Learning to learn

Get out of your comfort zone and learn new skills online by defeating insecurity and laziness.

Using free time in a way that can enrich our knowledge and understanding of the world I think is one of the wisest decisions we can make in our lifetime.

Learning will never give us the unpleasant feeling of having wasted time. How often does this happen to you after watching a movie, scrolling social for hours, or playing a video game late into the night? Self-convincing yourself that you can put it off is dangerous, you risk becoming an old man accumulating only regrets for the things you wanted to do and didn’t.

Today we are in a historical period where the tools for learning have become available online for a very large part of the population. Taking courses on the internet is now a viable choice that allows great flexibility because you can decide to learn when you want, even if you already have a job, regardless of your age, and often you don’t have to pay anything or very low amounts of money, especially if you want to take courses done by experts who are on the other side of the world.

To do this, however, you have to defeat our number one enemy: laziness.

I started working when I was 20 years old, without going to university but only doing a school to become a graphic designer that didn’t teach me much, just to say, we were made to see a computer from afar as an inaccessible object (we’re talking about 1989-1990). The first Mac I managed to buy only three years later (a Macintosh LC II with 4MB of ram and 40 MB of HD) and from there on I studied everything there was to know by myself.

Everything I’ve learned, and over the years I’ve accumulated a lot, has come from personal study. When I had a need or a passion for a subject I looked for the right resources and I always started to study while putting into practice what I had acquired. Theory alone doesn’t help you understand well and memorize correctly what you have learned.

Now, you may think that I want to make believe that I am smarter than the average person and therefore I am superior to lazy people in front of the TV wasting their time. No, those who know me know that I am not at all conceited and I am not one to look down on others. I consider my intelligence normal and my memory very below average (I forget a lot of things) but I have some qualities that help me: I can fight laziness by giving myself a certain self-discipline and I always have a strong passion for what I do.

Passion is the strongest engine that exists in the world.

You can be super smart but not have any strong passion and you will probably stay on the couch playing Playstation for the rest of your life.

When I started studying what I was interested in, there were only books or courses to attend that lasted months or years and forced you to move with fixed schedules and everything that goes around this kind of teaching. It was a real struggle to learn that way, not very fun and often unclear.

Today with online courses you have the best teachers / coaches in their field who can teach you everything you want to learn almost as if it were a personal course. And if something is unclear or you have a question specific to your situation, there is always a way to contact them and have it explained to you.

It’s a revolution like none has ever been seen before in education.

The biggest difficulty is finding the gold in the midst of so much junk. What I mean is that there are excellent courses, often free, but also a lot of stuff that is badly done or made just to sell you something else.

There are platforms that, for more than reasonable costs, give you access to a huge amount of courses of all kinds, others that ask you to pay for each course and then there is YouTube with a choice is endless where you can find videos with quality content in the midst of a lot of really bad stuff.

On YouTube the best videos are from people who want to share their knowledge without selling you anything. It may seem strange to some but there are plenty of people who love to do it and expect nothing in return. As an example, I’m following a Canadian guy who is very good at making documentaries and who, with many free videos on YouTube, tells all his experience giving invaluable advice that I could only get by working side by side with a mentor who decides to work with me for months. Below is a video to better understand what I’m talking about. Like him you can find thousands more for every industry you can think of.

Confort zone

But why would you waste time learning new things instead of indulging your (and all of humanity’s) innate laziness?

Do you know how much time you spend online each day on social media? Almost two and a half hours (142 minutes), according to Audiweb data. At the end of the day, has using all this time to do these activities left you with something positive? Do you go to bed happy?

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Getting out of the comfort zone

Note: I’m speaking in the first person but not necessarily pointing to you as the subject of the conversation.
Learning new skills gets you out of your comfort zone which may seem like a comfortable bubble but in reality also means living a passive life dictated by what others tell you or think. Not your life but the one that others have imposed on you (even if you think not but it’s just a way of self-comfort) and when you get old you will regret not having done so many things.

