Mix Up The Inputs When Learning

by Race Bannon on August 22, 2013

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A lot of research points to the fact that people learn best when more than one sensory input is utilized. The more types of inputs, the better the learning. For example, if you take one group of people and teach them by telling them (so they utilize their hearing), take another group and teach them by showing them (so they utilize their sight), and take another group and teach by using both means (hearing and sight), the third group that was taught using both senses will always learn better than the groups who receive the information through just one sense. If you can throw in yet one more sense, let’s say the sense of touch, learning increases even more.

So what does this mean for the self-educator? When you’re trying to learn something, see if you can engage more than one of your senses in the process. This will improve the effectiveness of your learning. Sight, hearing, touch and, perhaps less often, smell should be combined to make the learning experience as robust as possible.

Also, people learn better from words and pictures than from words alone. So try to access visual images to support your learning along with any reading you’re doing. When images and words are presented simultaneously rather than successively the learning is improved. So as you read and reference images consider going back and forth between them to have each support the other in the learning process.

When you are trying to use various senses as you learn, remember also that research shows that vision (sight) trumps all other senses when it comes to learning. The more visual you can make what you’re learning, the better the learning that takes place. As an example, if information is presented to people verbally, they will remember about 10 percent of what they were told. However, if you add in an illustrative picture to accompany the verbal information, the people will remember about 65 percent. That’s an amazing difference. So leverage visual images as much as you can when learning.

The incredibly effective nature of visual images is also why I consider image creation literacy to be an important part of the communication skill set needed today. It’s not just important to be able to communicate well with the written and spoken word, but to also have the skills to create at least basic visuals and images to illustrate what it is you are trying to communicate. And the drawings or images you create don’t need to be complex. Research has shown that simple or rough images are quite good at communicating information, and are sometimes superior to more complex or lifelike images that can distract from the learning.

So along with honing your writing and speaking skills, consider learning some basic graphic design, videography and other visual imagery development skills as well. It will serve you very well in life if you have these skills.

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Brain Rules To Help You Work and Learn

by Race Bannon on August 19, 2013

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Every so often I read a book that offers me information and insights that provide me with a foundation of knowledge that will serve me well for the rest of my life in so many ways. John Medina’s Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School is one such book. It has made it on to my list of top 10 favorite books and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Medina offers 12 “rules” to adhere to if you want your work, home and learning life to function optimally based on the latest information that today’s brain science can tell us. Medina translates the complex research results of some of the world’s greatest neuroscientists into useful, simple rules that help us apply the latest science can offer to our daily lives in meaningful and useful ways.

As pointed out early in the book, most of us have absolutely no idea how the brain really works. Medina points out that this has serious consequences:

“We try to talk on our cell phones and drive at the same time, even though it is literally impossible for our brain to multitask when it comes to paying attention. We have created high-stress office environments, even though a stressed brain is significantly less productive. Our schools are designed so that most real learning has to occur at home. This would be funny if it weren’t so harmful.”

For each of the brain rules presented, Medina presents the science behind the rule and then offers ideas for investigating how the rule might apply to our daily lives, especially at work and school.

As an example, Medina’s Brain Rule 1, “exercise boosts brain power,” lays out a rather compelling explanation of why people who exercise outperform the more sedentary among us in long-term memory, reasoning, attention, and problem-solving tasks. Want to work, learn and generally live better? Exercise.

The remaining 11 rules are all equally simple gems of wisdom that will help anyone trying to improve the effectiveness of what they are doing, especially when working and learning. Since the contents of this book speak directly to two topics I write about often, Self-Education and Learning and Work, Career and Business, it resonated with me deeply. It’s also written well and in a friendly, accessible style that delivers the information in a manner that draws you into what might otherwise be off-putting subject matter.

Read this book. You won’t be sorry.

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Looking At The Big Picture

by Race Bannon on August 18, 2013

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Research shows that those people we consider highly knowledgeable in their fields (experts, although I usually hesitate to use that word) do much more than simply retain and regurgitate the facts and formulas that pertain to their domain of expertise. They instead hang these facts and formulas on the big picture or big ideas.

Experts organize their knowledge around core concepts represented by high-level themes, big picture concepts or generalized big ideas. They don’t start with the details. They start with key concepts and ideas and in a hierarchical manner form the details around the larger concepts and ideas.

Use this same approach when learning something. Try to grasp the major concepts in an area of study. Don’t try to focus too much on the intricate details of a subject area right away. Be content at first to understand the primary concepts and only after these are understood satisfactorily should you attempt to learn the deeper and more complex specifics.

Think of the big ideas and concepts as the “outline” of the subject area. Only once the top level headings of an outline are in place should you further expand upon the outline with more specific details.

