Journal Lessons
Learning

Mindshift: Lessons from a course about learning

One of the best things about the internet is the vast volume of knowledge available. The rate at which content is being produced in all its different forms is far greater than the rate at which we can consume it!

There are so many avenues through which we can consume content: reading blogs, news articles, tutorials, opinion pieces, to watching videos, to listening to podcasts. Whichever way you prefer to consume your content, sometimes it can be an overload.

Over the last few months, I’ve tried to make a conscious effort to consume content and media that is of great quality, and that is teaching me something.

Learning with MOOCs

One of the best discoveries I made was MOOCs. I knew there were a vast array of courses available online, just never had the time to take them! I’ve talked about MOOCs before, and there are loads of people all over the world who take these courses, whether to learn something new for fun or to upgrade their skills.

Over the years, I’ve taken lots of exams and courses, but they’ve all been focused on accounting and finance, because that is the field in which I have a designation, or am working towards a designation! I can spew business concepts, and define many financial terms, but I felt that I wanted to learn about concepts that I didn’t have the chance to explore before. One of my favorite courses I took in university was Philosophy of Law. My mark won’t reflect how much I enjoyed the course, but I really enjoyed learning about the debates and theories around how laws are developed and their impact on society. It is in fact, the one textbook I’ve actually saved (yes, I’m a nerd like that).

As I embarked on my online learning journey, I’ve wanted to take courses that I didn’t have an opportunity to take in university, because they wouldn’t make perfect sense in my degree or because they were not offered when I was in school.

The first course I completed (a couple of months ago now), was called Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential. It was a course about learning, which made it the perfect course to embark on this journey.

About the Course

I took the course via coursera.org.  The course itself is into four modules to be covered in four weeks, focusing on changing one’s mindset about learning, learning about learning, and how the way you learn can help your career growth.

The modules were short and succinct. The instructors presented very clearly. In fact, I found that the pace of the lecture a bit slow, so I sped up some of the videos. It was light on the science, but at the same time provided some technical support on many of the theories presented.

The course has flexible deadlines and takes about 11 hours to complete, so it is not a heavy time commitment.

Over the four weeks of this course, I learned a lot about the concept of learning, how to get past hurdles, and gained a lot of perspective about myself. Some of these lessons, I intuitively understood, but taking this course provided me with some self-awareness about my ability and skill to learn.

I wanted to share my biggest learnings from the course, just because the content of the course was so helpful to me!

ONE: Mastery Learning and You

Everyone is different and learns at their own pace. Just because you are not learning at the same rate as those around you, doesn’t mean you will never get it!

While in school, I was good at subjects like Math, Science, English. I read a lot. I hated sports, and I was never good at art or music. I was a bookworm and a nerd. This trajectory convinced me that I was on the path to a traditional university degree.

The more academic subjects came easier to me than arts, sports, home economics, or woodworking.

Only later in life did I discover that I have the potential to be creative, I just hadn’t found my medium, or had enough exposure to it.

They say it takes 10,000 hours to master something, so really anyone can be great at anything as long as you practice! It just might take you 10,000 hours, and it might take your friend 100 hours. You just have to be willing to keep at it.

In fact, the course alluded to the fact, that if you slow down and learn, you may actually explore things fast learners would either miss, or not be able to fully articulate because of the speed at which they learn.

Having a slow learning process in fact shows persistence and flexibility, which are both important skills in life!

Tip: Practice, keep at it, and if it’s something you really want, then don’t compare your progress with someone else’s!

TWO: Your brain works in mysterious ways

Have you ever thought about a problem so hard that you just can’t find a solution? And then when you’re not thinking about it there’s THE solution that you were looking for all along! That’s the idea of focused versus diffused learning.

When you are focused on a topic, sometimes you get too close to it, that you are unable to fully digest it. Stepping away from it, doing other things allows your brain to work in the background and often, when you get back to it, you will see that you are better off than you were!

Another key lesson was the importance of active learning. Whenever you are trying to learn a new skill, try to actively do whatever you are trying to learn. Repetition and Practice are key!

Tip: Don’t fear failure, start something and see where it takes you! Repetition and Practice are key!

THREE: Be Passionate but Hedge your Bets

This is a word we often hear about: “follow your passions”. Sometimes this works out for people, but at other times, passion is not supported by opportunity or skill, and thus we encounter failure.

