Self Learning

6 Steps To Effective Self Learning

Image courtesy of Slorp@Flickr

This report and other recent studies show that online learning, distance learning, and self-learning in general, are not only more convenient, but, in fact, more effective than the classroom, for high school, college and adult learners. In the last decade, the Internet, the MP3 player, the iPhone, and other mobile devices,as well as social networking sites, language exchange communities, online learning systems, university courses online and more, have changed how we deal with knowledge. Independent programmer-entrepreneurs are constantly developing new learning applications. The language lab is already obsolete, can the college lecture hall be far behind? The walls of academia, and the costs of learning, are crumbling before our eyes and ears.

For those who are conditioned to think that learning only happens in a classroom, the world of self-learning can be a little daunting. How do we best take advantage these new opportunities.

1. Get interested

Make no mistake. Your interest in the subject is the essential driver of success. You can’t learn what you do not want to learn. Emotion is an important part of the learning process. If you are even moderately interested in a subject, give yourself  a chance. The key is to get started. If you can create some pleasurable routines, you may find that the subject grows on you. “L’appetit vient en mangeant” (the appetite comes with eating) as they say in French.

2. Expect problems and you won’t be disappointed.

Don’t expect to understand things, much less remember them, the first time you study them. Trust that things will get clearer as your brain comes to grips with new information. It is like a jig-saw puzzle or a cross-word puzzle. As you start to put the pieces together, or string the words together, the full picture becomes clearer. The brain learns all the time, but on its own schedule. Learning does not take place according to a schedule laid down by a curriculum or teacher. Some things are easier to learn than others. Some things just take longer to click in. Keep at it, and you will gradually find that things that seem difficult at first, will become second nature with time.

3. Cover the same ground from different angles.

Your brain is struggling to form patterns to cope with new input from your learning activities. Sometimes, no matter how long you focus on one subject, your brain is not going to pick it up. If you are stuck, move on. Then cover the same general information from a different source, a different book, or a podcast, or an online lecture or a video. Try to become a grazing learner, roaming the countryside, rather than a feedlot learner, just standing there in one spot, munching on the same bale of hay. The broader your base, the easier it is to learn. Just as the “rich get richer”, the more you know, the more you can learn.

4. Anytime is learning time.

Take full advantage of the Internet, iTunes, and various mobile devices, not to mention good old-fashioned books and magazines. Learn during “dead time”. Listen in your car, on the train, or while jogging. Have your learning with you while waiting in the doctor’s office, or listen while checking out at the supermarket. Anytime is learning time. Remember, you are learning through exposure, not by nailing things down. It is more like moisture accumulation in a cloud, rather than building a brick wall.

5. Be a multimedia learner.

The more varied your learning content, and the more varied the ways in which you learn, the clearer the puzzle will become. Different learning activities suit different people, at different times of the day. Vary your activities in order to keep your interest level up. Even if listening and reading work best for you, treat yourself to the odd video lecture, or get-together with other learners. This will renew your batteries.

6. Join learning communities.

The “loneliness of the distance learner” is a thing of the past. Join a learning community on the web, where members share their knowledge and experience. Search for the communities that suit your interests and learning style. You will find encouragement, advice and stimulus from fellow learners, as well as from tutors, teachers and coaches. In these communities, you can measure your progress against your own goals, or compare your experience with that of other learners. You can even teach and help others, which is a great way to learn.

Never has it been easier nor more exciting to be a learner. Let constant learning be a major part of your life-style. The rewards will be constant, personally, socially, and professionally.

Steve Kaufmann is a former Canadian diplomat, who has had his own company in the international trade of forest products for over 20 years. Steve is the founder and CEO of an online language learning system and Web 2.0 community. Steve speaks eleven languages, having recently learned Russian at LingQ. Steve maintains a blog on language learning,and has written a book on language learning called The Linguist, A Language Learning Odyssey.

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45 Responses to 6 Steps To Effective Self Learning

  1. Quinn says:

    Learning is and should always be treated as a life long occupation. The only problem with self directed distances learning is the lack of accreditation. I am a huge fan of studying what I want and learning what interests me but after years of operating in this fashion I find my self back in collage to get a piece of paper to show proof I know what I know.

  2. Hey Steve,

    As a big fan of self-learning, I enjoyed your article. I think it takes a certain type of person for effective self learning. You need to be organized, self-aware, and able to keep yourself motivated. But thankfully, these are all learnable. In a way, we can all learn to become good learners :)


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  5. Aaron says:

    These are great tips. I think that expecting problems, getting interested (staying committed) and anytime is learning time are the best out of the 6.

  6. Very good point about anytime being learning time. Most of what I’ve learned about finance has come from the Internet, podcasts, books, and other social media. There’s nothing like taking a drive while learning from a great audio book! Good advice here.

  7. Steve says:


    But maybe we are conditioned to learn in classrooms and to be dependent on that kind of learning. Maybe schools now need to teach us how to be independent learners.

  8. Steve says:

    Accreditation should, in any case, be separated from teaching institutions. It is sort of like pharmacies being separate from doctors. Hopefully with a growth in independent learning, we will see more independent testing centres which will issue credentials.

  9. Youssef says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more Steve. Learning these days can be done anywhere. Actually, if you study alone, just the mere exercise of teaching yourself the material will make you understand it better (opposed to listening to a lecturer). You are ‘wrestling’ with the material. But as you have already mentioned, you need that spark of inner self interest; else you won’t learn anything [whether you study alone or in a class setting]

    I regards to the point you mentioned about “loneliness”: I do agree with you, yet I believe that you will still feel somewhat lonely. I am currently doing my MBA online – and the virtual class helps a lot; yet when the direct circle of contacts are ‘going out & having fun – not studying’ and you are ‘studying’, no matter how high your interest is: loneliness will creep in. In the traditional learning bodies, everyone around you is studying – so the loneliness has a lesser impact on you: But then again, is it worth the higher price?

