Adult Learning Theory

Years ago, when I was studying Adult Education in school, I learned about the Adult Learning Theory. Have you heard of this? It basically differentiates the ways and reasons how and why adults learn in contrast to how children learn. To summarize in the MOST simplistic terms, as adults, we want to be motivated to learn something and believe there’s a reason to learn it. We want know that whatever we’re learning is applicable to our personal situation and that knowing it will help us somehow. We want our learning to be self-directed and to take into account our experiences.

Today I want to share with you my favorite ways to learn new things as an adult. In thinking about how I’ve learned things, I realized I usually use 4 main methods to learn and gain confidence in a new skill or topic- no matter what it is. 

What Have I Learned?

What have I made the conscious decision to learn – as an adult? Just because I wanted to. Just because it sparked my interest or I was curious about it, or I thought there’d be some benefit to me. One of the earliest examples that I can recall was in my early twenties was I decided that I would learn to speak Portuguese. There’s a whole back story to that and the process by which I learned Portuguese just unfolded so naturally, so that’s kind of a fun story. Let me know if you want to hear the whole thing. This Portuguese language example was over 20 years ago and well before I was into personal development and self awareness and certainly before I learned the Adult Learning Theory – but, even now, I can look back and see some elements of how I used my favorite ways to learn.

More recently, a couple of years ago when I was first getting interested in business and entrepreneurship, I wanted a website, so I decided I would learn how to build my own website. So all of the methods that I’m describing to you today, I used for my website learning. Another example, I’ve already talked about a few times, is how I learned Tarot. As I was thinking about my favorite ways to learn, I saw (again) that I used each of these methods when I taught myself Tarot.

Finally this year, the one that I’m currently in is my own study of Surrender. As I talk about these 4 learning methods, I’ll share how I used or am currently using the methods in my learning. 

What about you? What have you learned as an adult? Or what are you thinking you would love to learn? Maybe some of my favorite ways of learning will work for you!

Visualizing How I Learn

I love to visualize things. As I was thinking about this topic and how I love to learn, I thought of a few different methods. Then to put them all into a visual metaphor, I thought of a Venn diagram. Whenever I think of a Venn diagram, I usually just think of two overlapping circles with the overlapped area that kind of makes like an oval. I don’t normally visualize of four overlapping circles. So, for today’s example, I looked online for a 4- circle Venn diagram, just to kind of give my brain an image of what that would look like. I loved it. First of all, it kind of looks like a flower.

Secondly, as the four circles overlap with each other, the middle area creates an oval with sections inside, so it creates what looks to me like an eye! Like the eye on your face, where you see things. That was so interesting. 

Vision, Clarity and Perspective

My brain went off in a whole other direction. Envisioning the eye made me think, “oh wow, learning and loving to learn gives you vision”. It gives you clarity. It’s a new perspective and all of this is true. So I’m very excited to tell you my four main methods of how I love to learn. I’m curious if you will use these for yourself or if you already do use them, or if you have other ways that you love to learn that you would include in a Venn diagram of your own. Maybe your Venn diagram has more than four circles.

The reason why I thought it was so helpful to put it in a Venn diagram instead of in a list is because I don’t know that these methods have to be chronological. I don’t know that one has to happen before the other. I think in some cases they can and do, but I don’t think prerequisites are always necessary in learning.

Deep Dive – Videos and Podcasts

One of my methods of how I love to learn is taking a deep dive. The way I do this is I search for videos on YouTube and other sources. I look for books. I listen to podcasts. I sign up for courses. I dive into the topic as deeply as I can. When I find a lot of videos that really seem interesting to me, but I just don’t have the time, or I’m just not in the space that I want to just sit and passively watch videos, sometimes I will add them to my watch later list on YouTube. That’s a nice little feature where you can just mark something as “watch later,” and then the videos will all be queued up for you whenever you want to watch them. 

I’ve also made playlists for myself of videos that I want to come back to. That way they’re not mixed into a generic watch later list. I put the specific videos into a specific list about that topic that I want to dive into. I do the same thing with podcasts. When I find a podcast I want to listen to later, I just download it onto my podcast app on my phone and that way, when I’m driving or doing a chore or a task, or if I’m walking and I have the ability to listen, then I can go into my app and pull up all of those episodes that I saved to listen when I had time.

Deep Dive – Books

As soon as I hear about a book that’s interesting to me, my usual first step is to look for it in the Overdrive library app because I love listening to books rather than reading them, especially non-fiction. So I will look in the app to see if the book is available. If it is, I will get it immediately.  If it’s not currently available, I’ll add it to my holds so that as soon as it does become available, I get a notification and I can listen to it then. This has just worked out so well for me, because sometimes I will get slightly interested in a topic. So, I’ll go and I’ll find so many different sources, videos, podcasts, books, online courses, but if a book is not immediately available, I’ll just hold it for later and keep learning from the other sources I’m collecting.

