Tips for learning independently

Here's a topic I don't talk about much on the blog, or really ever: how passionate I really am about continuing education throughout your lifetime.

No, I don't mean the cheesy "continuing education" community college ads (although, hey, if that's the way you wanna go, more power to you!). I mean how I think living life as a human on Earth is infinitely more interesting and engaging and just plain better if you learn throughout your life.

When I was in school, the eons ago of almost 2 whole years ago (!), I didn't realize what I had until it was gone. I knew I loved school - well, the parts where I was actually learning things, anyway. (Not so much the homework load or the group projects.) I loved the group dynamics, bouncing ideas off of fellow classmates, the endless hours of reading, the fact that I felt so much more engaged with the world when I knew I was learning. 

And boy, did I love the structure of it. As I reflect on it now, I am forever grateful to the hours and hours my teachers throughout the years spent cultivating and collecting information to hand over to me to devour and learn from. That's tough stuff, really.

But now that I've graduated, and moved on from the school-portion of my life to the adult-portion of my life, it's taken me awhile to realize that:
1. I love learning more than I thought
2. It's really difficult to learn independently if you don't know where to start.

So, I thought I'd share some of the ways I try to keep learning, even though I'm not in school anymore, and probably never will be again. (Sad face!)

1. Read
I really can't stress this enough: the easiest way to keep learning independently is by reading. And if I'm being honest? It doesn't really matter much what it is. I have been reading as long as I can remember, and I qualify every single word that passes into my brain via writing as "learning." 

Some examples of this can be: scrolling through your Facebook; reading novels, blogs, news articles; researching random discussion topics on Wikipedia; perusing instruction manuals to figure out how to build something; flipping through magazines at the doctor's office; reading (and then writing!) texts to your spouse/best friend/little brother.

Any way that words travel into your brain helps you grow and makes you learn - even if you think the "content" isn't that important. It's helping you engage with the world outside you, so that's at the very least learning, isn't it?

2. Find your favorite way to learn
As you can probably guess, reading is my favorite way to learn. I've not always been that great at going out and doing the things I read about, but I'm a big proponent of living vicariously through the reading of a good old-fashioned novel.

But that is definitely not everyone's cup of tea (even though cups of tea go great with reading...I digress). Some would rather search on Pinterest for a new home-improvement project and tackle it right then and there. Others would rather take a class on a new hobby, join a fitness group or sport they've never done before, or even just make a new friend and learn about them. Whatever your favorite way to learn is, figure it out and focus your energies there. Don't worry that most conventional "schooling" revolves around absorbing information and then being able to spit it back out. The world is so much bigger than that! Learn the way that engages YOU, and forget about those other ways. You'll be much more inclined to keep going!

3. Cheap it up
So, David and I are pretty notorious cheapskates. If there are ways we can save a penny here or there, we are going to research the heck out of them. (I fancy myself a bit of a deal-finding Maven, if you know what I mean...The Tipping Point, anyone?) I've been known to search for hours for coupon codes online, poll friends about the best way to buy such-and-such, or compare prices across stores before making purchases.

If you're passionate about learning, but in a way that isn't always the most inexpensive, research ways you can lessen your costs! Since I love reading, but I don't have the budget to buy every new book on the market, I spend a lot of time at our local library and rent books through our library's ebook program (free to anyone who has a library card). It has saved me SO much money over the years! And yeah, I might have to wait a little longer to read the new hit, but books go to library faster than you'd think - you just have to keep your eyes peeled and take advantage of the "hold" function.

If you like joining teams for different sports, gather your friends for an impromptu game every other week instead of joining a league, if it's out of your budget. If you like building things or fixing up furniture, scour Craigslist (especially the free section!) for your next fixer-upper. If you're a newspaper guy or gal, read online instead of subscribing via paper. If you love learning about new restaurants or cuisines, head to the neighborhood food joints instead of the popular downtown ones - and look on Facebook or online for nights where they have specials! There are tons of ways to save money, no matter what you're interested in.

4. Don't give up
Maybe you've plateaued in your new skill - you're decent at it, and you find yourself getting tired of doing it. Maybe you've read all the books on your list for the year, and you can't find a new one to interest you. Maybe you've met a ton of people in searching for new friends and you're just maxed out on going to social events for awhile.

Don't give up! Just because your favorite way to learn is wearing a little thing right now doesn't mean it isn't worth revisiting...perhaps after a break. Step out of your comfort zone - read a book if you're an activity guy, or get outside if you're a bookworm like me. Or even just take a complete break if you like! That's one of the many benefits of learning outside the school setting - you can stop and start as much as you like, and no one will fail you if you do.


As you might be able to gather from this post, I'm a huge proponent of learning independently. Heck, I hope to continue to be for the rest of my life, God-willing! Let me know in the comments - what's the best way you've found to learn independently?


  1. Hey Hannah!! Love these ideas, have you ever looked into Coursera? Or the many programs like it? Free online college courses on every topic under the sun! I have taken some on nutrition and finances and stuff that became of interest to me lately, but it's a great way to have some of the structure of school to encourage your learning, but less pressure and no price tag! So perfect! We should find one on board games or renos!


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