, where more than 300 videos are uploaded to YouTube per minute and 6,000 tweets are posted every second on Twitter, it’s easy to suffer from information overload and anxiety from gaps in our knowledge. As the pressure mounts, the burden and our time become more fragmented.
So what can we do to increase our knowledge and decrease our stress? Here are five principles that can help.
1. Learn from the right sources
There’s an ancient Chinese proverb on the value of learning from others that’s loosely translated as, “you’ll learn more by traveling 10,000 miles of roads than reading 10,000 scrolls of books.”
Some historical background about knowledge: reading has traditionally been considered learning, but that’s not quite accurate. When we read, often we observe then forget what we read. In contrast, learning from other people involves multiple senses, including vision (spatial), aural (auditory-musical), verbal (linguistic), and physical (kinaesthetic). That’s one reason YouTube, Lynda.com, Vimeo, and the like have become popular learning sources.
Experts are often the best source of learning because they have tested, proven, and evolved their knowledge over time. They carry not merely information, but also insight, which is what we need. Experts can condense a vast world of information about a topic into the most important knowledge and reduce the pressure, burden, and anxiety of information overload for learners.
2. Learn structure and concepts, not just data
Effective learning is not based on rote memorization of facts, rather on understanding the structure and concepts that underpin those facts. For example, in high school physics, we are first taught concepts like acceleration, center of mass, force, and Newton’s laws of motion. By focusing on concepts, not data, people can apply these theories to many different types of behaviors and scenarios. Organize your knowledge by learning the structures, concepts, and frameworks, then you can pull the content out whenever you need it. Powerful!
3. Share your knowledge
The best way to learn a concept (and demonstrate your knowledge) is to teach something you’ve learned to other people. If you’re not comfortable with public speaking, there are many other ways to present information, such as writing a one-page book report; telling a friend about it; teaching your children; writing a blog; or even tweeting one line. However you do it, the purpose is to blend the new information into your existing knowledge system by putting it in your own words.
4. Bite-sized learning counts
Not everyone agrees that learning in bite-sized nuggets is smart, arguing that symmetrical learning, universities, and academies are preferable. This perspective may be reasonable, but it’s outdated. As our time has become more and more fragmented, many of us have no choice but to utilize fragmented time slots to improve our knowledge. We can use those small blocks of time in our day to read blogs, RSS feeds, emails, and other content from experts. Bite-sized learning makes it possible to consume information when you need it, where you need it.
5. Have a clear goal
In my opinion, there are two types of people: those who believe in position, feelings, and opinions; and the others who are focused on goals, methods, and action.
For example, consider watching a debate between two people arguing their personal view on a topic. Opinion is a funny thing; it creates conflicts in your own head. You don’t know who is right and who is wrong. Your view and position change as you follow the two contestants staking their own ground. However, if you view the debate from the perspective of goals, methods, and action, you can correlate each debater’s opinions based their beliefs. All of sudden, the picture gets more clear. It means everything they say has to add value to their goal, based on their methods, and be actionable. If a point doesn’t meet these criteria, it gets filtered out; it is that simple.
In summary, knowledge is getting more sophisticated as the world becomes more transparent and connected. Data is increasing at an exponential pace, with no reduction in sight. Since we have to live with it, follow these five principles to find the most effective and productive ways to learn and grow.
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