Learning is a fundamental human activity. From the moment when we take our first breath, our bodies and brains are engaged in learning new things: how to get our mother’s attention when we are hungry, how to defy gravity by learning to stand and walk, how to read, and so on until the end of our days. I believe that continuous learning is essential to happiness and perhaps even survival, whether we are college students, professionals at work or enjoying retirement. How boring would life be without the daily delight of a new word, new route to work, new cooking technique, new data point, a new algorithm?
I think of learning in different categories, each requiring a different approach: academic learning, physical learning, and fun learning. For academic learning, I figured out that I need a lot of repetition. Especially if I am not familiar with the subject or simply don’t care about it. For this type of learning, my most impactful approach is to get a tutor or join a study group so that I can be exposed to a few different ways of looking at the subject at hand. My study groups in college are probably the number 1 reason why I was able to graduate. Some of my classes were very difficult and the professors did not have time to explain things in a way that I could process, so I would look for other students or teaching assistants who could. The more a concept or process would show up in my academic career, the better I got at it. I also noticed that when I delved deep into a subject I would start to dream of the answers to problems, or become more proficient in a language. This type of learning prepared me for my professional career. I have learned that my best way of excelling at a job is to learn from as many people and documents as possible, let all the information “be loose” in my brain, then organize it with repetition. Physical learning is much more difficult for me. I am not naturally athletic and moving my body in ways that are unnatural to the way I learned to move as a child are a continuous challenge. However, I have learned that when my brain hurts from trying to learn line dancing, tennis, or hiking a difficult terrain (well, difficult for me…) it means that my brain is developing new pathways which are essential for brain and body health as I age. Getting a good night’s sleep is required for recovery and processing for both academic and physical learning. Fun learning is the everyday joy of figuring out something new. This takes very little effort and gives me great pleasure. Reading the newspaper, talking with strangers, trying a new craft or even watching a (high quality!!) youtube video are eclectic ways of keeping the mind and body engaged. It can also be very relaxing to learn something random. And you never know when you will use the information in a trivia game.