To get out of this bubble you have to make decisions that may initially make you very uncomfortable but that, I’m sure, you will not regret.

Learning makes us better understand why certain things happen and this makes us more self-confident and the result is that we can better understand what path we want to take.

Making decisions that go along with our own passions and wills and not those of others makes us feel good.

In the end we all pursue happiness as our ultimate goal and everything always starts with the choice to learn.

How do I learn?

There are a few basic points that are necessary to succeed in learning and begin a virtuous journey that will make you want to learn more and more:

Organize your time is the tip that lays the foundation for everything. You may be tempted to procrastinate but you have to be consistent, remember that you are not doing it for someone else but for you and therefore you should look forward to continuing the course you are following. For the timetable, don’t give yourself fixed hours but only an approximate time each day, never put it off (this is imperative to get into the right rhythm). Maybe on Monday you can take a course in the morning on the train, on Tuesday during the lunch break on the computer, on Wednesday in the evening after dinner on the couch (trying not to fall asleep…) on the tablet and so on.

Use the tool that is most convenient for you, it can be your cell phone, a tablet, a computer or a mix of all three (as is often the case with me) to use depending on where you are.

One thing I always recommend, not only for studying but also for working more focused, is to disable all cell phone/computer notifications which are for me the absolute evil of our time. A sneaky system to always have our constant attention and make us very unfocused. Always disable ALL notifications!

The important thing is that you don’t have too many distractions, don’t look at social media while you’re studying, multitasking when you’re trying to understand and memorize concepts and put them into practice doesn’t work. But every now and then take breaks, not stopping for hours is counterproductive, you need to distract yourself from time to time, how often to stop depends on your attention span and ability to focus.

Advantages and disadvantages of online courses

Advantages

Flexibility in dividing your time
You can choose to take a class as much as you want without the time settings of a traditional school.

More interaction
It seems counter-intuitive in that a live course would seem more suited to teacher-student interaction but often, especially for shyer students, being able to interact online gives them a greater level of confidence. Very often in online courses you can send direct questions and get precise answers for your needs. In person very often there is not the time, or the courage, needed to ask them.

Lower or no costs
Online courses allow you to save a lot of money or not spend any money at all. You do, however, have to spend some time looking for the best ones you’d like to take.

You don’t have to move to another city or country
Often taking traditional courses means having to go to another city or even move abroad. With an online course, you save money and time.

Tailored to what you really need
If a course is extensive and you need to know something right away that you need to put into practice as soon as possible, you can go straight to the point where it is explained. Straight to the point. For example, you want to understand how to select a figure in Photoshop? Go directly to the part of the video where it is shown how to do it. Not always but in some cases following from A to Z is not the best way to get fast results.

Disadvantages

Impersonal
Taking a class in a traditional classroom happens in a social setting and some people have to interact with other people live to be able to learn and get immediate feedback that only a live interaction can give.

You have to be disciplined
There’s no teacher telling you that you have to get to work on your online course, if you’re lazy and decide I’ll do it tomorrow, that’s the end of you, you’ll never finish the course you started. You have to get into a state of mind where it doesn’t have to be a compulsion but a pleasure, you have to look forward to having some time to learn what you like and want to become an expert in.

Never see the end
There is so much material online that on each topic you could go on forever. So the risk is that you will always be left with the feeling that you could know more, that maybe you have some deficiencies that no one can point out to you because you are alone in front of your screen.

What types of courses exist?

Online / app you can find courses of all kinds, from university courses to learn how to make a website through everything you can think of. I’ve never had to miss a course I was looking for.

The biggest difference between the more structured courses created by large universities or companies and those of individual teachers on individual topics is the time required to take them and the need to pass exams or not.

To understand, if you follow a tutorial on YouTube on how to make a website, normally you have to put in account at most a few hours and obviously no exam, while if you follow a university course you have to put in account months or years of study and many exams to pass. My advice is to start with the fastest and free courses that you can find on YouTube or sites like Udemy.com/en If you like it and you want to graduate online you are always in time to do it, there are no age limits.

