Jon's Homeschool Resource Page

Jon's Homeschool Resources

Learning How to Learn

From: (C. B. Willis)
Subject: Learning How to Learn
Date: Fri, 5 Aug 1994 23:51:25 GMT


Remember the old story about "give them a fish and they eat for a day, but teach them how to fish and they eat for a lifetime?" It's the same story with learning. Just giving students information does not teach them how to learn for a lifetime. It's better that students are empowered to learn how to learn. And yes, they also need a core of essential information as a foundation for learning, successful living in the world, and harmonious relationships with other people.

The quantity of information available in the world doubles every few years and the rate of doubling is increasing. Most people are awash in information overwhelm. The result of this is that each piece of data tends to mean less to them. The cure for overwhelm is learning to to evaluate the importance of a piece of data, how to organize information so you can find it again, and how to learn new things that will make a positive difference in a person's life. Then you will have selected a working set of valuable information.


Clear up any words you don't understand, whether in reading or speaking, especially if the word occurs in a subject area you will be studying further, since knowledge builds on itself. Gaps in understanding, such as a word you don't understand, will come back to bite you later. Use a dictionary with word roots to give you a deeper understanding and feel for the word. Make up some examples of the word used in a sentence. Look for opportunities to use the new word to entrench it in your vocabulary. Have fun with words.
Study the common fallacies of logic; there are about a dozen common fallacies. Avoid them in your thinking process, and learn to spot them in the thinking and writing of others.
Gather data. Observe. Don't forget to name the obvious.
Do research on what others have found and said; go to the library. If you get stumped, don't assume you've reached the end of the road; ask the research librarian for help.
Ask questions. The dumb question is the one you don't ask; all other questions are valid. Ask questions of others and yourself. Pose questions for reflection.

Spin questions. Spin out a series of questions: What? Who? When? Where? Why? How? Spin out a series of variations on a basic question.

Live in a question. Pose the question and then be willing to "be" with it, let it roll around inside and gestate for however long it takes. Then be ready to document the ideas, impressions, questions, and solutions that begin to filter into your mind so you don't lose them.

Ask "what if?" Speculate. Pose hypotheses.

Ask yourself where you could apply a piece of new information. Use lots of imagination here.

Grapple deeply with questions, ask yourself questions, observe, stay with the process.

Notice and name patterns.

Notice possible cause and effect relationships.

Seek root causes, and resolve problems from that information rather than taking a superficial approach.

When it comes to being successful at something, observe people known to be successful at that thing and ask yourself what they're doing. Also ask them for advice and perspective; some will be able to say what they're doing, giving you a rapid orientation and saving you lots of time. Be aware that there may be many approaches to achieving the same successful result; stay open to spotting those alternatives.

See what others have said about a topic. Try to understand why they might say that. Initially work long and hard to be sympathetic to their position. Then take it as a working hypothesis, while staying open to new ideas.

Always look for additional alternatives or solutions. Don't be too quick to settle on an answer, or buy somebody else's perspective just because they have a PhD or somebody calls them an expert. Be a healthy skeptic (not a cynic!) and continue to ask questions while keeping an open mind. Don't assume somebody is smarter or knows more than you do; conversely, don't assume you are smarter or know more than they do. A dignified equality with lots of questions works better than one upsmanship or going into superiority/inferiority.

Explode the Law of Excluded Middle, which says a thing is either A or not-A. Look for alternatives in the middle or outside of the proposed alternatives. Also allow for paradox, that both A and not-A could both be correct in some way.

Keep tweaking and refining your hypotheses when new information shows up.

Be willing to abandon fixed ideas about things, people, and yourself when you encounter a better idea.

Notice that the way people talk reflects their thinking. Listen for people's concerns, what's important to them, and how they're thinking about something, how they're feeling about something.

Notice that conversations happen on several levels. There are the words you hear. Underneath that is your perception of the idea you think the other person intends to communicate. Underneath that is what you feel their motive is; are they in goodwill, illwill, or neutral. There is also the background conversation each person is having in their own minds as another person is speaking, and even as they themselves are speaking. Be aware that all this is going on simultaneously, and any impressions you're getting as the conversation moves along are probably valid, but they do need to be verified. The words are the only socially recognized part of the communication process, but the rest is just as important, if not more so, to most people.

Go ahead and name what no one else is talking about; just because people aren't talking about something doesn't mean it doesn't exist or it's not a valid concern. This is especially true for feelings. If something feels bad, it probably is off-base, even though you have no logical data to go on. Trust your intuition on this, and also check to find the real source of your discomfort.

Ask yourself what is the value and importance of a piece of information. Who could use it? What would they use it for? What could it mean for YOUR life now and in the future? Why is the information important? What is its importance relative to other information? What would happen if you didn't know it? What importance would it have in learning other things that are important? Develop vision, imagination, and a long view toward the future in order to assess the probable value and importance of information.
Keep in mind that a balanced life has several components: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual (which includes but is not limited to character, ethics and aesthetics). Notice the importance of your learning to each of these areas of life.
Look for the "force of the argument", that grain of truth that allows an argument or point of view to be persuasive. In a conflict, name the force of the argument on each side, then synthesize a win-win solution from the information that emerges, thus allowing everyone to feel heard and achieve their goals.
Know when to work on a problem and when to put it aside to let your subconscious work on it for a while.

After a life experience, ask yourself, "What was the learning?" Groups should do this as well as individuals.

Allow God/Spirit to speak to you.

Have fun with learning.

by C.B. Willis

© Copyright 1994 by C.B. Willis.
Redistribution rights granted for non-commercial purposes.

Part of Jon's Homeschool Resources.

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September 19, 1994..September 22, 2002