So what do you do if you have no idea where to start? What if you’re not even sure how to begin identifying the big, overarching ideas and concepts that pertain to a certain area of knowledge. I find introductory textbooks to be an excellent starting point. I’m not necessarily a big fan of our formal educational system relying so heavily on textbooks, but they do serve an extremely useful function, if well researched and written, of presenting to the reader some of the big ideas and concepts from which to start your self-education efforts. And the reading or deep scanning of a good introductory textbook is likely to give you a pretty good foundation for the rest of your study.

You can also find course syllabi online and they can serve the same purpose as a textbook in helping you identify the big picture items from which your self-study will emanate.

As Kio Starks says in her book, Don’t Go Back To School: A Handbook for Learning Anything:

“For linear learning, school use to be the only place to get access to a map that charted a tried and true path to learning a particular subject. These maps, such as syllabi and textbooks, were scarce, restricted resources. But school is now far from the only place to find thes kinds of maps. Open courseware, experimental learning platforms, and the generosity of individual teachers in sharing their work mean that school isn’t the only place to find a well traveled path anymore. They’re widely available without paying tuition. Good old fashioned textbooks can be found cheaply and easily online.”

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Creating Your Personalized Learning Portal

by Race Bannon on August 15, 2013

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Educational institutions, companies and organizations often create online learning portals to act as entryways into learning resources and opportunities for their students or employees. Search for “learning portal” using your favorite search engine to see some examples. You can create your own learning portal using just your browser.

No matter what type of browser you use, they all share the common feature of allowing you to bookmark a web page and to categorize those bookmarks. You can leverage this capability to create your own learning and reference portal.

Online learning destinations tend to fall into a few general categories. By categorizing your bookmarked web pages under appropriate category names, you can emulate the links you would find in a typical learning portal, and this one will be tailored to your specific needs.

The trick is to decide upon the right categories. Here are some suggestions, but you should use these only as a starting point. Your learning portal should be individualized and relevant to what you want to learn, how you learn, and your areas of interest.

You might create these categories under a single browser category of My Learning Portal.

  • General Reference
  • Libraries
  • Professional Organizations
  • Tutorials
  • Blogs
  • Videos

Within each of these categories you might break it down into sub-categories related to specific subject areas. One alternative categorization strategy could be to use subject matter and topic categories as the first level of categorization rather than these higher level categories. Do what works for you. Ultimately, how you organize your links is up to you. Only you know best what organization makes sense.

Keep your links and their categorization current. Over time it’s easy to get lazy about organizing your bookmarked pages and that will significantly reduce the usefulness of your learning portal. If well maintained, your personalized learning portal can serve as your pathway to ongoing learning for the rest of your life.

Here’s a great site that learning guru Marcia Conner suggested to me as inspiration regarding the power of a well-organized link collection. Chuck Green’s field of expertise is specifically design, but you can clearly see how such a link collection could prove valuable for a self-educator.

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Social Learning

by Race Bannon on August 12, 2013

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These days a popular term has emerged in learning circles – social learning. It’s not an entirely new term. Discussion about social learning has roots going back as early as the late 1800’s. In recent times it has become somewhat synonymous with social media learning. While learning theorists will rightfully disagree that the two terms mean the same thing, common usage has blurred the meanings and the two are now often used interchangeably.

Social learning is currently a hot topic in the corporate world. Many organizations are adopting social learning practices that focus on employees often learning best from peers and internal subject-matter experts. Collaborative and multi-faceted learning is the key to social learning. Mechanisms such as communities of practice, wikis, blogs, discussion groups and expert directories are being used to bring about more efficient and useful learning in the workplace.

Outside of the workplace, social learning takes place in similar ways with a contemporary focus on social media as the primary vehicle to loosely organize and facilitate this type of learning. Again, the focus is on learning from others in an informal manner.

Whether taking place in the workplace or in other aspects of our lives, social learning is a concept that will only grow over time as we network further with each other and in more robust and intricate ways. Technology will continue to facilitate social learning to the point where I believe it will significantly challenge, head-to-head, traditional classroom approaches to learning. A tipping point is approaching at which time social learning will be considered a viable alternative to classroom-based education. I look forward to that day.

However, when talking about social learning, it’s important to remember that social learning is really a subset of the larger topic of self-education. Informal learning, self-directed learning, social learning and social media learning are all so closely related to each other that we must continue to think of them within the context of the broader topic of self-education.

I believe self-education is the future cornerstone of all education. In truth, it always has been, but the dominance of formal education in the community consciousness has been so overwhelming that it’s drowned out any reasonable discussion of self-education until fairly recently. I hope the rise of social learning’s importance will help to usher in a new era of more useful, cost-effective and personally-relevant learning gained primarily through self-education.