What to learn.

You can really learn anything you want. Here are some examples: English or other languages, programming software, graphic design, photography, video, finance, marketing, social media management. Of course, if you take college courses, you can even get a degree!

Some sites to get started

The important premise is that in order to find a greater variety of courses and quality you need to search also among those in English. If you don’t know it, you can find courses to learn it… if you don’t want to do it yet, you can find good quality courses in Italian that are often translated from English ones.

YouTube
Here you can find free video tutorials of all kinds. From those of very high quality to the worst video. The difficulty is to find the right content, the advice is to subscribe to the channels that you think are closest to your interests (not only in Italian but also in English) that demonstrate to consistently publish quality videos. In this way, in a short time, you’ll see targeted recommendations appear in your personal home page that the YouTube algorithm will propose to you. With time the recommendations reach a very high percentage of videos in target with your interests.

Udemy
It is a platform where you find free or very low priced courses during their many promotional offers. There are also several courses in Italian unlike the other platforms on this list.

LinkedIn Learning
The first month is free, then you need to subscribe. The courses are divided into three categories, Business (dedicated to management, human resources, marketing), Creative (ranging from 3D animation to graphic design), and Technology (from big data to social media). The courses are organized by modules and there is a massive use of video. The added value is of course the link with your LinkedIn profile, to which the various certificates obtained with the platform can be attached. Some courses are taught by influencers or personalities known on the social network, the level of teaching is quite high.

MasterClass
This is the most epic English-only site of all, featuring only the most incredible names in every field, from Spike Lee and Alicia Keys to Dan Brown and Timbaland. If you want to learn from the best in every field, this is the place to be, at an all around more than reasonable price for the extreme quality of the content and film quality implementation.

SkillShare
With an annual subscription you get access to a huge number of video courses in the creative field, from design to photography to writing and business elements to put your creativity to use.

Domestika
It is a Spanish platform for creatives, the model is to buy individual courses made by professionals in the field. The only limitation is that a large part of the courses are in Spanish although with English subtitles, so for many it might be impractical more for a linguistic issue than for the quality that is very high.

Duolingo
The platform is freemium (many functions are free, some are paid, such as offline lessons and the possibility of using it without displaying advertising) and is based on the gamification method: learning is transformed into a sort of video game. On Duolingo, starting from Italian, you can study English, French, German and Spanish.

Babbel
It has more languages available than Duolingo. Membership is free, but a lot of the content is paid for.

The world of MOOC

The starting point for those who want to enter the world of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) is called  Coursera,

the platform created years ago by two Stanford professors. Coursera is the largest provider of free university courses in the world. The only requirements are to know English (but there are also some courses in Italian) and have a Web connection: from there on you can study programming languages, introductory courses in philosophy, business marketing, cryptocurrencies, all proposed by the best universities in the world. The courses are generally free and only those that are equivalent to masters (with certification) are paid.

Digital lifelong learning is so important and strategic that even institutions (both at national and European level) have created their own platforms. The European Union proposes Emma (European Multiple Mooc Aggregator), a binder of free courses in EU languages, with a wide choice also for Italian. The courses are offered by European universities and cultural institutes, some have a start date and calendar, others you can start at any time.

CodeAcademy offers a vast library of free tutorials, to learn the basics of programming code, in addition to more structured and paid courses, which allow you to test yourself with real projects.

Udacity offers a formula called Nanodegree, short mini-labs very vertical on technological topics such as virtual reality, deep learning, artificial intelligence in partnership with major companies in the industry.

The world of online courses or tutorials is huge, at first it can be intimidating but the advice is to try, you’ll never go to sleep that bad feeling of having lost hours for nothing and the next morning you’ll be ready to put into practice what you have learned, a great satisfaction, I assure you.

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