The Competitive Edge – Knowing How to Learn

by Dave Farrow
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Today’s education system very much benefits the rich and hurts the poor – and that’s a problem. It’s the wealthy student that gets the chance to have tutors and the extra time, strategies and resources. The good news is that education system of the future is heading towards a more self-directed learning model. My overall vision is that education is something that you do for your whole life and not just something you do in school.

Taking the skill set of teaching out of the hands of the teacher and putting it in the hands of the student is where all education is headed. Whether the school system does it or the private economy forces people to do it, we’re all going to have to learn new things continually to keep up on the latest trend in our particular industry. Otherwise, we won’t be competitive and we won’t be able to get that promotion.
The perspective that it’s the teacher’s job to teach my kid and if the teacher didn’t teach right, my kid didn’t learn,  puts a lot of pressure on teachers. In the future, because of the Internet and the availability of information, the responsibility will be on the student to learn and not so much on the teacher to teach. It’s getting to the point where we are going to be judged on our ability to learn and we’re going to have to learn in environments that are not necessarily ideal.
The reality is; technology and the workplace are changing too fast. To keep up you’ve got to stop complaining about teachers and bosses. It’s absolutely essential that you get a user’s manual for your brain. At some point, you’re going to have to learn to learn in less than ideal environments with less than ideal teachers. You’re going to have to take the lemons that you’re given and turn it into lemonade yourself and the only way to do that is to understand how your brain memorizes, learns, observes, focuses, sees connections and retains information. You’re going to have to know how it selects information that’s important and prioritizes things and makes decisions. The only way to do that is to understand how you – and your brain – work.
Although I see it as part of the future, this is how the ancients used to see education at the dawn of logic and the dawn of critical thinking in the golden age of Greece. Learning was the great equalizer. Poor people had the same ability to learn as the wealthy. In those days, learning how to learn was the first thing you learned. It wasn’t just an education it was “know thy self.” Knowing thyself is knowing how you learn and understanding how you think was one of the first things that was taught.

Ironically, Mnemonics (memory training) was one of the first eight courses in Aristotle’s academy and it’s the only one that doesn’t exist in modern universities. The ancient Greeks saw it as one of the most important ones –even more important than math. Their reasoning was that if you don’t know how to retain information how can you possibly advance and gain new skills. They’d be appalled today to see how people only get ahead by spending more money and that education has become a money game as opposed to the great equalizer that it should be.
The ideal situation is the self-directed learner. From Ben Franklin, who never went to college, to well-known names like Mark Twain and Walt Disney – to college dropouts like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, the list of the successful and self-taught goes on.
Give yourself an edge. Learn how to learn and stop relying on someone else’s ability to teach. We should all learn to learn like a detective – hunt down the information, figure it out and assimilate it. Because even in the ideal situation, it’s the person who knows how to learn that wins!
Dave Farrow

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