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The UnCollege Blog

How to Learn Anything

How to Write a Personal Learning Plan

If you want to learn anything, a great way to start is to create an outline for exactly what it is you'll learn, why you want to learn it, and how you plan to do so. Consider this your personal learning plan. It is your guide. It keeps you accountable and helps you stay focused. And it only takes a little bit of time to create!

Step 1: What Do You Want to Learn and Why?
First, at the top of a piece of paper, write out what you want to learn.
For example:

-"I want to learn how to knit."
-"I want to learn how to build a motorcycle."
-"I want to learn Cantonese."

Now, right below it, write why you want to learn that skill. Building on the previous examples, this may look like:

-"I want to learn how to knit so I can make scarves and give them to friends as presents."
-"I want to learn how to build a motorcycle so I can build custom bikes and sell them."
-"I want to learn Cantonese so I can work in Hong Kong."

Step 2: Set a Deadline and a Time Commitment.
Setting both a deadline, and then a time commitment based on that deadline, is necessary. Otherwise it's easy to continually put off learning. Things come up; life happens. Without a time commitment—"I will spend two hours every Sunday learning X"—it is easy to forget our plan and quickly let it go to waste. For example:

-"In two months, I want to be able to knit my mother a scarf for her birthday. Therefore I will dedicate one hour three days a week to knitting."

-"I want to build a motorcycle for myself in the next six months. I will spend six hours every Sunday teaching myself how to build a motorcycle.

-"I want to work in Hong Kong in one year. I will therefore spend one hour every single day studying Cantonese."

If you don't use a calendar, this is a great reason to start. If the only thing you add to it is your weekly salsa class, then so be it. You can try out electronic calendars such as Google Calendar and Keep and Share or the Priorities App, which allow you to set notifications so you don't miss the times you've scheduled for yourself.

Step 3: Create a resources list.
There are easy ways to start learning anything: YouTube channels, searching Google, reading the highest-rated books on Amazon, taking local classes taught at community colleges, sorting through Reddit sub-groups. Spend an hour or two putting together a list of the possible ways you will pursue your learning. Find local resources and online ones; mix and match to your liking. Find college syllabi, and use them as references to find other resources and books you otherwise wouldn’t find. Don't discount finding internships, volunteering, and traveling in order to pursue your interests—pick the resources that best fit your personal learning style. Building on the previous examples, you could:

-Look for knitting classes in your city. Supplement the knitting classes with home-study via YouTube and books. Offer to volunteer at a local yarn/knitting store: you'll get to spend time with experienced knitters, ask questions, and get feedback.

-Find a local mechanic who teaches motorcycle maintenance classes and ask this mechanic if you can apprentice under him for six months—working for free in order to learn the skills necessary to build motorcycles. Join a motorcycle-enthusiast group, whether it’s a group that goes riding every week, gets together to talk about bikes, or an online forum with advice from and for bikers.

-Find a local Cantonese-speaking group, find online guides explaining the basics of Cantonese, and then use LiveMocha or a similar site to talk with native speakers. You could also find a volunteer opportunity in Hong Kong that doesn’t require a previous understanding of the language.

Step 4: Use Your Network.
Post your desire to learn (insert desired knowledge here) to Facebook, Twitter, and any other social sites you frequent, asking for help, advice, and recommendations from your network. Bring your new skill—or lack there of—up in conversation. Put it out into the world that you are learning this skill, and you will be surprised at the help you will receive.

Step 5: Find an Accountability Buddy
In our last newsletter, we talked about finding an accountability buddy. Below, I’ve reiterated the same content if you missed it last week. An accountability buddy is a peer who you share goals with on a weekly basis. Getting an accountability buddy will help you focus on your goal and push through any difficulties that come up. To find an accountability buddy, contact a friend you trust—someone you know will keep you accountable—and ask if he or she will exchange weekly goals with you; keep asking friends until you find someone. Once a week, email your friend about the progress you’ve made: what have you learned, what challenges have you faced, are you on track to learning this skill in the time you set out to do so, and if not, what can you change to get back on track?

Step 6: Find a Mentor
Learning from someone who has mastered the skill you are now studying is one of the best ways to cultivate your own understanding of it. If you already know someone in your field of choice, ask them if they are willing to meet once a week so you can discuss your challenges and ask for guidance. Otherwise, research and find someone locally who can be a mentor. Just email that person, explain that you are teaching yourself a skill they have mastered, and ask if you can take the person out to lunch in order to pick his or her brain. I recommend reading this post on how to find mentors by Tucker Max (if you are offended by his work, don’t worry, this post is minimally profane). I also recommend this very short post, which contains ten snippets from entrepreneurs with their advice on how to find mentors.

Step 7: Start!
Now you have an outline—and actionable steps to take—so get started! Write out what you are going to spend your first session studying. Use your resource list figure out what you're going to spend your first day studying. Spend a few minutes at the end of every week, with your accountability buddy and/or mentor, going over what you did and did not accomplish on your weekly list. Use that to judge your goals for the following week. With each review, make sure to write actionable steps to take. As opposed to "Learn how to install a tail pipe," it should be "Install a tail pipe."

Use these links to download our Personal Learning Plan and Weekly Review outlines.

Do you have a friend that you want to learn a new skill with? Or can you think of someone you want as an accountability buddy or mentor? Pass this along to them and let them know what you’re up to! And, as always…

Keep hacking,


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