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Kevin Heis
Kevin Heis

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A Checklist to Make Your Own Learning Plan

I published my Eight Big Ideas of Learning article (also full version) about a month ago. The article attracted broad interest. Several people asked me how to act on those ideas.

If you’re an independent learner like me, you’re creating your own plan and also following that plan. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Let’s make it easier. Here’s some steps you can follow to create and follow your own research-backed learning plan!

The numbers in brackets refer to the sections in the Ideas article. Check that out if you need more clarification. You don’t need to do all of these things to learn effectively. Take what’s relevant and ignore the rest.

Before you start learning the subject

  • Why do you want to learn this subject? Think autonomy, mastery and purpose. Write it down somewhere you will see regularly. [7.1]
  • ☐ Learn the subject’s organization. Draw it out. You can try to find diagrams with Google image search, or use a Table of Contents from a popular book on the subject. [4.1]
  • ☐ Determine a way to visualize your progress as you learn. Place it somewhere you will often see. [2.3]
  • Assess what you already know. A few ideas: Find an online test, try some practice problems from a book, or ask an expert. [3.1]
  • ☐ Use a tool to help you track what you need to do when. This could be a website, a To-do app, or even a paper checklist.
  • ☐ Break down what you want to learn into small tasks of 30 minutes to an hour in duration. Set small and specific goals for each session. [2.1]
  • ☐ Set goals with Bloom’s taxonomy in mind. Go beyond recognizing information. Add practice problems. Try miniature projects. Do comparison exercises. Try pattern exercises. Graph out concepts. Present arguments about what you’re learning. [2.2/6.2]
  • ☐ Find a way to allow choices while you learn. You want choices for both content and format. Maybe on a given day you have the choice of one of three topics. Or one of three ways to learn the same topic, like a book, video, or activity. [5]
  • ☐ Set your schedule with plenty of time for practice and spaced repetition. You should plan to revisit each unit at least two or three times, spaced out as you learn. [6.1/6.4]
  • ☐ Find a way to get either expert or peer feedback as you learn. That could mean finding someone you already know to give weekly feedback. Or finding an online forum. This person or community can also help you stick to your plan. [8.1/8.3]

Before you start a learning session

  • ☐ Find a quiet, calm, and clean learning environment. Remove distractions. It won’t be perfect, and that’s okay. [1.3]
  • ☐ Only learn one thing at a time. If you are thinking about trying more than one thing at a time, don’t. If the session feels too large, break it down into smaller parts. [1.1/1.2]
  • ☐ Review the organization of what you are about to learn. How does this fit into the subject? [4.1]
  • ☐ What problem does this information or idea solve? Figure that out early. [7.2]
  • ☐ Determine the main ideas of what you are about to learn. You could review section headers in a book, or a summary of the content. [4.2]
  • ☐ Review related prior knowledge. What do you already know that relates to what you are about to learn? [3.3]
  • ☐ Make a choice about the content or format before learning. [5]
  • ☐ Limit your session to about 30 minutes to an hour. Take frequent breaks!

While you learn

  • ☐ Tie back details with the main ideas. [4.2]
  • ☐ As you learn, connect what you are learning to what you already know. [3.3]
  • ☐ Stay in the middle of challenge. If too difficult, review what you already know and break down what you are learning. If too easy, skip ahead. [1.2/3.2]
  • Scaffold. Solve easier problems before trying harder ones. Do isolated exercises before trying to create a full project. [3.2]
  • ☐ Find examples. You could find a video demonstrating the idea. [7.3]
  • ☐ Test your organizational knowledge. Draw out the relationships between the concepts. [4.3]
  • ☐ Get feedback. Use your expert or peer to help make sure your learning is on task. Clear up any misconceptions and use this person to test what you’ve learned. [8.1]
  • ☐ When you feel you’ve learned the content, update your progress visualization. [2.3]

To review weekly

  • ☐ Revisit your reason for why you want to learn this subject. [7.1]
  • ☐ Update your model of the organization of subject and your progress tracking. [4.1/2.3]

Ask meta-cognitive questions [6.3]… (There is no right answer to these. Just asking is enough.)

  • ☐ Do I have a strategy? Is my strategy successful? [6.3]
  • ☐ Am I focused while learning? Can I improve my focus? [1]
  • ☐ Is this the right difficulty for me? [3]
  • ☐ Are the choices I’m making effective? Do my choices have a limited number of options? Do my choices have clear default options? [5]
  • ☐ Am I getting enough practice time? Am I spacing my practice? [6.1/6.4]
  • ☐ Am I getting effective feedback? I am building trust with my expert/peer? [8.1/8.2]

Wrap Up

Learning is hard, and learning alone can be difficult. It can be difficult to stay motivated and keep going towards your goal. If you follow some of the ideas on this list, you can learn more easily, more deeply, and more quickly.

See the full article for more resources. Thanks for reading! Feedback is welcome.

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