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Learning: Some More Thoughts

A few weeks ago, I shared some thoughts about something near and dear to my heart, the process of learning. Becoming a more effective learner is something that everyone can do and benefit from.

  1. Learning doesn’t have to happen in a conventional manner. I’ve been following the blog of Scott Young, who has been pursuing an undergraduate education in Computer Science from MIT. Rather than enrolling and attending (and paying the related costs), he has been working through their online coursework (all freely available), watching lectures and reading the assigned texts, doing programming assignments, and taking the exams. At the end, he will have finished a roughly equivalent breadth of studies from MIT at a hundredth of the cost.

    By no means does learning need only to happen in a strict classroom setting. For myself, I’ve benefited from that format, but for others, it’s stifling at best. It is freeing to know that because of the flexibility of freely available online content, one can learn a lot outside the conventional learning environment.

  2. Learning begins with curiosity. I wonder how many of those who confess to being “poor learners” would admit to being curious. Curiosity is the fuel that courses through the machine of our minds. It is amazing to watch how quickly a child begins to learn if he is motivated by curiosity. We should all cultivate a healthy curiosity.

    Christians should have a particularly Spirit-led curiosity. In Romans 1, Paul says that God reveals aspects of Himself in creation. As Christians we should be curious about all aspects of life, because through God’s creation, we learn about God. For example, you may not be interested in biology, but a hunger for God might give you that curiosity you need to appreciate (and thus learn about) the diversity of species of frogs.

  3. Learning is sustained with discipline. As with any other good practice or habit, there is a moment when interest wanes and discipline must carry you. The challenge for many of us is that our interest wanes quickly after we begin learning. The idea of a subject is more interesting than the actual study of that subject. The title “Master celloist” has an affirming ring to it, until you consider the hours per day it takes to earn the title.

    Clearly you can’t be disciplined with every area of study. Even the renaissance man must stop developing one area so that he can address another. But we cheat ourselves when we do not persevere in any area of learning, or assume that because we have lost interest, that we simply cannot continue. Learning involved intentional, sustained focus and that means work.

  4. Bonus: Learning is as much about the process as it is the result. Don’t despise the process of learning. Having all the right answers isn’t necessarily beneficial unless you’ve gone through the process to learn how to arrive at those answers. I remember taking mathematics in college. I would listen to the teacher and understand the concepts. But without actually going through the processes of learning myself, I never actually retained very much. If you’re like me, the process of learning can often be a humbling mirror of your ignorance and even laziness. But working through that process builds not just your level of knowledge, but your person. Mind work is hard work, but it develops our minds, just as good physical fitness develops our bodies.

Learning is a habitual task we should never abandon or relegate to a small, myopic set of topics. Be curious. Be tenacious. And learn about all of God’s creation for God’s glory.