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Self-education: where to start and how not to quit

Schools and universities dominate the world of education. However, studying is more difficult than getting a diploma, otherwise, there...

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Schools and universities dominate the world of education. However, studying is more difficult than getting a diploma, otherwise, there would be a lot of virtuosos and polyglots around. Without self-learning ability, you won’t be able to get the skills you need. We tell you about the best strategies and tactics for self-education: where to start, how to organize the learning process and work with information, stay motivated and not quit halfway.

Where to start self-education

There is too much information around. We are trying to remember a lot of empty information, that we don’t need and will never use. If knowledge is not needed and you rarely refer to it, it is quickly forgotten.

Choose the most important information

You cannot learn everything at once, you have to make a choice.

How do you know what is the most important? Greg McKeown gives two radical pieces of advice in Essentialism.

First, if you can’t say a sure yes, then say an unsure no. Write down all the options you have and rate each on a 10-point scale. Anything below 9 points is not worth your attention.

Second, use strict and explicit criteria. For a new activity, choose three optimal criteria that are significant for your life: for example, it should raise your self-esteem, be enjoyable and bring money. The more criteria a new practice captures, the more valuable it is to you.

Set a specific goal

You can’t just “learn to run” or “speak Spanish”. It is better to turn your self-education into a project with specific tasks so that it is clear when you will reach your goal. Imagine what you want to achieve and what you can achieve within a given time frame. Don’t try to “get a good grasp of grammar,” but pick the 10 most important topics, find as many exercises for them as you can, and write a final test for yourself. The deadline should be clear.

Build your life around learning

The best solution for self-development is to build your life around the project and make it fun. If you’re learning Spanish grammar, read comics, listen to podcasts about the history of the language, attend a lecture on linguistics. If you need to prepare for the half marathon, watch documentaries about famous runners, read sports magazines, find out the national and world records for the distance. These activities will help the project and motivate you to achieve the goals.

However, don’t let the learning process absorb your whole life.  Leave some space for personal relationships, movies, random books, video games, lectures, and anything other than running and grammar.

How to organize your workspace

The workplace should motivate people to learn. The best way to upgrade the workplace is to use the priming effect. It has been used in marketing for a long time: images from the environment affect us even when we are not aware of them. This means that if you place motivating pieces of art, posters, or diagrams above your desk, they will improve the learning process without your conscious effort. Choose images that are easy-to-understand and familiar to you. Complex schemes like geographic maps or endless lists are not so powerful: they need to be analyzed.

Give up portraits of geniuses – we are motivated not by their haircuts, but by success stories. It is better to use inspirational examples of skill: a small paragraph of a good writer, a bright collage, a photo of your favorite athlete at the finish line.

Think not only of the workplace but also of the work environment. It can be any place where you can practice. The appropriate atmosphere suitable for self-study is crucial. Local stadiums, forest, secret paths in parks for practicing jogging, or favorite cafes, libraries, museums for Spanish lessons.

How to work with information

Start from anywhere. This is advice from Canadian designer Bruce Mau. When you see a blank sheet, its perfection is paralyzing. In contrast, there is no perfect, unmistakable beginning – in any case, you will make several mistakes before you get it right. It doesn’t matter from which topic you start learning Spanish, or in what shoes you start training. Any beginning will lead somewhere!

Look for points of growth

Wherever you start, it quickly becomes clear that there are interesting and boring aspects of the new practice. When you are learning something, notice what it is that sparks your interest – look for points of growth. Through them, we learn the fastest.

Points of growth are individual. For some, these are biographies of successful people, for others – the inventions, pieces of art, or success in student competitions. The main thing is to track your points of growth and immediately dive into the material.

Use different sources

The more different formats and media you use, the more versatile your knowledge will be. Watch videos about Spanish dialects, talk with foreigners, read short stories. This way you will get more variety and the process will become more fun. Choose any sources: exhibitions, comics, music, films, books, videos, games, various online platforms, master classes.

Work with lists and rankings

Lists are good because they catch the attention and show only what the author considers the most important. It is easy to find the ranking of athletics competitions, lists of the most effective workouts, and even the top running routes in New York. What about the author’s subjectivity? Check who made the rating and how. If your list of running routes is made by someone without much running experience, don’t waste time on it. If the ranking is compiled according to specific criteria, the study, or research (for example, an investigation on habr.com), then you can give it a chance. Finally, compare different expert ratings and find the intersections between them. Of course, subjectivity will remain, but now it will be more objective.

Self-education does not tolerate a lack of initiative. When you understand the Spanish Present tense and passive voice, when you understand which running technique suits you best, you need to make your ranking list. Your ranking is a map for new opportunities.

Experiment with making notes

The brain, with its rich evolutionary past, lacks a traditional, linear outline. He needs more colors, shapes, and variety. Many researchers find non-linear recording methods to be more productive. Therefore, when making notes it is better to draw in different colors, vary the direction of the text, break it up with photos and frames. Try different techniques: Tony Buzan’s mind maps, concept comics, or Ishikawa diagrams.

Adjust the scale, change the speeds

When you learn a new subject you can go in-depth, or stay on the surface depending on your goals. Besides, you can change the speed at which you learn the material. If you get stuck reading Spanish folklore, try to speed up: forget about the details and strange expressions, the main thing is to finish reading. The brain will receive a holistic image of the story, and you will understand the unknown vocabulary when you re-read.

In other cases, it is useful to dig deep into the details or slow down at a difficult moment. Assess your cognitive ability at the moment and find the optimal scale and speed.

