We have a goal. We want to learn. The first thing we do is create a plan. In self-learning, we most often look for an online course that matches what we want to learn. Ideally, they already have divided the curriculum into multiple weeks with timestamps on how long each material takes. We take it and our planning is done.
But then we miss one material. We try to keep up with the content and don’t take time to fill gaps in our understanding. Then we miss one week. We are behind. This often leads to frustration, avoidance, and loss of motivation.
Aplan is most often too rigid and rigorous. The online curriculum is too content-focused and misses us — the learner. But we can’t blame the online course. They don’t know us. But we know us.
The alternative to a plan is not aimlessly doing things. Instead of making a plan, we should have a learning system in place. A learning system that is forgiving, flexible, and deliberate. Forgiving because it allows you to take time for understanding and making mistakes. Flexible in a manner of switching between focused attention and playful attention, which should allow you to follow your curiosities. Deliberate so that you can prioritize mastery and practice over rushing through materials.
Learning is a nonlinear process, it not only consists of clearly defined objectives, and at the beginning of your learning you only have a vague idea of what you will learn. You can’t anticipate everything because you don’t know it yet.
The easiest way to move from a plan to a learning system is by including open spaces in your learning. Once you see the benefits of a learning system, you can follow your process. Open spaces are time slots devoted to learning without clearly defining what to do.
While consuming the first set of materials and taking notes, track open questions — things you didn’t understand. Track curiosities — things that sounded interesting. Track insights — things where you want to go deeper with your understanding.
Then use the open spaces to fill gaps of understanding, build depth in your knowledge, and follow curiosities. This will keep up your motivation and you won’t feel frustrated because you can’t keep up.
Finally, use your knowledge and open spaces to practice and apply what you learnt. With time you will naturally enter a cycle where you don’t plan but learn. You consume information. You try to understand it. You keep track of questions, curiosities, and insights. You apply what you learnt. You reflect. You come back to your tracked items. You find new materials. And start the cycle over.
This way you move from plan-focused learning to system-focused learning; from content-focused learning to action-focused learning; from knowledge-focused learning to experience-focused learning.
A system might be all it takes to improve our learning experience.