Keep learning, together

Ramses Oudt • Reading time: 9 minutes

Welcome to my digital campfire! My name is Ramses, and I’m a professional learner.

A professional learner? Yep, I see myself as a learning worker, not a knowledge worker. For my manager, I’m the go-to guy whenever something needs to be researched fast and well. The only reason I have a comfortable income is that I know how to learn. In fact, I was able to switch careers several times while growing in salary and position.

How? By having a can-do mentality. By knowing myself. And more importantly: by knowing how to learn.

On this blog, I’ll tell stories and share my insights. But about what?

As a former educator (and now a professional learner), I’m obsessed with learning strategies. Obviously, learning about learning is very meta, which is why I’m interested in applying principles. I’ve taught myself Spanish, sales, marketing, and data analysis. To each area, I applied basic principles to learn them quickly and make them my own.

Now, I want to become an even better learner—I have too many interests. But what fun is learning alone? That’s why I started my blog: to nerd-out about topics that the intellectually curious (hopefully you) will like and find useful.

Who knows you’re just as much a nerd like me. Curious about my journey and see if our interests overlap? Then read on!

My path to becoming a professional learner

Since I can remember, I wanted to become a programmer. In 1998, at age 10, I created my first web page using HTML (CSS was still too new). I was immediately hooked and didn’t leave my computer for 16 hours.

Apart from trying to hack and annoy my friends using trojan viruses, not much else came from my obsession with computers. I spent a sickening amount of time staring at my CRT screen, but it was mostly to pass the time.

Slacking off in high school, I barely made it into an associate degree program. Still, I was where I wanted to be: in an IT program, finally learning to code.

But the program sucked. We were supposed to build applications but were not taught how to build them. Most teachers did not even bother telling us how we could learn better. I was frustrated, to say the least, and got to hate coding.

When it was time to graduate and move on to a bachelor program, I wanted to say farewell to IT. On a whim, I enrolled in a Spanish teacher program. Small problem: I didn’t speak Spanish.

Knowing full well that all classes would be in Spanish, I set out to learn basic Spanish during the summer. But during my associate degree, I still hadn’t learned to learn well. So I set out on a journey around the web to find learning advice for language learners.

I have no idea why, but I was drawn to unconventional advice off the bat. I did not bother learning grammar, and instead, I sat my ass down for 6 hours a day to binge-watch Spanish cartoons. The closest I came to studying was adding sentences to Anki and “do reps” religiously.

My method worked, and after one year, I had gained basic fluency. My professors were amazed, but wondered how I had pulled it off; I never showed up in language classes.

I had discovered a superpower that was difficult to explain to others. My counterintuitive approach did not resonate with my fellow students, and professors kept silencing me whenever I pointed out flawed language acquisition methods.

Still, I had learned something that enabled me to grow my career faster than any of my peers.

Why everyone should keep learning

Learning new skills is a great power. Knowing how to learn is a superpower. I’m interested in acquiring and perfecting this superpower to do good.

Why should you bother about learning how to learn?

Most people leaving college never picture themselves studying ever again. They see themselves getting a job, working for 40 years in a bunch of companies, and retiring when they’re 65. Learning in the job, sure, but making an extra effort? Why on earth would anyone want to do that?

If you stop making an effort to learn, your life will certainly be a lot less interesting. But what’s even worse, you won’t be ready to adapt to changes in your environment.

What if were an office worker in the 90s and refused to learn to use computers? You’d probably have been without a job long before your retirement. Not to mention the interesting ideas you would have missed out on!

Still, even though we live in the Information Age, few people expose themselves to new ideas. They rely on their intuition and are fine with the status quo. Most people want to grow their income, but completely miss the fact they need to grow their skills first.

Here are a few reasons I think all adults should always keep learning.

1) Learning is fun.
Learning happens with the help of the dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter associated with rewards. Whenever you learn something new, your brain sees it as a novelty and triggers a hit of dopamine. Learning also allows adults to be playful, like kids.

2) Learning gives you possibilities in life.
As more and more jobs are for knowledge workers, the ability to learn new skills becomes the number one trait employers are after. Working in IT for eight years, I’ve seen countless people with history and philosophy degrees turn themselves into designers and data scientists. I’m an example of this: I trained to become an educator and eventually became a data analyst.