Protecting your motivation: how not to quit

Make a schedule

The worst way to stay motivated is to work on inspiration. It is fickle and uncontrollable. Mason Curry’s book “ Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration, and Get to Work” tells us that a variety of writers, musicians, and architects believed in the great power of timetables. Run at least fifteen minutes, but every day, and in a year you will be able to run much faster and longer.

There are many tricks for following the schedule. It is better to work at the same time of the day, then your body will get used to it on a physical level.

Set yourself mini-goals, the goals that can be achieved with minimal effort. This approach eliminates the disappointment of not reaching the final goals that may take years. This way you reach your mini-goals and increase the motivation for the ultimate goal. Even a small success is a success.

Finally, among these mini-goals, always chose three the main ones, the completion of which will make you feel proud of yourself.

Plan the goal completion and reward

The commitments you make to yourself are overwhelming and need to be balanced with pleasurable relaxation. Always plan when exactly – up to a minute – you will finish and get a reward. Behaviorists say we are all laboratory mice looking for positive reinforcement. When you finish class, reward yourself with a cup of tea, a walk, or an interesting book. The reward should be a simple pleasure. Do not use addictive substances as a reward. Try to answer the question “What makes you feel truly relaxed?” It may be a hot bath, a walk with a friend, or a movie.

It is okay to skip a class

Perfectionism destroys good habits. The worst thing about self-study is to give up everything, because you missed it once. It is much better to accept yourself with all your gaps. It is completely okay to complete 30% instead of doing nothing.

Don’t keep track of your failures. Don’t try to make up for a missed workout on Thursday with two or three workouts on the weekend. The more obligations, the more difficult it is to fulfill them. Keep doing what you can. And always keep the mini-goals in mind.

Be prepared

Most of the obstacles can be easily foreseen. If you are jogging three times a week and have a trip out of town, consider working out in new conditions in advance. If you are taking a microeconomics exam next week, reduce your Spanish grammar time to 10 minutes a day.

Find your people

Learning alone is difficult. Even if you customize the educational process yourself, you will still need a buddy to talk to.

Without criticism from a fellow, you can easily fall into the misunderstanding of the topic that slows down the learning. Besides, when motivation comes only from within, any personal problem threatens self-development.

Find people who are also into jogging or Spanish. Start from the amateur forums. You will enjoy talking about running, possible problems, and so on. Make friends, who will help you grow and reach your goals. If your new friend is an expert in the field, he can give you some practical recommendations. If you are on the same level, you can learn and grow together, that’s how friends for life are made.

Strive for balance

Monitor your learning load. On the one hand, it should be challenging enough not to get stuck on the same level. On the other hand, overload reduces motivation and can disrupt the entire process. Find your balance to suit your schedule and learning environment.

Your goals are out of your comfort zone

If the boundaries of comfort are not crossed, the skill development may stop.

At the same time, you cannot go crazy and set unrealistic, discouraging goals. You need to increase the load gradually. Start with small goals outside your comfort zone, only then you can set more complicated goals.

How to use feedback to learn faster

Test yourself

Without feedback, a person is not able to develop in the chosen area. In self-learning, feedback is critically important. It doesn’t have to come from an expert, sometimes you can estimate yourself. Dancers and actors use mirrors for feedback. With Spanish grammar, the most powerful way is to take a test. Read a new paragraph – and immediately prepare a list of questions with a single answer, that can be easily checked. Take your test, mark mistakes. Swap questions and check yourself again after a while. In the online course “Learning how to learn”, Barbara Oakley lists many of these methods.

Psychologist Anders Erikson, researched professionals in different fields, and concluded: the faster a person receives feedback, the better he memories the material. The longer the interval between practice and assessment, the slower we develop.

Look for different experts

The easiest way to learn is to regularly take classes. Even if you do not have money for good tutors, nothing prevents you from using the open sources of experts: blogs, speeches, free webinars. Make a list of Spanish Professionals, follow them on social media and ask questions if possible. Remember that the best feedback comes from those who are successful and are good at explaining. Besides, you can find successful experts at dissertation help, they can help you with editing or creating academic papers from scratch.

How to track your progress

Document the process

Keep a diary to track your progress. The downside of a diary is that it quickly turns into an extra commitment you want to ditch. Therefore, Essentialist McKeown suggests not writing much in the diary. Just come up with a headline for the day and describe your accomplishments in one sentence. This minimalist diary does not require mental energy and captures only the main points in learning.

Designers use a sketchbook. This is a notebook or small album for notes, sketches, collages, and experiments. If you are working with visual material, such as exploring the running techniques of famous athletes, then a sketchbook is perfect. Running is generally easy to document: there is a whole market for running apps. They collect all training data and even make recommendations.

Hang photos from competitions or your Spanish texts over your workplace – they will remind you of bright breakthroughs, or the most interesting mistakes.

Analyze your past work

Past achievements are not just memories. Without them, you will not understand your educational habits and will not be able to change them. Re-read your diary, view old works and statistics in applications; look for patterns.

You will learn which grammar materials were easier for you to work with and on which routes you ran faster.

Collect your ideas

Ideas come up anytime, anywhere. As soon as a thought flashed, write it down in your phone or notebook – whatever is easier for you. Most of the ideas will be useless: either trivial, irrelevant, or fantastic. But occasionally, original and feasible solutions will appear, keep records for them. Also, the written ideas will show how your creative mind works.

Learn from your mistakes

Mistakes are more helpful in learning than ideas. Ideas are rarely translated into reality, and mistakes always show up in practice. Not making the same mistake twice is a utopia and a cliché for business literature. So collect and explore your mistakes.

Experience is so valuable because of all the mistakes fixed. 

 

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