Skip to content

Dear Learner: It’s Up to You

Nobody can pour learning into someone else’s brain. At least not yet. We can imagine implanting chips, or Matrix-like downloads, but we’re not there yet.

02-06 Sunset Over Suburbia
What are all the things I can see in this photo?

In the meantime, learning requires effort. Engagement on the part of the learner.

  • Does being in the same room where a fabulous lecture is happening = learning?
  • How about reading a book? If I read the words, does that mean I learned anything?
  • How about if I participate in some management training challenge, like working with a team to get a bucket of golf balls through an obstacle course to a designated location? Learning?

Even assuming a great lecture, book, or training program, none of them is anything without the active participation of the learner.

Even if sitting there quietly, there’s a lot that students can be doing to make sure learning actually happens—to take responsibility for their own learning. Here’s a list, in the form of questions learners can ask themselves (while seeking the answers). For example:

In General

  • What is this about?
  • How is it related to something I already know?
  • Why should I care about this? How will it help me?
  • If there is something I’m supposed to be able to do or be better at as a result of this, what is that?
  • What should I memorize and what can I look up later?
  • What is clear to me about this, and what isn’t?
  • Did I learn this?
  • Do I have confidence that I can do this? If not, what would it take to gain that confidence?
  • What shall I do with what I’ve learned? How will it fit into my life and work?
  • Should I/do I want to learn more about this after I’ve finished this book, lecture, training program?
  • Where can I get support for learning more?
  • Are there any obstacles to putting this into practice, and if so, what can I do about them?

New Procedure

  • What’s the starting point? How do I know when it’s time to follow this procedure?
  • What are the steps? How will I remember what to do and in what order?
  • Have I mastered any safety issues?
  • How will I know I’m doing it right?
  • How much practice will I need before I can do this fluently?

New Concepts

  • What are the main terms the author/speaker is using, and what do they mean?
  • What distinguishes the term I just learned from everything else? Can I pick out examples of this concept from similar concepts?
  • Can I use these terms in my own sentences?
  • Can I think of examples that illustrate these terms pretty well?

New Ideas

  • What are the main points being made?
  • What are the arguments for this point of view?
  • Do those arguments make sense to me?
  • What other ways are there to look at this?
  • If someone had an opposing point of view (an objection), what would it be?
  • How would I answer the most likely objections?

This is not an exhaustive list, but it illustrates some of the ways that learners can maximize their learning. Authors, instructional designers, speakers, teachers, and trainers can provide excellent content, design, and delivery—complete with helpful engagement prompts.

Even better, we can also help students in school and learners in our organizations to develop the skills and commitment to also take responsibility for their own learning. It has to be a two-way street; otherwise, nobody will learn much of anything.


Video | The Matrix—Fast Learning

Book | How to Read a Book

Series | Content Types

Disclosure: Some links on this site are “affiliate links,” which means that I may receive a small commission if you click on the link and purchase something.