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Hey Rebooters! Welcome to a possibly Marmite episode this week – so many of us have a love-hate relationship with learning from our school days. Education may not have always been the cheeriest experience, which we will talk about, but we also want to talk about learning for joy – it’s totally doable and can last your whole life.

Formal education can knock a love of learning out of many of us – it’s by necessity designed for the many, which means it doesn’t work perfectly for many people at all. By the time compulsory education is finished at 16 or 18, and again after university, there are quite a number of people who feel they really don’t like learning and have had more than enough of it.

Learning stuff you don’t want to know

Part of the problem with formal education is that there are certain things which are taught which we don’t want to learn, and most schools aren’t able to let their students just focus on what they enjoy.

At work, too, we have to learn things we don’t necessarily have a natural interest in, and we think there’s a definite feel, especially in school, of wondering what the point of learning some things are.

When was the last time you used log tables, for example? (or are we just showing our ages?!)

The advice to get past your GCSEs with the basics and then choose what you enjoy is sound to a point, but if at the tender age of 16 you don’t know what you want to do next, haven’t found your Thing or are as yet unaware of your multipod tendencies – then what?!

Higher education later on

Where we discover that Carla pitched a TED talk about going to uni later in life… to a university who was recruiting 17 year olds. Unsurprisingly, this talk was not chosen to progress!

Sarah has just graduated at 41, and definitely seemed to get more out of her degree than your average school-leaving undergraduate. While for some people, getting the degree out of the way as early as possible is probably a good thing, and if you’re entering one of the professions like law or medicine which have long, long training times, then that’s also probably a good call.

But if you don’t quite know what you want to do, and if you have the option, perhaps waiting until you’re older, wiser and have some experience of the working world actually benefits you in terms of the degree you choose, and also in how dedicated and enthusiastic you are about completing it?

In Sarah’s case, waiting meant she could do a Creative Writing degree, which wasn’t an option when she was 18. So there’s also that to consider.

What is it you want?

The question that decided Sarah on a Creative Writing degree – but the question that is so often not at the heart of education. One of the reasons so many people are reluctant to learn as adults is expectations – to choose your Thing and specialism at just 17/18, to study something at uni which you were good at at school, without any concept of all the other, wider things out there that you might love.

What you want is also a question to apply to why you’re doing a degree – is it depth of knowledge about a subject, is it enjoying studying for its own sake, is it because it will open new doors in your career?

And committing to education is easier when you know your motivations and they’re meaningful to you, rather than you just doing the thing that is the expected next step after school.

Why school so often kills our love for learning

So, a feature of schools the world over, as far as we can tell from our own experience and talking to our various friends & contacts, is that you are encouraged to spend the most energy on the subjects you’re bad at, to bring you up to average.

Imagine if you could instead do the bare minimum required in your weaker subjects, and pour all your extra energy and time into the things you were naturally good at. Imagine how much better at them you’d then be?!

It also seems to be the case in most places that there are core subjects, and then there are a whole host of other subjects which are seen as less important, and timetabling usually only allows you to choose one. These are often the arts-type subjects – art, music, drama, design, textiles, food and similar.

Which means if you’re not studying for a GCSE or equivalent in it, or worse, if you like it but you’re not deemed good enough to get a GCSE in it by your teachers, you give up those other subjects entirely aged 14 to 15.

But learning CAN be joyful!

The keys, we think, are motivation and knowing what you’re trying to get from it. Choosing to learn rather than having learning imposed, and being free of exams unless you choose those too. And accepting that we have to get good at being bad at things, and being ok with that, and then learning to improve.

Modern society is, on the whole, not great at being bad at things (the irony!), and there is a lot of comparisonitis which can make you want to give up because everyone else seems to be so much better at [thing you are learning] than you are.

But no one comes out of the womb knowing anything, so we all started somewhere. And when you choose to learn something because you have a motivation of your own for doing so – whether that’s for a job, or a business, or a hobby – you are much more likely to find joy in amongst the natural frustrations of being a novice.

Another joyful type of learning is filling in the gaps, when you’ve been doing something for a while, perhaps self-taught, and then you think actually you’d like to know more about a particular aspect, so you go off and research and book yourself onto a flash workshop, or an advanced overlocking course, or a writing retreat.

Those gaps in your knowledge can become an amazing source of like-minded humans and new friends. And then you can have pub nights, whatsapp groups or gatherings at someone’s house where you can all talk excitedly and in depth about whatever it is that brought you together, safe in the knowledge you’re not boring anyone with your enthusiasm!

Learning practically

It’s no secret that starting and running a business, and working for yourself in general, is a massive and constant learning curve. If it’s not your specific specialism, it’s the tech, or the laws around what you do, or some new development which means you have to adapt.

Carla and her Ink Drops partner Annastasia started Ink Drops in part as an alternative to both of them doing an MBA – figuring that learning by running an actual business would be equally if more fun, and probably a lot less expensive. Nine years later, the business is still here and they’ve learned huge amounts along the way.

Learning for your business often happens organically – you find something you need to know, so you then go and look for a course that will teach you that thing.

Course overload

But the flip side of this is that you can then sign up for so many courses, intros and freebies that you a) have spent a fortune and b) are not actually doing any of them – and learning does not happen by osmosis, sadly!

Choosing courses should be done with a clear outcome in mind – what do you want to get from it, what is it you’re hoping to do with the information and your new knowledge or skills?

Self-paced courses can be hard to finish – starting happens with enthusiasm and then life gets in the way, and depending on your learning style, you might only ever revisit them when you need that knowledge last minute!

Do you have to be in a classroom to learn? Hell no, you don’t. But it’s worth being aware of what kind of learner you are – do you need accountability, do you prefer showing up for a call or video or lesson at a fixed time each week, or are you happier self-paced with the option for asking questions when you need to? Do you need a transcript of videos or are you much more likely to pay attention to spoken word than pages of text?

Clarity can be very helpful so you don’t end up with hundreds of courses and no actual improvement of the problem!

Implementation – where the magic happens

It’s always worth knowing why you’re choosing to learn something – and then it’s also useful to plan in the implementation as well as the learning itself. Actually doing the thing is often the hardest part of learning, if also the most satisfying.

Reading, listening, discussing are all good ways to learn – watching tutorial videos is informative – but ultimately, especially with business-related learning, you’ll only see the benefits if you actually put what you’ve learned into practice.

Motivation ties into this – if you’re not intrinsically motivated by interest in whatever it is, then the outcome you want can also act as motivation for learning.

Our final thoughts

It’s really rather wonderful when you come across someone who is asking your advice and you realise they are where you were a few years ago. It really makes you realise and acknowledge how much you’ve learned and developed.

If you’re hovering between a sensible subject and something you really want to do, for god’s sake pic the thing you really want. It will still possibly be really bloody hard, but you’re much happier about the hard days when it’s something you love.