Then, the book always pops up at the best time. I mean, the timing is always 100% perfect. When it pops up for me, it’s when I need a refresher or when I finally have time to listen to it, or when I need a break from something else that I’m working on. And, it always turns out that “now” is the perfect time to learn about this topic that I was interested in. 

Another trick that I use to get books, if they’re not immediately available is to be a member of multiple library systems. So if I don’t see a book I want  in my usual library, I will hunt for it in other libraries. And oftentimes that does the trick and I’m able to find the book right when I want it. If it’s not available in the library and I really don’t want to wait, I will go ahead and get the book through my audible account. I still pay for audio books, even though I borrow most books for free from the library, but I also still have an audible subscription too.

So videos, podcasts and books and courses are how I usually take a deep dive into learning a new topic. 

Referring back to the examples I mentioned of things I learned as an adult, when I decided to learn Portugues, I signed up for lessons at a language school near my house. For the website building learning, I attended Wordcamp – which is a conference for people who use the WordPress website building software. 


Another circle on my Venn diagram of methods that I love to use to learn is to plan and project. I debated what to name this method because it’s plan and project, but then that’s like a noun and a verb together. And why can’t they both be nouns? Or why can’t they both be verbs? It doesn’t seem symmetrical this way.

Please note the word P R O J E C T can also be a verb, like to project something. That’s not exactly what I mean. Maybe I need a little bit more work on the title of this method.

What I mean by this method is that I plan how I will apply what I’m learning and if I’m really taking it to the next level, I make a project about it.  (so, plan and Project)

Planning to Learn Tarot

One example that you may have already read about if you’ve followed along with me, is when I decided to learn Tarot. I had a plan that I would really become familiar so that I’d never have to look up a meaning in a book and so I would feel confident when I did a reading.

So part of the plan as I was learning tarot is that I spent every lunch hour (I was still working at a corporate job back in those days) – I spent every lunch hour studying Tarot. I was either watching an online course or reading a book or watching a YouTube video. I really had a pretty vast personalized curriculum that I had charted out for myself. Part of my plan was that I spent some of those lunch hours making flashcards for myself and then quizzing myself on the card meanings. Making and using flashcards is a great learning technique. So depending on what you want to learn, part of your learning plan may include flashcards. Then, the project that I created for myself around learning Tarot was the hundred reading project that I talked to you about in the Magic of Massive Action post.

Surrender Plan and Project

Another example of how I have used this plan and project method to learn was this year when I decided I was going to take a deep dive into the topic of surrender. I am still deep in my dive. I started out by reading a lot of books, listening to a lot of podcasts, and going down rabbit holes. One teacher would lead me to another teacher who led me to the next. Then I decided my project would be a surrender study group. So that is what I started in March. I just put out a call on social media and amongst people that I know, and I said, “Hey, I’m loving this specific book that I’m reading about surrender. I would love to talk to someone else who has read it, or who wants to read it. I want to dive in even deeper one chapter at a time over eight weeks.”

Surrender Study Group

And so that’s what I did. I created a study group and about a hundred people came together over the cin a facebook group in March and April. And about 10 to 12 of us met once a week. We talked about the book and our own perspectives and experiences. That was a great project. It led to some really interesting connections with people that I didn’t know before. And of course it got me deeper into the topic of surrender. So Plan and Project is my second circle in my Love to Learn Venn diagram. The description of that project leads me into the next circle.

Other People

The third circle is other people. Another way that I love to learn is to find other people who know about the topic or who are interested in the topic or who are also currently learning the topic. I just gave that example with surrender, how I pulled together my own study group. In the past, as I’ve learned other topics and become interested in and fascinated by other things that I wanted to learn, I have attended meet-ups. I have joined Facebook groups or created my own Facebook group. I’ve attended lectures and classes and seminars and conferences. Anything to put me in contact with other people who I can learn from and learn with.

I also notice I tend to tune into whatever the topic is in regular everyday conversation. My topic will seem to come up more frequently when I talk to people. Or another way I might notice it with other people is if someone else said something that’s very tangential, I might even ask, Hey, do you know about this topic? I just seem to be a little bit more tuned into whatever my topic is that I’m excited by and that I’m passionate about. Most likely, I’ll bring it up in conversations to hear if other people are as interested in it as I am.

