10 Tips for Becoming a Better Self-Directed Learner

After running my first-ever in-person Self-Directed Learning 101 workshop for teens in L.A. last week, my head is swimming with tips for becoming a better self-directed learner. Here are a few of my all-time favorites, each accompanied by a helpful video or article. Enjoy!

1. Embrace failure

Just like Jia Jiang and his 100 days of rejection therapy, you can look at failure as a vital part of the learning process. Listen to Stanford professor Tina Seelig explain why you should create a failure rΓ©sumΓ©. (Here’s mine.)

2. Upgrade your explanatory style

Effective self-directed learning requires a certain degree of learned optimism, which can be achieved by developing your explanatory style.

The ABCs of Fostering Optimism
chart via affectiveliving.com

3. When you’re feeling bored, say “yes” more

If you don’t have much going on, say YES to opportunities that come your way. You can practice this with the classic improv warm-up game, Yes, and:

4. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop saying “yes”… until you encounter a “hell yes!”

A good way to know whether you’re actively consenting to something you’re learning is to ask yourself: “Is this a hell yes?” This is also a good way to protect your time when you’re feeling stretched too thin.

5. Try Wikiracing

We all know that Wikipedia is a powerful learning tool, but have you heard of Wikiracing? Play with a friend orΒ  online.

6. Email strangers

As described in this blog post (and this more generic article), emailing strangers is a powerful way to make connections and learn things that you can’t easily google. (Heck, I’ve even run entire workshops on this very concept.)

7. Ask really good questions

When learning through conversation, it helps to askΒ intriguing, non-boring questions. (The guy behind Humans of New York is really good at this.) I help teenagers hone this skill (and practice vulnerability) through Hot Seat, a game I picked up at Not Back to School Camp and describe in Chapter 6 of Why Are You Still Sending Your Kids to School?:

8. Stop multitasking

Understand the difference between multitasking and “switch-tasking”… and then stop doing both of them! (I’ve long struggled with this.)

9. Think urgent vs. important

The good ol’ Eisenhower Matrix:

10. Do one thing at a time

Building off the last two tips: Try working one just one thing in a totally focused manner for a reasonably short time period of time. This is known as the Pomodoro Technique:

Enjoy being more self-directed!

These are just a few of the many concepts I teach in Self-Directed Learning 101. If you’d like to bring me to your neck of the woods to lead a teen workshop (or maybe even a parent workshop), please drop me a line.


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