I’ve heard this a lot from others as well, how following your passion or purpose is often a curse in itself.

Sometimes, people are searching for something that may or may not exist!

The idea is to support yourself through skills that may be adjacent to your passions. For example, if you really enjoy playing the guitar and know you’re good at organization, you may want to hedge your bets and look for other opportunities to work with bands (like an event planner), or in other roles in the music industry!

There are many reasons to develop skills in different areas:

  • It can help develop career resiliency
  • You could become a Jack of all (more) trades
  • Learning new skills keeps your brain fresh and agile

All of these could lead to working towards building your portfolio of skills in various areas, and lead to success in many different areas!

FOUR: Conventionally Smart is only one type of Smart

Going through a traditional schooling environment, we’re often taught that marks can make or break you. That can be true, but once you get out into the real world, you realize there are so many skills that are just as important, those that often fall into the category of emotional intelligence.

We strive to be in that type A personality category: organized, sharp, ambitious, and constantly productive.

These traits are rewarded well in many fields, but there is a power in reframing your weaknesses.

A poor memory can be valuable: it can help you to be more creative and to see shortcuts that other people can’t figure out.

Slow learners are often more creative and retain the lessons much better than fast learners.

Don’t discount your skills, you can find application of your skills in many different ways. For example, learning a language and STEM are often considered to be on opposite sides of topics to learn. But both require practice and repetition to fully understand. Therefore, if you are good at one, you can become good at another!

Tip: Think about what you are good at, and how you can apply that to different situations!

FIVE: Self awareness is an important part of learning

Understanding yourself will help you learn better!

Using mental tricks can help reframe your thoughts and reduce anxiety and worry.

It is important to put a label on your feelings, since it can be valuable in reducing painful emotions.

If you are a worrier, the anxiety can help you anticipate scenarios, which is great for risk management!

If you are a contrarian, you can help prove people wrong, with common sense of course.

If you’re lazy, you’re efficient!

If you’re a procrastinator, chances are you’re procrastinating because you don’t value the task enough, or it’s because it’s distracting. You can start procrastinating less, by either increasing the value of the task (rewarding yourself or thinking about how the task will benefit you) or decreasing your ability to be distracted in the process of it (like creating a game out of it or tell others about it to hold yourself accountable).

Your environment and the people who you are around can also impact your ability to learn. I usually focus better in coffee shops with high ceilings, others thrive in different environments. Sometimes, it depends on the task you’re working on. Figure out what works for you!

It is also important to surround yourselves with others who have aspirations that fit in with your goals, or can at least empathize with them. They will be your support system.

SIX: Keep Learning and find a way for it to fit your Lifestyle

There is no excuse to stop learning. Learning doesn’t have to occur in traditional formats like this course. It can easily occur in so many different forms, and can help you achieve your goals, or even help guide you through your journey.

No matter what your goals, continuous learning can help. Whether it is so that you can make a switch or progress in your career, or just to keep your mind active.

I’ve taken this to heart, and have tried to make it an effort to watch fewer re-runs of Friends, and The Office, and learn more. My favorite sources have been:

  • Books – more precisely, I’ve been trying to read books by a greater variety of authors and different topics of books that I might not have otherwise picked up. I’ve started to branch away from fiction, specifically chic-lit and picked up more memoirs, and non-fiction books.
  • Podcasts – These are easy ways to learn about new topics, from people with so many different perspectives. There are so many podcasts on a variety of topics, from current events (such as The Daily, Vox Explained), or niche podcasts like reducing stress for lawyers!
  • Blogs – I love to read about other people’s opinions on different topics, from food to books, to beauty reviews and learnings in their personal life.

WHAT’S NEXT?

The course was filled with so much information, that I definitely could not do it justice in this almost 2000 word blog post. These were my key takeaways, that have helped me reframe my perspective.

If you get a chance, do take the course.

There is also a book on the topic of the course called Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential by Barbara Oakley. So if that’s your style, check that out!

If you’ve taken the course, or have any questions, leave me a comment below!

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2 Comments

  1. Marlene Manto says:

    What an inspiring post! I too like to teach myself all sorts of new things and love the fact that so many courses are available online these days. I agree that you have to be self-motivated but sometimes that comes naturally if you are interested in the subject. Well done….an enjoyable read.

    1. Anum H says:

      Thank you! I love how easy it is to access these courses, there’s no excuse but to learn!

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