Travel Hacking Example

An example of this was a couple of years ago, I got interested in the idea of travel hacking. Do you know what this is? Travel hacking is a way to travel and get upgrades at a very low cost through creatively collecting and combining credit card and frequent flyer points.

As soon as I heard about travel hacking, I was captivated.  I signed up for an online course to learn about how to do it. I found an online Facebook group where people talked all about travel hacking. And because I wanted to have this experience of talking to other people, in person, about this new favorite topic, I recruited my friends to become interested in travel hacking so that I would have someone close by and familiar that we could bounce ideas off of. I wanted to hear their experiences and perspective. I remember telling my friend about it. I was super excited and whenever I am very excited about anything I become very enthusiastic. (That could be both a blessing and a curse). So I was telling my friend about it and she kind of dismissed it a little bit.

She said that wouldn’t work for her. It was not really aligned with her goals for herself. She was very skeptical and had some firm beliefs against opening up credit cards. But somehow, I don’t know what I said or did, she agreed to watch the course with me. So we started watching the course together. She joined the Facebook group. And she took off! She mastered travel hacking. She and her husband took some really amazing trips. She totally dove in – and the funniest thing to me is that I didn’t take advantage of travel hacking nearly as much as she did. But, I still learned so much about it.

Referring back to the other examples of what I’ve learned, one of the reasons I decided to learn Portuguese was because I spent a lot of time with Portuguese speakers, so at the time, it was easy for me to practice and to overhear native conversations. And attending Wordcamp, that I mentioned for learning to build a website, was a great place to meet other people who were learning too.

Obsession and Immersion

The fourth method I use for learning could be two in one. But I’m still using it as just one circle in my Venn diagram. Maybe it’s like a coin with two sides. One side of the coin is obsession and immersion. I just described how I became super enthusiastic (another word for this is obsessed) about my learning topic and then I can’t help but tell my friends and recruit them. I learn really well when I get obsessed by a topic. Then, nothing holds me back from learning. And I immerse myself in that topic. An example of this is when there’s a book that’s helping me learn, I will read that book and then immediately reread the book. I will read it in multiple formats – I’ll listen to it and I’ll have the physical copy as well. I’ll look up the author on social media and I’ll search for videos and podcasts by that author. I’ll read reviews of the book to see what other readers compare it to to find even more sources to deep dive into.

I think about the topic all the time. I write about it as I journal, I talk about it to people all the time. So this is an example of my own personal obsessive immersion. I really just drop myself right into the topic so that I can feel it, smell it, taste it, touch it, hear it – everything!

You may have thought that was the 2 sides of the coin because I used 2 words- obsess and immerse- but no, the other side of this fourth circle in the Venn diagram is teaching. 

Best Way to Learn is to Teach

One of my favorite beliefs is that the best way to learn something is to teach it. This method of learning might not be for everyone, which is why I’m keeping it as just an alternate version of obsession and immersion. If I want to learn something, I try to figure out how I can teach this to someone else. Because I know when I teach, my mind goes to work, trying to organize and simplify and come up with metaphors and come up with examples and think about how I would describe this to someone else so that they could learn it. My podcast is an example of me learning something by teaching it. Pretty much every single concept that I’ve shared on the podcast over the past year and a half is something I did learn or want to learn for myself. Or, it could be something I feel like I have mastered up to this point and it’s just too good not to share with you!

For everything I’ve been sharing on the podcast, most likely, I got curious about it. There was a spark of interest. I took a deep dive, I read multiple books. I made a plan for how I could apply what I learned. I created a project. I found other people who love and talk about the topic. And now I am learning by teaching. 

For the surrender example, the next portion of the Venn diagram I’m focusing on this Summer is teaching a surrender course so that I can teach what I’ve learned so far and what I’m continuing to learn to other people who may not have read the books I’ve read yet, or may have not ever been exposed to the idea of surrender.

Now let’s focus on you. As I was describing all of my methods and examples, did you pick on anything familiar to you? Do we have any learning methods in common?

Or, now that you’ve read about them, do you think you’ll try one or two of them out for yourself?

  • How can you imagine yourself deeply diving into a new topic?
  • What learning plan could you create for yourself?
  • Or, would you create a project for yourself to apply what you’re learning?
  • How can you find other people who have learned or are learning what you’re interested in?
  • Can you imagine yourself becoming obsessive about a topic? In a good way?
  • How can you immerse yourself into your topic?
  • Would you ever consider teaching it to someone else?

As with so many things these days, I’ve created a workbook that you can use if you want to try out my methods for yourself. It’s a Love to Learn workbook that lets you collect your notes and action items from all your learning resources into one place, plus it lets you track your learning progress.

You can buy it for yourself now here:

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