It’s common for many people to come out of college and stop learning. When no one is forcing you to learn and improve yourself, it’s easy to do nothing. Sonia and I recently realized that we’ve really slacked off in the learning category since college – we still read good books, but the focused, intentional learning has gone out the window.
We decided to change things by reorganizing our lives to look more like college – focused, limited, intentional blocks of learning.
Here’s what we did, (and what you can do to college-ize your life):
0. Define your semester + assemble your course catalogue
What would you like to learn?
We started by assembling a massive list of subjects that would work for these focused “classes”. Basically, we wrote down every subject that we could think of that sounded appealing. When you assemble your list, don’t worry too much about picking the “right” subjects. Just dump anything that sounds interesting to you on paper.
What if I’m not interested in anything?
Just ask yourself a few questions: What did you want to learn when you were younger? What subjects really get your mind racing? What projects make you say “that’s really cool”? Anything is up for grabs, ignore your mental filters and write it down, even if it seems ridiculous.
How long is your semester?
I set mine for three months, but you’re free to set it for as long as you’d like. Just be sure to set a time, so you can define when you need to finish the “class”. If you don’t have a time limit, it won’t get done.
1. Assemble your curriculum
Look for classes
There are so many places to go to get free classes. Just check out this list, or Google “Free (subject) classes”. It’s amazing how varied the free resources available are. I assembled my first course, a Game Design class, and I found a great class with twenty lessons, and assigned reading. I scheduled when each class and reading assignment would be due, spreading the class out through the three months. But that’s not all I did – I was just taking one class, so just a single college class wouldn’t be enough for me – so I went to the blogs.
Finding lots of useful blog posts
You can create your entire education from blogs, if you know how to find the good blog posts. I selected one blog post on my subject per day for the entire “semester”. How do you select the blog posts?
a. Select good blogs
This is an inexact science, but I suggest googling “(subject) blogs”. You might also e-mail or Tweet some experts in the field, and ask for their recommendations.
b. Snarf up any top ten lists
Once you’ve found the blogs, check the about page and the sidebar. Oftentimes blog authors will post top ten lists, or lists about your specific subject. Don’t bother looking at the blog posts, just grab all of the links and paste them into a spreadsheet. (right click>copy link)
I also used Buzz Sumo to select blog posts according to amount of shares. It’s not precise, but it helps you select posts that have a high likelihood of being useful.
c. Check out tags/categories
In the case of a blogger that writes about a variety of subjects, check to see if they place the posts in a certain category – look at the top and bottom of a post for categories and tags, which will allow you to filter the posts by subject. Grab everything in that category. Usually you can find all of the posts in a wordpress blog by entering this URL, where “candy” is the category you’re searching for:
Figure out what small projects and tasks that you could do do better learn about your subject. This could be short papers, projects, exercises, etc. Assign these throughout the semester, so you’re actually applying what you learn. At the very least, assign yourself to blog every day (or few days) about the subject you’re learning. You learn by teaching, so teach (even if you’re not an expert)!
I just created a speadsheet with all the dates until the end of the semester, with a different column for each assignment type.
2. Reading and reviewing
While you’re reading the blog posts, I suggest installing the Diigo app, which allows you to highlight and markup posts on the internet, and it saves everything. Highlight key points, words you want to remember, and Diigo will save the highlighted text in your Diigo library.
Here’s how to set up a semi-automated review e-mail. In the Diigo library, click “my groups” and create a new group just for your class.
At the end of each day of study, select all of your new highlighted items in your Diigo Library, and send them to your group:
Adding the notes to the group will trigger an e-mail, sending all of the newly added highlighted sections and notes to your e-mail. Boom! Review sheet! The next time you’re studying, review what you highlighted in the last session, and that will aid retention.
b. Catchup dates
Set days during the week where all of the previous assignments/readings are due, instead of making daily due dates. This will allow you to miss days and still be able to catch up before “class”. Your life is unpredictable: don’t assume that you’ll be able to work on your class every day. Have catch-up days so you can be more flexible.
Getting it done
Ok, so you’ve compiled a great course. Now what’s gonna make you do it? Your superhuman discipline? Yeah, right. We need some psychological tricks to force your lazy mammal brain into doing the painful, hard work of learning.
Treat it like a class
If you were studious in school, this could work – just imagine that this is a real college class, with a grade and everything – and treat it as such. You worked your butt off to get a good grade in college? Treat your own due dates with the same respect.
Imagine THAT teacher
I know you had one. THAT teacher who scared you to death, who you wouldn’t ever turn in anything less than fantastic, precisely on time. Mine was “the dragon”, who was terrifying, and who I would work hard and stress endlessly about the assignments “the dragon” assigned. I did a good job, and I learned a lot. When I’m feeling unmotivated, I pretend that I’m doing an assignment for “the dragon”, and somehow I feel like getting down to work.
Get outside consequences
If all else fails, pick one of your mean – I mean strict – friends to enforce your class. Give your friend a check for a painful amount of money, and get your friend to agree to cash the check – no matter what – if you fail to turn in an assignment. It might be scary, but it’s really effective.
Sometimes your brain just has to be bullied, you know?
Have a good time running your own micro college. Continued learning is one of the best ways to improve yourself as a person, and improve your financial prospects. Plus, learning about things that you’re actually interested in is a blast. Do it.