More Learning Strategies

by Race Bannon on July 28, 2009

What’s the best way to learn something? The answer is that it’s the way that works best for you. And that is the foundation upon which intelligent and successful self education is built. Learning must be tailored to your learning style and other personal preferences.

Below are some ways you can gather and analyze information, develop skills and learn about anything whatsoever. You really can learn just about anything in a way that actually works for you, that aligns with your own personal learning style.

Successful learning is often learning that takes places using a variety of approaches. You might do some initial investigations searching for and exploring some websites. Then you notice the website recommends some other sites and you look at those too. One of the sites recommends a great book on the subject, which you buy and read. That leads to find a learning group in your area that meets in a local coffee shop. And so on.

I think you get the idea. In a self-directed education you call the shots. The road to knowledge, skill and insight can have many forks and you get to follow whatever one seems right for you and your learning objectives.


The modern workplace has always been a good learning opportunity, but they’re becoming more so all the time. Because the knowledge and skill necessary to maintain productivity in a company is changing rapidly these days, companies are finding it necessary to offer ongoing training to their employees. Take advantage of these opportunities. Having your employer educate you in any way is like being paid to go to school. This is a no brainer. If you’re given the opportunity to take training – classroom, online, self-directed learning or through interesting projects – take it.


While many printed magazines seem to be devoted more to contemporary culture and fashion (not useless subjects themselves), many contain articles about, or are entirely dedicated to, truly great information and thinking.

Learning Chains

This is one of my favorite learning approaches. Pick a place to start. Let’s say a book on a specific topic. Read the book. Find a web site referenced in the book and visit it. Find a link on that site to perhaps a professional or nonprofit organization that represents the topic. Get the contact information from the site and call and ask to talk to someone about your interest (you’d be surprised who’s willing to talk to you if you ask). And . . . well, you get the idea. Make the chain as long as you need to make it until you’re satisfied with what you’ve learned.

Learning Groups

You’ll find learning groups formed to study almost any subject or topic. Some learning groups connect online and some local ones host in-person group discussions. Check out Groups in the Community section of for learning groups in your area. Your local library might have learning groups that meet there or network there as well.

Speeches and Presentations

People give speeches, presentations and lectures on all sorts of topics and you can often find a topic you’d be interested in. For a selection of amazing speeches and presentations you can view in the comfort of your own, visit the TED website (my favorite website of all time). Check out the WGBH Forum Network for some great free lectures. Another good set of free lectures can be found at the Princeton University Archived Lectures site. If you do an online search using the keywords “free online lectures” you’ll find plenty of great ones.


Having a good conversation with someone can prove very educational. You can learn something from anyone. We all know something well that others don’t.


You’ll find many kinds of workshops taught these days.


Do an online search for self-paced elearning courses. There are many you can access for free and some that charge a fee.


Professional organizations, groups and individuals provide free or subscription newsletters on a variety of topics. Many of the newsletters cost money, but you’ll be surprised by how many are available for free. Why would someone offer you a free newsletter? Because they probably have something else to sell you. But that doesn’t always negate the value of a newsletter they might send out as part of their standard marketing strategy.

Classroom Instruction

Yes, in spite of my strong personal preference for the informal, self-directed approach, traditional classroom instruction can be a fantastic way to learn something. Self education in no way negates the value of classroom learning. But self education should be viewed as an equal (and sometimes superior) method of learning.


Whether it is email or snail mail, correspondence with another person can be educational. And you’d be surprised at how many people who are experts in an area of knowledge or skill are willing to share their expertise with others. Most consider it a great compliment that you want to know what they know.


Public television, educational channels and even mainstream television programming can be highly educational.


A mentor is someone experienced in a skill, endeavor or knowledge area who supports the education or skill advancement of someone less experienced. Finding a good mentor is a great way to learn. Check out as one potential way to find a mentor, but asking around among your friends for folks with the expertise and knowledge you want is probably the best way to find a mentor.


The iPod and similar devices have spawned the era of mobile media. One common type of media that is popular and very useful for learning is the podcast. A podcast is an audio recording, usually in MP3 format, that you either download or stream and listen to whenever you want. There are also videocasts that are distributed the same way. YouTube has a lot of instructional and informational videos available for free. Podcast Alley is a great place to start when looking for podcasts. The National Public Radio Podcast Directory is another great free resource.


There are nonprofits, government and local programs that are always looking for volunteers to help out. When you help out you inevitably learn a lot too. Find an organization that focuses on an area you’d like to learn more about and see if they need volunteers. Very few will turn down an offer of free help and you get the benefit of learning while providing service to others.


Looking for a way to travel and learn? Check out for some great information on how to do some good while you travel. And you’ll likely learn a great deal as well.

Check out my Learning Strategies post for more ideas.

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