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10 Ways to Be a Better Learner

Ideas from Jeff Cobb's Book

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Jeff Cobb blogs about continuing and adult education at Mission to Learn.com. His passion for learning is evident there, and it inspired his first book, 10 Ways to Be a Better Learner. This is a brief look at his 10 ideas. Visit his book page to learn more and purchase the book. He has a ton of related resources!

One of the things I love about Cobb's book are the quotes he often highlights. I'll share some of my favorites.

1. Adopt the Right Mindset

Do you think in terms of growth, about how you can continue to improve throughout your life, or do you believe you are stuck with whatever talents you were born with? Research shows that the most successful people believe they are always learning and growing.

A Cobb quote:
"To learn and to grow, we must consciously tune into the opportunities that are around us, as well as the barriers that may be unnecessarily holding us back."

Here's another one:
"Believing we can improve and excel tends to create a self-fulfilling prophecy; little by little we become more competent."

2. Cultivate Your Network

As technology and social networks continue to increase the speed at which we connect with people, it has become important to figure out which connections are worthy of cultivation. Cobb suggests considering these three factors in your assessment: content (is it reliable?), integrity (is it trustworthy?), and diversity (is the viewpoint different and meaningful?).

A Cobb quote:
"Be conscious of the factors that make a learning connection valuable to you and apply these factors actively in managing your learning networks."

3. Ask Questions

We've talked a lot here about the importance of asking questions. Curiosity is the basis of all learning. Cobb suggests that we not only ask more questions, but that we ask better questions, questions that support learning in these key areas: reliability (what do you know about the source?), significance (why does it matter?), comprehension (how well do you understand it?), action (what can you do with it?).

A Cobb quote:
"If you want to be a better learner, you have to cultivate — daily and consciously — both the desire and the ability to ask questions. It's that simple, and that hard."

4. Be an Active Note Taker

Did you know that simply writing something down helps your brain to store the info in long-term memory? Cobb suggests that you leverage the power of that truth by organizing your notes, reviewing them multiple times, restating them in your own words, reflecting on them, and connecting the information to your existing knowledge.

A Cobb quote:
"Establishing a consistent habit of writing things down can be very powerful. A significant body of research supports the idea that simply writing something down contributes greatly to the process of moving it into long-term memory."

5. Set and Manage Goals

We're fond of SMAART goals here at Continuing Education. Cobb has some additional advice for goal setting:
  1. Keep your list short — no more than three
  2. Be ambitious, but realistic
  3. Be clear about what it will take to achieve
  4. Break it down into steps
  5. Write it down
  6. Set and track metrics
  7. Record, review, reflect

6. Practice, Deliberately

Not all forms of practice are equal. If you really want to learn something, your practice of it needs to be deliberate. It needs to have a certain quality about it.

A Cobb quote:
"Deliberate practice involves not only repetition, but also feedback, reflection, and an intense focus on continuous improvement."

7. Be Accountable

Cobb suggests three ways to hold yourself accountable for learning. Checking your sources is No. 1. Is the source of your new information reliable?

No. 2 is to test yourself. When you have to retrieve newly learned information during the process of learning it, it is more likely to be stored in long-term memory.

Teaching is No. 3. Teaching what you learn is one of the very best ways of making sure you truly understand it.

8. Use Technology Better

The Internet has opened the world to us, but how do we sort through it all? Cobb suggests five ways in which technology boosts learning, and he has a few questions to ask yourself about each:
  1. Assessment — What exactly do you need to know, and at what level?
  2. Access — When was the last time you went on a "learnabout" to discover new online experiences?
  3. Diversity — Are you seeking a wide range of learning experiences? See the quote below!
  4. Action — Are you just lurking on the Internet, or are you actively engaged in learning?
  5. Order — Are you using web-based tools to help you organize your online learning?

Cobb offers a nice list of tools available to you, among them: RSS readers, blogs, and Evernote. Check out his website or book for the complete list.

A Cobb quote:
"If we don't actively use technology to promote diversity, we may succumb to homophily — a tendency to seek out only information and ideas with which we agree."

9. Mind Your Body

Your mind and your brain depend on a healthy body to function properly. Take care of your body by eating right, sleeping well, and exercising.

A Cobb quote:
"The bottom line: Sleep is important. Get enough of it if you want to make sure your memory is functioning properly."

10. Embrace Responsibility

We do not learn in a vacuum. Cobb suggests you remember the context in which you learn, including social relationships and your surrounding environment. He lists three ways in which to be responsible about learning:
  1. They recognize that their learning is not purely about themselves.
  2. They put in the effort to learn even when they may not want to.
  3. They are dedicated to learning well and learning correctly.

For more from Cobb, visit Mission to Learn.com.

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