    Enjoyed the article…. Cheers

  10. Ana says:

    One of my better students (in Computer Science) once told me: “I’m going to make a lot of money giving short courses, because most of my colleagues are too lazy to read a book or search for internet resources about something they are interested in, but are ready to pay a lot for a spoon-fed course, no matter how ineffective it end up being”. I think he was absolutely right, and I would like, as a teacher, to contribute to change this scenario.
    What do you think could be done by a teacher in classroom to help students to become more independent? I mean, besides trying to motivate people about the topic, which concrete means would you use to teach them how to be more independent?

  11. Joanne says:


    As the mother to unschooled kids, I loved your article and shared the link on my blog. :)

  12. Steve says:


    I have just subscribed to your blog. I am very interested in unschooling. By the way, when you have time please take a look at and see how it can be used for language learning by the “unschooling” community.

  13. All learning arises from curiosity.Those who love this life very passionately they are tremendously curious.Any only curious people learn every thing very personality

  14. Steve says:

    The teacher has to bring enthusiasm to the class, and respect the students. This includes respecting their ability to learn on their own. I believe that a major emphasis in a classroom, and in teacher training, should be to wean the learner away from a dependence on formal education. Unfortunately most teachers and teaching institutions do everything possible to maintain that dependence for obvious reasons. It enables them to lobby for more funding.
    Independent learning has to become the goal. Classroom based learning is leading to poorer and poorer results in most countries. The technology exists to explode education and unleash the power of the independent learner.

  15. Steve says:

    I don’t know what happened to my first reply, so this might be a duplicate answer.

    The teacher needs to bring enthusiasm for the subject and respect for the learner. This respect should include the confidence that the learner can be turned into an independent learner. The emphasis in a classroom, and in teaching training should be on weaning the learner away from a dependence on the classroom. Unfortunately most teachers and teaching institutions prefer to cultivate that dependence for obvious reasons.

    Given that classroom based learning is delivering poorer and poorer results in many developed countries, and in view of the available technology, it is time to change this paradigm and unleash the power of the independent learner.

  16. The key about being a self learner for me is that every time is an opportunity to learn. Sure, I may get stuck in some difficult problems very often, but I’m also free to study what I really want and I can explore some topics which I probably couldn’t in classroom.

  17. A Chinese proverb that says something to the tune that the road to learning sees no end. Unfortunately, many people stopped any form of serious learning once they started working. Self-learning from that point on is at best ad hoc and sporadic. Incidentally, I’ve written some articles on the importance of lifelong learning as well as learning techniques. Hope they are useful to your readers.

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  19. shawn pruitt says:

    I thought that this article was very beneficial in finding motivation to learn something new on my own. I have always been a big fan of self-learning because I can find more focus rather than just sitting in a desk listening to a teacher go on about something. For example, math fits perfectly here–listening to one teacher repeat the same thing over and over is quite boring, but with exposure to various media stimuli on the web and such, the subject gains new interest, and more power of learning is gained. I will incorporate more of this kind of learning strategy in my daily routine since the internet and media sources have become more prevalent in my life. thanks for the post. 😉

  20. Steve says:

    Hey I love the blog. I’ve been looking for more information on Commercial Mortgage Refinance and I was wondering if you have any good tips or pointers? I’m getting ready to move and I need all the information I can get. Thanks!

  21. Craig says:

    Covering a subject from different angles if by far the most useful tip for me. I get bored of reading and turn to videos/audio often. As well as changing places to read etc

  22. Trent Yeo says:

    So many good points to comment on. I’ll try to sum it up on a bumper sticker: Learning must be a passion. I’ve been addicted to reading books the last 2 weeks and the puzzle absolutely comes together much quicker when sources are put together.

  23. PhillDoc says:

    Great story as for me. I’d like to read a bit more concerning this matter. Thanx for sharing that information.

  24. george naing says:

    Expect the problems? We do. But what if the problems are larger or deeper than we expected?

    Anyway, I like this post very helpful.

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  27. prom gowns says:

    learning is so improtant!

  28. johnlyon says:

    Must agree with you, Quinn. My wife has years of bookkeeping/accounting experience but is currently studying to get that piece of paper. Frustrating? you bet!!

  29. Sue says:

    You are never too old to learn new things.
    Taking a risk and stepping out of your confort zone is not that hard once you do it.

  30. minenhle says:

    studying is an endless process, everywhere you go you learn something new,so be alwayz ready to let your brain catch somethining new and use it as reference

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  33. so so great article ..
    it’s charge my battery really

  34. Jugunu singh says:

    thats what we hv made the rules….certificates.

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  37. I really appreciate this article, and am glad that I’ve stumbled across this blog. I’ve gone to college and received a degree for my efforts, but I feel strongly that I’ve learned more outside of the classroom. For instance, I took a Photoshop class and learned more from Bert Monroy’s online tutorial videos, Pixel Perfect, than I ever did in the classroom. 

    I am always trying to tell my friends who want to go to college that if they are seeking an education it is available for free, you just have to go get it!

  38. Shiri Radhanaj says:

    screw credentials. If I know what I want to know I can get any job I want. The only problem is being focused and motivated to self-learn effectively

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