In order to succeed in the 21st Century there are some important things you need to understand about how we learn.

Throughout history, education has been about teaching the next generation to do what the previous generation wants them to do.

Here are 5 things you have to unlearn about how we learn.

1. Attending Class and Reading is the same as learning

The powers that be (Church or Government or Business) map out a path to learn something.

But, not everyone starts in the same place nor is destined for the same place.  This means that while the path the powers that be map out may work for a majority, the path will not be optimum for anyone in particular.

In order to fully optimize learning today, you need to find course materials on your own and choose the sequence of those materials that works best for you. This means you can’t rely on someone else’s syllabus and you can’t rely on somebody laying out the steps for you.

In life and in the workplace, you need to create you own value.  You need to create your own learning path. You have to unlearn the habit of waiting to be told what comes next in your education if you want to take control of your adult life.

2. Grades are not the goal, learning is the goal

Living doesn’t give letter grades. I’ve seen people that did “C” work succeed and people that did “A” work fail.

Often, many think the grade is the goal.  I often ask my students why they are sitting in that chair.  Their answer is most often to get a degree.   And they know to get the degree they have to get good grades.  I understand this and I understand how this is reinforced throughout the education process.  However, I think it best if the focus is on learning not just on the grade.

One of the key reasons I believe this is that I believe the only person who can judge whether you’ve learned anything is you.  Grades normally measure the learners ability to tell the teacher what the teacher wants to hear.  As a result, often times, the learners with the best grades are not the ones that learned the most.  Rather they are the ones that understood what the teacher wanted them to say on the test.

The act of making decisions independent of letter grades is completely opposite to everything that school stands for, because if you’re doing work that is separate from earning an A, then you’re completely uncontrollable in the classroom as you start losing the need to even show up to the classroom.

So school teaches you that you should study for the test.  And what is on the test is what some grader thinks is important.  In life and work, everyone is the grader.  Your boss is the grader,  Your customers are the grader.  Your friends are the graders.  And every boss, every customer, and every friend may grade the same effort differently.

3.  Learning happens all the time, not just in Classrooms

As you move through life you have the opportunity to learn.  Learning doesn’t just happen in a classroom or a training seminar.  Learning happens when you identify a gap that you need to fill and you fill it.

Learning can happen when you are playing a game, watching TV, reading a book, or talking to another learner.

My personal experience is that much of my learning happens outside the classroom.  For example, learning to build this website has happened totally independent of a classroom.  And yet, I can apply the learning in any number of ways to my life.

4. Saying something even when there’s nothing to say

Bill Gates tells a great story about his early experiences with IBM.  Apparently IBM paid Bill Gates’ young startup company, Microsoft, by the lines of code written.  This seemed the wrong approach to the young Bill Gates.  He wondered how it seemed logical to get a million dollars for a million lines of code but only four dollars for the same program that did the same thing in 4 lines of code?  He suggested that IBM was not rewarding the creators for being efficient.

Of course it makes perfect sense to pay programers on the lines of code written or grade students on the number pages written.  Because that is easy.  You simply count the number of lines of code.

We see this in business meetings where people talk because they think they are being paid to talk.  And this translates to the classroom in that the quiet learners are often penalized for not interacting enough in the classroom.

Bill Gates, in the IBM and lines of code example, understood that it is not what you say that’s important.  The important thing is happens because of what you say.

The better approach is to on say, write, or do that which gets the job done.  Not just say what gets you a better grade.

5. Thinking that surfing the Internet is “cyberloafing” and that Game playing is a waste of time

Many of the people I’ve worked with over the years truly believed that game playing and surfing is a bad thing.

I disagree.  Apparently it’s been shown that people who play at work during work hours on the work computer are higher performing employees.

There are lots of reasons for this. It requires long‑term commitment and strategy, and it favors people who understand how to shift between different sorts of tasks that require different kinds of thinking.

 

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