Learning from the Expertise of Others

Teacher MentorPosted by David Blake on Student Advisor

As a college student or recent graduate, you have probably spent nearly 16 years of your life learning in school. Hopefully this won’t come as a surprise, but your real education is just beginning. The most important learning of you life starts now.

The way you learn now will be fundamentally different from the formal education you’ve had so far. Unless you pursue an advanced degree, you probably won’t spend too much time in a classroom. Instead, you will engage in a variety of informal learning experiences. You will read books and experiment with new technologies. You may take massive open online courses or other self-study classes. You will try many different things and learn as much, or more, from what works as from what doesn’t.

But your most valuable learning experiences will come from observing and interacting with other people. Overall, we are more likely to remember what we learn from others than what we learn from formal experiences such as lectures. In fact, we often treat the information we learn from others the same as if we had learned it on our own—results of scientific studies have found that the same parts of the brain light up when we watch other people make decisions as when we make them ourselves.

We can also learn a lot from experts, who are really just people who have devoted their lives to a single pursuit. Experts know a lot of things that non-experts don’t, such as what information is most relevant, what problem-solving strategies are most likely to work, and how best to use their knowledge to attain their goals.

There are many ways to learn from others. The first step is to identify some role models or experts. These can be people you know personally, but they don’t have to be. Then, study how they became great: Where did they get their ideas? What kinds of things did they try? What important successes and failures did they have along the way? How did they deal with adversity?

These 4  ideas can help you maximize what you learn from others:

  • Perform case studies. Follow your role models’ careers via books, articles, and other media. Degreed has assembled case studies of several highly intelligent and successful people, including Steve Jobs and Hillary Clinton.
  • Find a mentor. If you know your experts or role models personally, ask if they would be willing to mentor you. Most people are happy to share their knowledge and experience.
  • Join professional groups, associations, and meet-ups. This is a great way to meet experts and potential mentors.
  • Ask to be on their team. If your role model is someone you work with, look for any opportunity to learn firsthand.

You may be done with school, but you will be learning for the rest of your life. Take advantage of opportunities to learn from people who have accomplished what you want from your own career—this is the most important education you will ever get. You can keep track of all of your experiences and education with tools such as Degreed. Your lifelong learning is constantly expanding. Shape it into what you want it to be.

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