Thoughts on learning strategies


When you are learning something new, what’s your strategy? Do you mainly gather pieces of information, go through them quickly and then keep them in your laptop or (note)books for future reference or do you try and use them until you master them?

Long time ago I realised that I belong to that first group of learners, I’m definitely a gatherer. Not of things but pieces of information. I have always been, since childhood. In this digital era I have plenty of files in my laptop containing articles on things like English grammar and vocabulary, photography techniques, Lightroom tips and manuals, Photoshop Elements tutorials… I enlarge my collection day by day. I’ve read and watched most of them but the truth is that the information they contain is stored rather in the laptop than in my memory and experience.

Nothing wrong about that, right? The information may become useful later and one can’t remember everything. On the other hand I still remember a piece of advice that I got long time ago on learning vocabulary. “Don’t just learn the words and phrases but make an effort to use them actively at the time of their learning. Don’t just read them. Don’t just memorize them. Construct sentences containing them, apply them suitably to your writing and speaking. Otherwise you will forget them way too soon, you may not even remember them at all. Instead of real learning you’ll just waste your precious time.”

This piece of advice is applicable to many fields, not only to learning languages, I could give you many examples. Let’s take my experience with Lightroom software. I’ve learnt everything I know about the software from online available tips and tutorials and I have many of them stored in my laptop. You can learn a great deal just from watching and listening to others and I’ve learnt a lot this way. Yet it could have been more. Much more, I dare say. Because just reading and watching the manuals and tutorials and then saving the information into my laptop was not enough. If I tried and applied every particular tip on some of my photos, the benefit of that information would be much more considerable. I would acquire more practical experience.

The “trouble” is that I’d need to open the Lightroom, choose a suitable photo and spend some time trying and applying what I read. In a nutshell, I’d need a lot more time to deal with the information. That’s bad, I can hear myself, I don’t have that much time… and I understand it anyway, no need to be so thorough… But it’s easier to gather pieces of information than actually learn something from them. I call it “learning into a drawer”. Those pieces of information can be organised nicely in the drawer but lost anyway.

We absorb information like a sponge absorbs water but the water evaporates quickly. We need to transform the information into practical knowledge and I admire those who are able to do that on a daily basis. Something to strive for, don’t you think?

Einstein’s words inscribed in my photo at the beginning of this post may not apply to every situation, I even find them controversial, but when I was looking for a quote to accompany my reflection, these caught my attention. Something to think about… And if you were interested where the photo was taken and what it represents, I would tell you that I took it in the zoo in Ostrava, it is part of the roof of a new outdoor area for some animals, I loved the abstraction that it implies.



  1. Your dedication to learning puts me to shame, Petra. I used to be a "gatherer." Now, I find myself relying more and more on the instant gratification of technology. Rather than searching through my files for a piece of information I've stored away, I can just type my question into a search box, and…voila…there is the answer at my fingertips. Using the information is definitely preferable to storing it and will make it more readily available when occasion calls for it.

    1. Linda, thank you for sharing your viewpoint. You’re right, one can find almost everything on the Internet… The reason why I save the information that I find really useful is that many links disappear in time and also, I hate looking for something I know was there and I can’t lay my hands on it. It’s safer in my laptop, as long as I back it up…

  2. I love your expression: "learning in a drawer." I can be guilty of that too. I find social media helps me process and reflect upon the information I gather. Not only do I read books, I write reviews and go to an author talks, taking notes to draw out lessons to share with others. Then I try out what I've learned in my writing.

    1. Sarah, thank you for sharing your experience. I’m pleased you like the expression. I agree about the positive role of social media you mention, they help to work with the information from different viewpoints which is useful.

  3. You've probably done more thinking about this "problem" than most people I know, Petra, myself included. I tend to do more flying by the seat of my pants, I think, than others I know…like Astrid, my wife! She is often watching tutorials, something I should do more often. I'm sure I'd learn a LOT to help me!!! BRAVA to you….

  4. The is saying in computer circles: "Read the B***** manual!". I try to skim it, but have a tendency to jump in and start using every bit of software I get and see how far I come more or less on my own.
    However, when it comes to assembling IKEA-type furniture, I always read the what instruction there are. The same goes for planning larger projects.

  5. I laughed at the "read the "effing" manual too." That is funny and so true. In the psychological work I studied for years we used to make a distinction between knowledge that remained in our head,( actual "knowledge"), and that which became part of our very being. Knowledge vs Being. The idea was that until we *used* an idea it wasn't really a full part of our being yet. I have found that to be true for myself. I have a lot in my head that is just knowledge and less that is a part of my very core, my being. For example, I have the knowledge that I want to be a compassionate person, but the being of that is something I struggle with everyday. Great question Petra. I'd love to read more of what you discover for yourself after these experiments. It sounds like you are saying this exact thing in your own observations with photography.

    1. Susie, thank you for sharing your point of view. Knowledge versus being sounds good, there is surely difference between what we know and what we are able to incorporate into our selves. It’s an interesting angle to look at this matter from.

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