Humans are constantly learning – from the moment we are conceived until the moment we take our final breath. This process of acquiring new (or modifying existing) knowledge, behaviours, skills, values or preferences is not only key to our survival, but help define who we become as individuals.

The nature and processes of learning are studied in different fields including educational psychology, behavioural psychology, development psychology and so on. This article aims to explain: why is it important to learn how to learn?

Learning, itself, is a skill

Some forms of traditional school education seem to have lost touch with the real-world applications for the skill of learning.That is, the perceived meaning of learning in high school is different from the real world definition of learning.

Learning in high school simply means acquire the knowledge, regurgitate it, and pass the exam. In the real sense, however, earning is more than just getting good grades. Learning is the cognitive process of acquiring knowledge, and being able to adapt that knowledge in real scenarios.

Don’t think of maths class simply as a way to learn Pythagoras’ Theorem! You’re right, unless you become an engineer (or a maths teacher!) you’re unlikely to use it in real life. Rather, take it as an opportunity to hone your learning skills. Those skills are something you will need to use every single day: in your job, in interpersonal relationships, in managing home life, in your finances… You will need to learn how to deal with all these situations, and the skills you acquire in high school should set you up to be able to adapt and apply discrete knowledge in a creative fashion.

How do I learn how to learn?

Step One – Discover the learning style that works for you

We will cover the various learning styles in a later article, but broadly speaking there are four learning styles: 

  • Visual (spatial):You prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
  • Aural (auditory-musical): You prefer using sound and music.
  • Verbal (linguistic): You prefer using words, both in speech and writing.
  • Physical (kinesthetic): You prefer using your body, hands and sense of touch.

Start to discover which style suits you, and when you come across a new skill or piece of information, try to immerse yourself in examples of your own learning style.

Step Two – Understand passive vs active learning

Sometimes we learn by being actively involved in an activity: throwing a ball is a lot easier to experience than to explain, right? Other times, however, we need time to sit and reflect on something before it makes sense – Philosophy, anybody? Have you tried to jump right into life chanting the mantra that “I think therefore I am” before really taking the time to understand it?

If you understand the differences between passive and active learning, you’ll be able to apply to most appropriate learning method when acquiring a new skill or piece of knowledge.

Step Three – Appreciate the journey, rather than pining for the destination

Have you ever seen a child struggle to learn colours? Or tried to teach them to read those first few words? It can seem like a tedious and monotonous journey with very little immediate gratification. But, you were like that child one day! Wide-eyed and curious about everything this strange world was throwing at you! 

The point is, you never know where this small skill – defining colours, reading simple sentences, or tying your shoelaces for example – may one day lead. Simply enjoy and appreciate the learning experience knowing that, if nothing else, you are strengthening the neural pathways and plasticity of the brain to enable you to continue learning and improving in the areas that you may one day wish to become an expert in.

The great philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said “Who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying” – think of learning as the process by which you could one day apply the right combination of skills to allow yourself to fly!