Monday, October 24, 2011

Three Steps to Direct Your Learning-For Free

When we think of "education" what typically comes to mind is the traditional "sit in a classroom and be lectured at while occasionally taking a test or writing a paper" method of delivery. This has been ineffective in helping adults learn. Adults not only need to be exposed to masterful content in an engaging way but must possess a strong drive to learn it as well as a means to relate what they are learning to their own lives. You don't need to take expensive university classes to learn something new that will benefit your career. Follow these steps to not only find free online places to grow your knowledge in a subject area, but to practice it.

1. Get clear about the what and the whys: Before you begin, focus on not the what you will learn (i.e. "computer programming") but why you are learning it. This is crucial because when you are struggling to create time for what you're learning or are feeling unmotivated, the whys will help center and focus you. On a piece of paper or index card, write down your answers to these questions: Who am I trying to be that learning this will help me to become? What will this learning allow me to do that fulfills me? What will my life be like after I have learned this? Keep these available to you to keep your motivation and level of engagement as high as possible.

2. Find your avenue to learning: There is a revolution happening online with many avenues of free learning cropping up in many places. For example, Khan Academy is a website with 2,500 videos on subjects ranging from mathematics to art history...all for free for you to learn at your own pace, whenever you want. Some renown universities-including MIT and UC-Berkeley-have crated free online course content that can be viewed online or downloaded as podcasts. Speaking of podcasts, iTunes U features lectures from hundreds of colleges and universities that can be downloaded and viewed whenever you want. And, even with all of these wonderful online resources, don't forget about an old institution dedicated to furthering your knowledge-your public library. Once you know your why the what is where you should focus.

3. Practice: You know why you are learning and you know what you are now only need to apply it to make it stick. Practice can take many forms; the only requirement is to do it. For example, you may be teaching yourself HTML or Java or any other programming language. To prove your proficiency, write some code! Create sample webpages or programs to show others. If you are learning art history, volunteer at a local arts facility to demonstrate your passion for and knowledge of the subject. If mathematics is more your thing, tutor schoolchildren or college students to help them become more proficient in the subject you've been studying. Teaching others is a great way to not only practice but to solidify your learning through helping others.

Don't get caught in the mindset that the only way to learn something is to take your own learning through your drive and initiative. You can become just as proficient...and save a buck.

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