3) Learning helps you think.
Most people are set in their ways and beliefs because they never consider alternatives. When you learn, you deliberately expose yourself to new ideas. Learning enables you to consider unconventional ideas and apply to your life what’s most beneficial.

4) Learning changes your perspective of reality.
In line with point 3, learning makes you see the world through different glasses. When you learn to do things in a different way, you become more open to other people and their ideas. Through learning, you’ll see how much everything is connected. The world becomes a place of possibility instead of a bunch of isolated groups and identities.

5) Learning makes you human.
All animals learn in some way, but only us humans can decide to learn something. As a human, you have the power to influence your fate and live a life you find worth living. Maybe you cannot see it now, but the beauty is that you can learn to see it.

How to keep learning as an adult

Every adult has the same limited resource: time.

In our Information Age, you only need time and a web-connected device to learn. You don’t even need to drag your ass to an evening school; everything can be learned online.

Our doorstep is no longer a limiting factor, but time is. Especially as adults with responsibilities, we don’t have a complete say over the hours in our day. So how do you organize your life in a way that makes continuous learning possible?

In two ways:

  1. Do less.
  2. Use systems.

Do less

How do you spend your evenings? Spread over your sofa, binge-watching lame shows? Or maybe you meet up with friends every chance you get. Regardless, there are probably areas in your life you can do less.

Digital tools and modern offices have somehow ingrained the idea that we always need to do more. We’re connected to more people than ever, and as a result, we’re exposed to more ideas. If you have a curious mind, you may be driven to dive into everything and spread yourself too thin.

Limiting your focus and having clear what’s worth focusing on is half the work. Once you’ve identified what you want to learn, you can then make it a project and start focusing in an organized manner.

Learn things that you can apply right away.

Use systems

Precisely because we live in the Information Age, is it easier than ever to learn and work smart.

What do smart learning and working mean? It means using techniques that are proven to work. It’s a way of learning and working based on rationality, not on untested theories, tradition, and intuition.

Why is this important? Because very few students know how to learn, and students eventually become (knowledge) workers. These students take their shitty techniques and workflows with them onto the work floor and slowly poison everything around them.

Am I too harsh? No, I’m actually being quite soft. Because people don’t know how to learn and work smart, many teams are ineffective and don’t come up with the solutions they should. Although companies are increasingly data-driven, few accept the inconvenient truth of the numbers when shown their way of working sucks.

I’m here to tell you there is a better way to learn and work. As a knowledge worker, you should work with systems that help you think and improve. You should always be learning and sharing. If you share, you gather feedback. If you gather feedback, you discover if your way of working makes sense or is a waste of time.

How to become a smarter learner and worker is something I’ll flesh out over the coming months on this blog.

What to learn?

We’ve established it’s worth and possible to learn our entire lives. But what should you learn?

Whatever you want! As long as you keep growing and learning to do things better. Not all learning has to be functional. Simply learn to learn is a valid reason. But in my case, there is an underlying goal.

Like I said in the opening, I’m a learning worker. That means I’m looking for ways to perform better in my professional life. Why? Because working with professionals is what makes me deeply happy. I help so many people who derive meaning from their work that I feel a sense of meaning from my work as well.

My goal in life is to help others become better, which paradoxically enough makes me a better person as well (more on that in future posts). So whatever I choose to learn, I make sure I fit it in a project that’s aligned with my higher-order goals in life.

Let’s become better learners, together

If you have no idea what to learn yet, I have good news. In the coming months, I’ll be publishing my learning system on this blog. In each post, I’ll treat a part of meta-learning.

What is meta-learning, you ask? It’s learning about how to learn. Knowing how your mind works and learns best is a great first learning project.

Only when you have confidence in your learning abilities does the process of acquiring skills become more fun. Sure, you may feel frustrated as learning will be challenging at times, but you’ll have a map to give you confidence.

If you want to join me in this quest to become a better learner, sign up for my weekly newsletter Sunday School. The gospel I preach is that of better learning strategies. Each week, I’ll share ideas, insights, and interesting resources I come across.

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