A Simple 3 Step Outline for Learning Anything

Originally published at thepossibilityof.com.

Information is no longer scarce, knowing what you actually need to retain is key.

My high school GPA was almost nonexistent. My college GPA was 0.3 after my first semester. I finally finished my BS in Religion 14 years after I started undergrad, with a laughable 2.35.

A few years later I easily knocked out an M.Ed. in 18 months and finished with a 3.97. I’m currently in the comprehensive exam and proposal stage of a PhD with a 3.84 and I took two additional classes beyond the requirements, just because they interested me.

How did I get from there to here? I stumbled into some key ideas about learning that school never taught me. In fact, until I got to the graduate level school actively opposed the kind of knowledge exploration that I routinely do.

To begin moving from education to learning, I suggest the following three ideas as a simple framework with accompanying questions to guide you in each area.


Where do your find it?

Where do you find the information you’re looking for? Obviously, Google is a great place to start regardless of the topic you’re exploring. There are even options like Google Scholar or Google News if you want to narrow your focus.

Another option that is derided and lampooned far too much is Wikipedia. As someone who has taught at the undergraduate level, I will reaffirm that it is not a good enough primary source, but it is a great jumping off point for potential references when doing research for papers.

If you’re in the legal profession, you know about LexisNexis. If you want information about legal and public records documents, it’s probably your starting point. It has every federal and state case in the US in its archive.

University libraries, especially their online offerings, have multiple databases of academic journals in every field as well as access to items such as dissertations. This has been key when developing my dissertation topic as well as doing preliminary papers and a literature review.

There are likely experts in any field that you can forge relationships with. If you want to get better at golf, buddying up to golf pro at the local course is probably a good idea. Reading the blog of a successful author will likely key you in on things that might help you get your own work published.

The key to all of these things is knowing where to look. As I said at the beginning, information used to be scarce. Now it’s scattered and instead of memorizing all the details we can simply hone our skills of finding the pieces of information most pertinent to us.


How do you determine if it’s good?

We are bombarded with ads. There seems to be an infinite number of websites, often with conflicting information. How do you wade through the muck, especially in an area you aren’t well versed in, to get to the truth?

People talk about how unreliable Wikipedia is, but some studies have shown that it’s at least a bit more accurate than hardcover encyclopedias were. Other studies have suggested it’s nearly on par with experts in certain fields. Still others say that the difference is Wikipedia’s left leaning bias.

That’s why, as a lecturer I did the same thing my professors did. Use Wikipedia as a means to find more definitive, high quality sources. Go to the first level options instead of the overview site.

A problem still remains though. How do you determine when the other sources are high quality? As an example, how do you sift through the muck of conflicting food and diet information available today?

Let’s start with determining who actually is qualified to speak on the field. Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a well know writer and professor. He is extremely well versed in mathematics, engineering, and finance. He’s completely unqualified in the realm of food and often directly contradicts research and experts.

If I want information about food safety, dietary recommendations, and anything else related to healthy eating, Taleb is not someone I’ll listen to.

Additionally, you have to make sure that people who seem like experts have real credentials. One of the crazes right now is the Whole30 movement. The problems with the diet are many, as explained here, but the starting point is that neither person involved has any background in food science.

How do you avoid the latest scare induced craze? You have to do the research to determine what you’re looking for. If I’m researching what food to eat, I want a registered dietician and nothing else. If I’m researching GMO crops, I want legitimate peer reviewed research and nothing else.

As best you can, determine what the best sources of information are and then learn from those.


How do you put it into use?

Great, I know something now, but how do I put it to use? Hopefully you had a gameplan, or at least an outline, before getting to this step. I’ve spent the last month or two deciding that my job search was frustrating me and that I should try and make some money blogging while I wait to get hired.

How can I do that? First, I looked up successful bloggers who had different styles and topics, but similar setups. Darren Rowse has a blog all about how to make money on a blog. He found a way to make money as a blogger when he was blogging about whether or not you could make money as a blogger.

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner decided to blog about her financial situation and observations. She ran a blog for years and then realized that there were ways to monetize it. Not only has she been successful, but she’s now making six figures monthly and living her dream life.

Jeff Goins is a well established writer who blogged for years without making any money off of it, before he finally studied what successful bloggers were doing and put it into practice. I identified most closely with him and took one of his courses to get on the path of launching this blog.

Each one clearly has their own style and personality, but even a cursory look will reveal similar structure to each one. They all have key posts they highlight, they all want to add you to their email list, and they all offer reasonably priced courses and discounts to get you started blogging if you want to.

How did I come across them? First I used Google to access blogs on various topics of interest to me. I also looked at page ranking tools and even asked a few people what blogs interested them.

Then I assessed which blogs resonated with me the most, and which ones I thought provided the most valuable information. Each has elements of their success prominently displayed. They also all had various courses offered and I took the one that I thought would most quickly get to my goal.

Finally, I applied what I have learned. While there are still elements to implement with this blog, most of the primary pieces are in place. I have a schedule, I have worked on the financial plan, and I have added most of the potential money generating aspects.

I came. I saw. I implemented.

What is it that you want to learn? What thing seems too difficult to understand? What skill are you looking to add? The three simple steps above give you a great starting point for finding out what you need to know and how to make it happen.