Personal Growth Hack: The Difference Between Being Taught & Learning

by Jennifer Good | February 10th, 2014 6:24 PM | No Comments

learning vs taught

I’m a huge advocate for self-education (autodidacticism). More than likely this stems from the fact that I’ve learned most of what I know by myself. It’s not necessarily that I have a thirst for knowledge, but rather when I want to do something, I want to do it. Most times that means I have to go learn about it first.

For instance, when I started creating websites and engaging in online marketing, there weren’t college programs I could attend for it. Everything was new. There weren’t hundreds of blogs and books devoted to internet marketing, In fact, to be honest, I’m not even sure there were any. Therefore, I couldn’t count on someone to teach me what I wanted to know. I had to dig in and discover it all for myself. Looking back, I’m really glad that was how things happened. Out of that necessity, I learned that there is an important difference between being taught something and learning it.

Let’s start by highlighting the major differences between the two.

Being taught is when someone or something shows you how to do it. The thing with being taught something is that you might not be ready for that information and therefore it isn’t something you are actively learning. You might possess the knowledge for a time, but since it doesn’t have a real world correlation attached to it, if you don’t access that knowledge for some time, it can be forgotten.

Learning happens when you were actively involved in the education of that subject matter. When you have learned something because you needed to know it or life decided it was time to serve up a personal lesson, you have a stronger correlation or emotional attachment to that particular information. It’s an active process and therefore is really is something that you KNOW. When you “know” something, it’s not likely that you will forget it. It’s now added to your repertoire of knowledge for you to access any time it’s necessary.

Why is this differentiation important?

It’s simple really, if you don’t actively participate in learning more about how to run your business better or how to learn better job/life skills, you’re not growing. And as Tony Robbins says, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.”

That means that those areas of your life are not just stagnant, but are in danger of decline. In order to maintain a stat, you have to be growing at least slightly in that area. Think of it like inflation. With inflation, the cost of goods increase persistently over time. In the same way, the knowledge and skills needed to maintain your business also increase over time, and if you’re not keeping up, you’re going to run into problems. New competitors will emerge, new technologies will be developed, and you’ll need to be able to adapt and grow. If you aren’t actively learning new skills, you won’t be able to keep up when change is needed.

So, how do you learn?

If you spend your days reading blogs or books, you might think you are learning. However, that is still just being taught. Unless you act on the information you are reading or acquiring, you will lose it. You might remember the information for a few weeks (who are we are kidding – more like a few days, if that) and then forget all about it.

Think about what you were taught in school. Studies show that after twelve years of school the average person remembers from three to five percent of what they were taught. To put that in perspective, that’s information that you spent time learning every single day school day for years. Now imagine the life span of retaining the information from that article you read a few weeks ago.Unless it was something you were actively interested in learning, the chances of acquiring long term knowledge for that information are pretty low.

This makes active learning a crucial stepping stone to your overall success and personal development – even if you can only allot a couple hours a week to it.

So, what’s active learning?

Active learning is when you are learning in a way that you can actively apply that knowledge in a real life situation. It’s like the difference between trying to learn how to draw by only reading about technique and never picking up a pencil and actually learning by drawing something. In the first scenario, you might know about drawing, but you’d never know “how” to draw. This is the basic idea behind active learning.

How to apply it to your own life.

#1 – Figure out what you want to learn more about.
You may want to learn how to use social media more effectively, how to type faster or how to manage money more profitably. There are probably a number of things you want to learn. Create a list of everything that interests you or that you feel like you should know. I always have a standing list of 20 things I want to learn. Every couple of months I go back to the list and adjust it by taking off things I’ve learned or are no longer interested in and then adding in new skills accordingly.

#2 – Once you know what you want to learn, research it.
You can’t possibly know where to start if you don’t know anything about your topic. For instance, if you want to learn how to use social media more effectively, you need to learn what you can about the topic in order to understand where you personally need to start. While you are researching, make sure to save information that is actionable for the next step.

#3 – Create a checklist of experiments to try.
With the information collected in step two, you should be able to have an idea of some experiments or techniques that allow you to apply the information you’ve learned. List at least five that you’d like to do based on the research above and record your results as you go through the steps. Make note of whether it worked the way you expected or if you had to make adjustments. A good goal is to try to do one experiment per week, per topic/subject you are learning.

#4 – Repeat.
If you’ve finished your first experiments in the area you are learning in and you still want to explore the subject further, go back to step two and do some more research. You’ll find that learning is similar to playing a game. When you start, you really only have access to a few basic levels, but as you acquire more skills you are able to access more advanced features.

Learning is very similar. When you start out, you don’t really know what you are looking for. However, once you have acquired some of the basic skills, you can branch out into other areas that you might not have understood or even realized were available. There’s always more to learn and this is a good process to uncover everything you can in a specific subject.

If you feel are you are done with a particular subject, or want to move onto something different, go back and start from the beginning instead.

Why this process works…

The point of this process is that instead of just reading about what to do, you’ll be experimenting with what you are learning and actually DOING something. This is the difference between just being taught something and actually learning it. If something doesn’t work the way you thought it would, you are still better off because you’ve learned something – even if it means that you learned what not to do. There’s a reason failure is called a learning experience.

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