unkowns in learning.

It feels exciting to take on a new journey — journeys from starting a new career over starting a new project to going on vacation. But every journey comes with its own uncertainties and unknowns. We can’t know everything beforehand. Planning a new journey doesn’t cover the unknown.

Depending on how we see unknowns, how we think about them, and how we deal with them, they might be either a source of energy or they might drain our energy without hesitation.

This is also true for learning a new skill. If we don’t deal with unknowns properly they might result in frustration or even abandonment of learning altogether. But within the right environment unknowns can be exciting, motivating, and refreshing.

Unknowns in learning can surprise us in three different facets:

Gaps of understanding

Depth of understanding


Gaps of understanding might be uncovered while consuming new information or while thinking about what we learnt. It feels like there is a missing piece between the two insights. You can’t clearly make the connection. This is great. Exposing gaps in our understanding is a nice way to build a solid foundation for what we are trying to learn.

Depth of understanding might throw us off when we don’t understand something right away. It is a sign that we have to dig deeper. Spend a bit more time on what is in front of us.

Curiosities might be surprising facts or insights we wish we could follow more. We can follow them with no effort or energy. Curiosities are just exciting to follow and we know we are after something that matters to us.

Most of the time these three unknowns surprise us in the worst possible moment. In moments when we don’t have time to deal with them. So most often we just ignore them. But by ignoring them we neglect our understanding, ignore what sparks our curiosity, and create a loose foundation onto which we can’t build any complex knowledge.

Therefore, create an environment in which you can deal with these unknowns. Don’t make a rigid plan which forbids you to deal with them. Have open spaces of time which you can use to deal with these unknowns. If you still can’t deal with them right away, have a system where you can keep track of them. Don’t let them sit in your system forever. Once you can take time to deal with them, do it.

Learning is a nonlinear process. It doesn’t only consist of clearly defined objectives and at the beginning of your learning, you only have a vague idea of what you will learn. Embrace the unknowns and accelerate your learning.

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