How to Learn Things as an Adult

Learning shouldn’t stop with the acquisition of a diploma. As writer and scientist Isaac Asimov said, “Education isn’t something you can finish.” Unfortunately, many adults are not aware of the avenues available to them for lifelong learning. Kids have teachers and parents to teach them, but what are your options? Here are a few of my favorite methods for learning things as an adult:

1. Take online courses.

The internet is a wealth of information, much of it entirely free. Whatever you wish to learn, there is likely a free course on it. In fact, there are so many classes out there, it can be difficult to know where to start.

How to find courses worth taking:

2. Take a course at your local community college.

Your local community college is a hugely underutilized resource. They have all kinds of classes at an extremely affordable price. They even have classes on less academic subjects like woodworking, cooking, and welding. Head over to your community college’s website to view their course catalog and find out more.

3. Pursue your interests with experts.

Find one-on-one lessons. Get a tutor. If you can afford it, having a teacher who can give you hands-on lessons will expedite your learning more than anything else.

Finding hands-on lessons can be difficult, but there are options. Find a language tutor with iTalki. If you are looking to learn an instrument, there is surely someone nearby offering lessons. Restaurants in major cities often offer cooking classes. REI offers classes on outdoors and survival skills.

4. Do it yourself.

Put your target skill into practice. YouTube is an especially great resource for DIY skills. Learn cooking, auto repair, musical instruments, and much much more. Check out my list of educational YouTube channels to get started.

5. Work on it daily.

Works of genius are not the results of flashes of brilliance, but instead of consistent, daily output. The only way to get good at a thing is to practice it a lot.

Consistency isn’t easy though. It’s hard to keep working at something day-in and day-out — especially when you aren’t very good at it (which you won’t be at first, no one is). So to combat this problem, try giving yourself a 30-day (or longer) challenge. Challenges are fun, and they often come with a community to keep you accountable, making that day-to-day grind more palatable.

Find a challenge: 

If you can’t find a challenge that fits your needs, create your own. Try the Jerry Seinfeld method (note: there is some debate over whether or not Seinfeld actually did this). Get a calendar. Every day you complete your required work, mark an “X” on that day. The goal is to avoid breaking the chain of Xs you have formed.

6. Immerse yourself.

Surround yourself with real life influences. Follow experts and hobbyists on Twitter and Instagram. Subscribe to subreddits and web forums for those who share your interests. Anything you could possibly want to learn, other people are trying to learn too.

If you wish to learn the effects immersion can have on the learning process, check out Scott Young’s “Year Without English” learning experiment. Scott spent three months at a time in foreign countries in order to learn their languages. During those months, he was only allowed to speak his target language. At the end of his year abroad, he became proficient in Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin Chinese, and Korean. This might seem extreme, but it does reflect the impact immersion can have on learning.

7. Read read read.

Read everything you can on what you want to learn, especially books. The more familiarity and context you can get on a subject, the easier learning will be. Visit your library, buy books from bookshop.org, or check out my list of useful websites for online book resources.

Conclusion

Be curious. Pursue that curiosity. When you’ve settled on a project, act before your enthusiasm begins to wane.

For more on optimizing your learning, I highly recommend checking out Barbara Oakley’s free course Learning How to Learn, and the companion book A Mind for Numbers. Both course and book break down the science behind learning and the optimal techniques to employ.