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Welcoming Feedback

by Race Bannon on August 11, 2013

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We all make mistakes. Nothing we do is perfect. That’s how life is supposed to be. If we ever achieved perfection in all aspects of life we’d be very unhappy. Much of our joy in life, whether we realize it or not, comes from learning, from improving, from fine tuning this wonderful journey we’re all on.

Some folks don’t get to experience such joy because they don’t accept feedback very well. Walls go up the moment they receive any type of criticism, even when it’s delivered with the best of intentions. Sometimes people take feedback badly even when they have specifically asked for the feedback.

I’ve observed that those who learn best are those who are the most open to correction and advice. In fact, I believe that the ability to easily assimilate feedback from others is one of the key learning skills necessary to learn optimally. If someone is closed to feedback, their learning will suffer significantly.

So as you live your life, consider making a conscious effort to welcome feedback with open arms. You’ll learn more and you’ll learn better.

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Sometimes it only takes a few words with some great accompanying visuals to get a message across extremely well. Here is just such a case that asks quite appropriately exactly what is going on with America’s increasingly dysfunctional higher education system.

Based on recent history, my country does not really respect education. Outrageous student debt. Often predatory for-profit schools motivated more by profit than the actual education. Not nearly enough of our nation’s budget dedicated to quality education for all. So I agree with the post, WTF is wrong with my country. We can do better.

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100 Self-Education Sites

by Race Bannon on August 6, 2013

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Take a look Emily Thomas’ great blog post titled 100 Best Self-Education Sites for Switching Careers. What a tremendous self-education resource.

This is one of those pages I recommend all self-educators bookmark and reference regularly.

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Book Review – Don’t Go Back To School

by Race Bannon on July 22, 2013

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I recently finished reading Kio Stark’s book, Don’t Go Back to School: A Handbook for Learning Anything. As someone who is deeply interested in self-education and anything having to do with people being empowered to learn and grow outside of the formal education system, I recommend the book. Stark is a smart woman who defines herself as a “learning activist,” among other things, and she also served as President Obama’s Chief Technology Officer for the Obama for America campaign during the 2012 election.

Stark begins from the standpoint of acknowledging that the formal school system as we know it, at all levels, is broken. Amid the current debates taking place about the true value of a college education and the dramatically rising costs of higher education that’s fostering the student debt crisis, Stark does not propose reform, but rather a radical proposal for transforming learning itself with traditional school one among many options rather than the only option.

The book is based largely on Stark’s own personal research (which I would best describe as ethnographic research) in which she discovered four facts garnered from her interviews that are shared by almost every successful form of learning outside of school:

  • It isn’t done alone.
  • For many professions, credentials aren’t necessary, and the processes for getting credentials are changing.
  • The most effective, satisfying learning is learning that is more likely to happen outside of school.
  • People who are happiest with their learning process and most effective at learning new things – in any educational environment – are people who are learning for the right reasons and who reflect on their own way of learning to figure out which processes and methods work best for them.

Stark presents the book in three sections. The first section (about 15% of the book) is her presentation of how we actually learn best and her ideas on how to go about doing that. The second and much larger section (about 60% of the book) is a series of personal stories from people who have leveraged those same approaches to learning to empower their lives and careers. The final section (about 25% of the book) offers the reader some great advice, information and resources to help the reader be an independent learner. All sections are quite valuable and I recommend you read them all. If you choose to read only part of the book, read the first and last sections since it presents all of the ideas on how to best learn as reflected in the personal stories. However, the personal stories are powerful. I think we often learn best by hearing other people’s stories and I think the book holds together as a single offering that should be consumed in its entirety by a reader.

This book is now on my self-education reading recommendation list. It’s a valuable contribution to the growing body of work that puts forth the idea that many of us learn best outside of the formal educational process.

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Bodylastics – The Exercise Bands I Use

by Race Bannon on July 20, 2013

A while back I decided to give up belonging to a gym and exercising with weights. Due to my rather hectic schedule I wasn’t getting to the gym very often, and after years of lifting weights it just wasn’t resonating with me anymore. The result was that I ended up abandoning exercise for way too long, but now I’m back on a regular exercise regimen.

When I returned to exercising I focused much more on bodyweight exercises which syncs much better with my gymnastics, dance, aerobics and yoga background. But there are times I like to have some other weight resistance exercises thrown into the mix. When I do, I now use elastic resistance bands instead of traditional weights, specifically Bodylastics Resistance Bands. They are incredibly well made and it’s really easy and quick to change the amount of weight resistance you want by simply clicking into place a variety of elastic band combinations.

If you’re looking for a quality set of resistance bands, I highly recommend these.

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