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Learning, Shallow And Deep

“Always walk through life as if you have something new to learn and you will.” — Vernon Howard

Thomas Oppong
May 9, 2019 · 5 min read

The world is full of knowledge.

Some people dive deeper than others, but everyone has the capacity to learn.

One way of the other, we gain the necessary knowledge to help us thrive.

The ultimate aim of learning is to apply what you learn when it matters.

Do you still remember many things and concepts you learned in high school or university? Probably not.

Many of the things you learned in school that had no immediate significance for your life and career have been forgotten.

The purpose of learning (deep or shallow) is to gain knowledge to do something, improve yourself and in some circumstances, sometimes for the pleasure of it.

There are two types of learning: shallow and deep. They are both useful for different purposes.

Depending on your goal, it makes sense to focus on either shallow or deep learning when you choose to spend your precious time on any topic.

Shallow learning allows you to explore the surface of any topic. You accept facts and concepts with little or no refection.

And when it matters for an exam, you memorise to pass and move on.

Sometimes our understanding of a subject isn’t all that deep, but we are still able to apply that knowledge in everyday life.

Shallow learning is a well-accepted choice in certain situations.

A lot of learning we do on the internet is shallow learning.

Shallow learning helps us gain access to new ideas, principles, solutions, and hacks just when we need them to solve problems faster and smarter.

The primary advantage of shallow learning is speed. In many cases, you are interested in solutions for achieving short-term problems.

Every day, I read, watch, or listen to something that deepens my understanding of many topics.

Sometimes I learn something quickly to help me write my next article. I apply that knowledge quickly to a specific article.

The payoff is immediate. If the topic is fascinating, and I want to walk away with a better understanding, I dig deeper even after publishing the post.

You can adopt this learning strategy even if you are not a writer.

You can note down topics or basic principles as you read daily and make a deal with yourself to go back and explore the topic deeply especially if it can help you achieve a long-term goal.

I am currently learning deeply about investing.

I want to develop the right thinking, mindset, and process required for long-term investment success.

And because I prefer learning by doing, I have invested in Vanguard Funds.

If a topic is beyond your capabilities, you can still learn something new outside your comfort zone to build better mental models.

In the past, all the things I’ve learned have been either easy or an extension of what I already know.

Today, I am moving beyond the obvious. I keep challenging myself.

I compare myself to who I was yesterday.

It’s the best way to improve.

Shallow learning leads to deep learning

“Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.” ― Richard Feynmann

“Careful studies show that having more background knowledge on a topic means we can read faster, understand more when we do and remember more of it later. This means knowledge is exponential growth, with past knowledge becoming a crucial factor in the speed at which more knowledge is acquired,” writes Scott Young.

Deep learning (not the other subset of machine learning) involves digging deeper and spending more time to explore a topic in greater detail. The desire to deeply understand the basic principles of the topic is stronger.

The essence of deep learning is understanding — true knowing.

It’s about deeper commitment. It’s not for everyone because most people don’t care about deep learning enough to bother with it.

When you have an intrinsic interest (curiosity, need to know more about the subject), you are likely to dig deeper.

Deep learning comes from acting on new knowledge, measuring the result, and then adjusting and improving the process for better application.

The process improves your cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal skills, and can lead to success in life and career.

Deep knowledge will let you see new perspectives that shallow knowledge doesn’t get you. It informs your thinking at a subconscious level that stays with you for life.

Multiple fields of learning can improve your rational, emotional thinking processes at the same time.

If you are spending tens of thousands of hours learning a skill, a discipline, or subject, you are learning deeply. The results is long-lasting. You gain knowledge that can serve you for the rest of your life.

Examples of deep learning include learning to code, learning a new language, learning an instrument, learning to draw, or learning to get a degree.

Deeper knowledge enables people to tackle greater complexity, solve problems beyond common knowledge, and find solutions to everyday obstacles.

There are levels of digging deeper into disciples.

The depth of deep learning is almost limitless.

And it requires time, patience, and consistency of action.

Not many people can commit time and resources to acquire deep knowledge of dozens and dozens of subjects.

Deep knowledge requires an increasing level of mental discipline and toughness as you go deeper and deeper.

The deeper you go, the more questions you have and sometimes the problems become even more complex and frustrating.

Leonardo da Vinci was a deep learner. He maintained a passionate curiosity throughout life.

He once said, “The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.”

He simply wanted to know.

In his book, Leonardo da Vinci: The Biography, Walter Isaacson, says Da Vinci was “more interested in pursuing knowledge than in publishing it.”

“He wanted to accumulate knowledge for its own sake, and for his own personal joy, rather than out of a desire to make a public name for himself as a scholar or to be part of the progress of history,” writes Isaacson.

Deep learners are lifelong learners.

Deepening your expertise and broadening your knowledge in different skills can enhance your career prospects.

Closing thoughts

Knowledge and action will take you far.

Both shallow and deep learning have enormous benefits.

Shallow learning is easy and faster, but learning broadly and deeply especially outside your domain can significantly improve your thought processes.

Make both a habit.

Learn-as-you-go to solve immediate problems but maintain a wide-ranging curiosity that fills your mind with ideas for better solutions in the future.

Learn more than you think you are capable of.

Before you go…

If you enjoyed this post, you will love Postanly Weekly. It’s an email I send to 30,000+ readers once a month, filled with my best essays, posts about behaviour change, great books, tools I find useful and more. Join us today.

Personal Growth

Sharing our ideas and experiences.

Thomas Oppong

Written by

Founder at AllTopStartups | Author | Creator of Thinking in Models and Kaizen Habits | Featured at Inc. Magazine, Business Insider, Forbes, Entrepreneur, etc.

Personal Growth

Sharing our ideas and experiences.

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