Continuing Ed: How to Make Learning Fun

It’s no secret: to learn new things is not only critical to your success in business, it’s critical to preserving your mental health as you age. But not everyone has positive associations with learning new things.

If you’re like many people, you went through a lot of school growing up, sat in a lot of classes, listened to a lot of lectures, and did a whole lot of homework. Maybe along the way you even learned something.I say “maybe” because despite all the changes in educational curriculum over the years, the public school system is still largely focused on learning by listening, repetition, and memorization, which is really not the way most of us learn best.(A teacher friend of mine once shared how challenging it could be to get some parents to come to Back to School night and parent-teacher conferences, because it reminded them of their own negative experiences in school.)Numerous studies have shown that people, both adults and children, learn best in ways that correspond to the way they see the world. The ways that we learn new things best, quite honestly, are also the ways that are most fun for us.

Say you want to learn another language.

Do you prefer to dive head first into an experience, see what happens, and learn from the outcome? Chances are, you’re not going to pick up all that much in a traditional classroom setting. Consider simply taking a trip overseas, armed with a few good language-reference books, and embracing the challenge of communication head-on.

Maybe you learn new things best through stories that illustrate key points and allow for dialogue about the meaning and importance of what you’re learning. In that case, you might prefer to take a class at your local college – but perhaps one that incorporates cultural studies, rather than one simply focused on the nuts and bolts of language acquisition.

If you’re the type who prefers a detailed, comprehensive investigation that proceeds systematically, an online course based on a proven system might be more your style.

Do you grasp new information intuitively, understanding new concepts from small bits of information? You might learn new things best by translating essays, articles, or poems in your new language, with the help of a dual-language dictionary, and checking your translations with a friend who’s fluent.

Do you take a more logical, methodical approach, gathering and organizing data that you then compare and contrast intellectually? A scholarly text on your chosen language, outlining key similarities and differences with other languages, may energize your learning process.

Regardless of what your learning style is, when you engage in learning in a way that’s geared to the way that you naturally process information, the process is more fun. What’s more, the outcome tends to be more meaningful and satisfying.

To get a handle on how you learn new things best, think back to two different learning events – one that was painful and difficult, and one that you actually enjoyed.

Now, ask yourself these key questions:

  • In what ways were these two processes different?
  • What make the enjoyable event fun for you?
  • What made the difficult learning event hard?
  • What do the answers to the previous two questions tell you about how you naturally learn best?
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