There’s a huge emphasis on education and learning in many parts of the world.  People recognize the importance, tangible benefits and positive impact it could bring to one’s life, society and the future.  While the importance and acknowledgement is visible, many aspects and approaches related to learning seem to require a rethink.

In India, the value of application of education to life seems to be less important than the rank or scores in an examination.  Without doubt, exam scores do matter but everyone needs to think seriously about the value of learning to life beyond schools or university.

Earlier this June, I had shared few suggestions for primarily educators regarding employability of their students.  This post is more focused on the individual learning perspective, mainly for students but may help teachers as well.  Having been through multiple learning experiences in different levels, subjects and countries (including losing a year due to low marks in school), I thought it would be useful to share from multiple experiences.

1. Build self awareness on one’s own learning preferences and styles
Most people have different learning styles, preferences and paces.  It is important to identify one’s own learning style.  At least understanding your learning preference (visual, auditory, reading-writing, kinesthetic) can improve the experience and effectiveness.  It is also important to build self discipline into any learning process.  Similar to building physical muscles by exercising constantly, it is important to build mental muscles and focus through a disciplined process.  Without discipline and direction, it is easy to get lost in various distractions.

2. Learn something that you’re passionate about and is aligned to your strengths
A starting point of any learning process is to answer for oneself, “Why I am learning this, why is this important for me?”.  If your answer is aligned to your own interests, values and priorities, the probability of a successful learning experience is high. The only time when I personally truly enjoyed learning and did really well was when I learned something I badly wanted to, and felt very interested about.  I went much beyond the requirements of the program to learn and absorb as much as possible.  It is very unfortunate and a huge waste of your and others’  time, if you spend most of your life learning or doing something you don’t like or want to do.  Many students choose a profession because it seems glamorous from outside or due to external pressure.  I’ve heard from professors and teachers that it is very difficult for any worthwhile learning to happen if someone is unmotivated or uninterested.  If you don’t have your own specific answer, it is fine to experiment and listen to other’s (someone you respect) inputs.  Unfortunately, many parents in India force their children to streams that they absolutely don’t want to be in.

3. Reap the benefits of social learning
Learning becomes deeper and much richer when one is exposed to multiple perspectives.  Having a peer discussion group to discuss your learning topics can be valuable exposure.  Start with a common purpose for the whole team – what are we trying to achieve?  Being able to synthesize from various inputs is a highly appreciated skill in today’s world.  It helps to have positive peer pressure to keep moving forward, and work with one’s negative emotions as they creep in.  This is also a valuable way to learn to work with contradictory opinions.  Awareness of the potential of one’s ego to disrupt and to work on it early is extremely important.  Extra curricular activities like sports or arts that involves teamwork serve as great learning experiences.  Working effectively in teams, including those you disagree with or don’t like is a major requirement for any organization.

4. Use multiple sources and media
It is a huge opportunity missed in today’s world to not enrich one’s learning using multiple, available knowledge sources.  Please do not wait for the university or professors to give you content.  There so much of it available today, with a mobile device and internet connectivity.  In addition to using your faculty, laboratories, peer groups, and libraries that may be accessible locally, there’s so much content, online courses and global resources accessible through the internet today.  The opportunity to stay updated on the latest developments in any area and learn from the best sitting in any part of the world is tremendous.  Keeping industry interaction active also always gives you the employment perspective.  Try to find people in your own first or second degree network who can share their valuable first-hand experiences from workplaces – culture, ways of working, what it takes to be effective etc.

5. Make the environment attractive
Last but not least, it is important to feel good about learning.  Neuroscience studies show that the brain functions much better when it is in a ‘reward’ state, not a ‘threat’ state.  Even if learning may involve difficult work, an enjoyable collegial, fun, open physical and social environment, refreshing variety of methods used, great people around are factors that contribute to an enjoyable learning experience.  Each one of you can contribute to that in the way you turn up.

For teachers, they key question to ask is how you can play a key role in facilitating the learning process, thinking, acting and guiding students to find answers for themselves through multiple knowledge sources.  In India, we  have long held the notion that a teacher should have the answer for almost everything.  As the popular Chinese proverb tells us, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”  A good practical start would be to spend time in your class just discussing about creating an effective and impactful learning experience together.

Success comes when the students and teachers work together – with a common purpose or vision.

Deep learning involves learning beyond the prescribed boundaries by a school or university.  One feels personal growth, a sense of achievement and confidence to take on the world.

What has worked very well for you? Your input or shared experience could influence a life in a major way.

Best wishes…

I dedicate this post to my father on his death anniversary today, for allowing me to choose my own learning direction.