The art of learning in the digital age

Some time ago, I watched a TED talk by Lisa Genova about what we can do to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. She explained that Alzheimer’s occurs as a result of losing synapses or neural connections in the brain. One way to build more neural connections and fight this disease is to learn new things. As I listened to the talk, I started to wonder, is it really that simple to prevent such a terrifying condition?


I’m slowly starting to realise that it isn’t so simple. In school or college, we were learning new things every day, but as we grow older, we risk falling into a rut of stagnation. Going to work, performing repetitive tasks, and binge-watching Netflix. Without conscious effort, it becomes easy to navigate through life without actively learning anything new.


I think much of what we associate with learning ties back to our years of formal education. Sitting in a classroom, listening to lectures, and burning the midnight oil to study subjects or topics that don’t necessarily interest us. This could explain why people tend to groan at the thought of lifelong learning. But there are two things to consider that could alter our perception of learning, namely:

  • Learning outside the context of formal education is liberating as you are free to pick and choose the topics that interest you and dive deeper into them.

  • Learning doesn’t have to involve lecturers and libraries. In this digital age, learning can take many forms. If you are an avid reader, of course, you can rely on the magic of the written word. For those of you who are auditory or visual learners, the learning opportunities are endless with the advent of the Internet. There are various sites and apps that can be used to learn virtually anything under the sun.


When it comes to learning new things, here are a few platforms or methods worth exploring:


1. Skillshare



Skillshare is a site/app that gives you access to courses on various topics including personal finance, creative writing, lifestyle, productivity, photography, web design, and programming. Skillshare offers a free two-month trial in which you can complete as many courses as you’d like. You could sign up for the free trial and try out the courses that interest you during this MCO period.


Each course can range anywhere from 30 minutes to 3-4 hours, depending on the topic and its depth. The courses are in the format of short videos. For example, a 1-hour productivity course would be broken down into twelve 5-minute videos. This is perfect if you want to learn something, but you don’t have a lot of time to spare. You could watch one or two 5-minute videos before bed and complete the course over a week.


Recently, I tried a course called 'How to Build Habits that Last' by Thomas Frank. As someone who is constantly trying to pick up good habits and failing, I was naturally drawn to this course. The instructor is very engaging and the course offered a number of useful takeaways. The second video of this course really struck a chord with me when the instructor warned that a perfectionist mindset can completely derail one's progress.

He spoke about his own experience as a YouTuber and recalled a time when he put so much pressure on himself to make perfect videos. In retrospect, however, there is so much he now knows from creating hundreds of imperfect videos that he simply couldn’t have known back then. Putting out work regularly is the key to learning and growing. As a recovering perfectionist and aspiring blogger, I often struggle with wanting to publish the perfect blog post and sometimes, that pressure to find the perfect topic or write the perfect piece often causes me to not publish anything at all.

I think I stumbled across this course right at a time when I needed it most. I needed to hear that no one starts out perfect, but if you’re at it for long enough, you can get better.

2. Audiobooks


Audiobooks have been a real game-changer for me. Nowadays, I listen to a good audiobook as I perform mundane tasks like washing dishes or folding laundry. I also tune in when I cook at home; it’s almost as if the author/speaker is keeping me company as I stand over a pot of simmering curry.

As an economics major, the idea of efficiency appeals to me. Thus, being able to complete dull household chores while absorbing informative sound bites makes me very happy indeed. I’ve been using Audible lately, but there are other audiobook services available online, both paid and free.

I recently came across the book ‘Your Money or Your Life.’ This book has been an engaging and informative listen. The book, narrated by the author, Vicki Robin, is about changing our relationship with money and achieving financial independence. This was again one of those serendipitous titles that I came across just when I needed it.

I downloaded this title on Audible a month or two after leaving my job. At the time, I was feeling very insecure financially and I scoured the internet for financial advice. That’s when I decided to give this book a try. One of the things that really spoke to me was the narrator’s approach to computing one's real hourly wage. And for those of you recalling your Economics 101 from college, no, ‘real’ here has nothing to do with correcting for inflation.

Instead, it simply means how much you earn minus all the expenses you incur from your job. We work to earn a living, but at the same time, we incur some expenses on the job too. Buying the right clothes for the job, paying for gas, toll, meals at the workplace, and buying additional essentials for your job like books or stationery on your own dime. Vicki Robin also points out that if you're unhappy or stressed at the workplace, medical expenses either in the form of sick days or treatment down the line is also something to consider.

That’s when I started to see the bigger picture. Staying at a job that took a toll on my mental health and possibly costing me money in medical expenses down the line and also, in terms of ‘treats’ such as expensive meals or coffees as a reward for being miserable was far from the financially wise decision I once thought it was. Instead, I focused on the expenses I can cut down on now such as eating out, gas and toll. I also started exploring ways in which I could possibly work from home; something that gives me both joy and purpose.

Of course, this book isn’t about leaving your job, especially one that you love. It’s about changing the way you approach money. The book provides various ideas on how to track your spending, cut down your expenses and invest your hard-earned money to create a stream of passive income. I learned about exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and the benefits they stand to provide through this book. I’ll be sharing more about different investment options such as ETFs in an upcoming blog post.

3. E-books



I know, I know. Nothing beats the feel of a physical book in your hand. I agree with you, but hear me out.


I recently came across a book called The Dip by Seth Godin. The book was mentioned by a couple of productivity gurus I follow on YouTube, and I was keen to read it. I can’t go out to get books at the moment, so I tried looking for online delivery services. The book wasn’t available in a lot of online stores, but one popular book retailer did have it in stock. However, the price was rather steep and the delivery would be delayed (understandably due to MCO). As such, I turned to Amazon Kindle, and they had the e-book available for almost half the price. So I downloaded the e-book and now, I’m halfway through it on my phone.


I love physical books, but e-books have their perks too. Sometimes, they may be cheaper, and they don’t take up physical space or create clutter. If you’re an avid reader and you can’t get your hands on some of the titles you want right now, consider finding the e-books instead.


4. Active listening



When we want to learn something new, we turn to books, the Internet, newspaper articles, etc. But sometimes, just asking questions and listening to what others have to say is a great way of learning as well. No one person is an expert in everything. I might be good at something, while my friends may be good at other things. Asking people questions about their field of expertise is a great way of gaining new knowledge.


For example, when I was curious about personal finance and investing, I turned to someone I trusted, someone who has dedicated a lot of time and energy to learn about investing: my dad. I asked questions, and he answered patiently, and this sparked my interest even further. When I have trouble in the kitchen, I call the best chef I know: my mum. I ask questions and I listen.


Even when we don’t ask questions, just listening to what others say can give us insight into new perspectives or ways of thinking. However, a lot of us, including myself, tend to listen to respond rather than understand. This is something I’m certainly guilty of and I hope to improve about myself.


So here’s a reminder to both you and me: the next time a friend calls, ask them “How was your day?” and simply listen. Listen intently and ask follow-up questions.


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I hope this list aids you in your journey of learning. Always remember, no matter how old you are, it’s never too late to learn something new.

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Hi, I’m Vidhya. I’m a freelance writer and millennial who often struggles with adulthood.

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