I have known Jeff Cobb of Tagoras.com for several years. He has earned my deepest respect. His mild manner style combined with his passion to share his wisdom makes him one of my favorite eLearning pundits. I do favor down to earth people who have experience and are willing to share it. Jeff’s most recent book (available free for Kindle download from June 4th to the 8th) 10 Ways to Be a Better Learner, is a pocket book reference guide for every adult who believes in lifelong learning. This four star work is good bedside or top drawer reading as it will remind you to develop the right mindset, ask questions, take notes, set goals, practice, practice, practice, and use technology to encourage yourself to be in continuous “student” mode.
Here is a brief overview of each chapter:
1. “Adopt the Right Mindset”: People who think they can’t learn simply will not. That’s why the first piece of advice Cobb gives learners is to shift their own attitudes on their capacities for learning. If someone thinks, “Well, I’m too old to learn this,” or “I never really got math or numbers,” then they have set themselves up for failure before they have even attempted to grow mentally. Cobb tells readers to loosen their grip on their own mental obstacles of “I can’t,” and actively seek learning opportunities.
2. “Cultivate Your Network”: Your own learning experience is directly connected to who you are connected to, Cobb says. Check who your support networks are: Do you have people around you who encourage your learning? Are they learners themselves? Who are your mentors? Do you surround yourself with people who only affirm your world view? These are all important questions, but when was the last time any of us posed those questions to ourselves? Cobb makes readers examine the world around them a little closer.
3. “Ask Questions”: In the first few pages in Jeff’s chapter on asking questions, he paints a scenario most readers are familiar with: Imagine sitting in a lecture, conference or classroom and everyone sits quietly, either too shy to say anything or bored, and not asking questions about the material or topics the speaker is focusing on. You can almost hear the crickets chirp. Jeff says to cultivate those opportunities to actively listen and have learners ask questions. But asking questions, he says, is not enough: The questions must be asked with an explicit purpose. What are you going to do with the answer you receive?
4. “Be an Active Note Taker”: It’s not just for class: Jeff suggests a notetaking system for readers to optimize listening and absorption. Staying organized in one’s thoughts is another important step in learning and retention. Little changes in habit–like bringing a notepad to meetings– can strengthen pursuits in active learning.
5. “Set and Manage Goals”: Cobb offers a realistic approach to setting and meeting goals. He lays out the pitfalls most people place for themselves when making goals–either not really being dedicated to them or setting their goals too high or low. Cobb gives readers concrete strategies to get over the traps they lay for themselves when they are trying to accomplish tasks.
6. “Practice Deliberately”: We’ve all heard “practice makes perfect” before, but Cobb expands this truism. It can be exhausting and requires both patience and intense focus—practicing and the reason behind it. But Cobb doesn’t simply tell readers an empty command of “practice!” He provides learners with a way to set realistic expectations on results as well as the motions to go through before, during and after one sits down to practice a skill.
7. “Be Accountable”: As a lifelong learner, one quickly discovers there isn’t a teacher peeking over one’s shoulder, making sure they are on track. You are only accountable to yourself, which can be both daunting and freeing. So how do you ensure that you stay on track with your learning, and that what you’re learning is accurate? Cobb provides readers with the answers.
8. “Use Technology Better”: If used correctly, your computer can be the ultimate portal to learning. Not used correctly, you can spend an embarrassing amount of hollow hours following celebrities’ Twitter accounts and watching videos of cute pets. It’s easy to get lost in the online information jungle, filled with distractions and heaps of content. Cobb understands the blessing and the curse of online learning’s information-rich nature and gives readers access not only to online resources, but offers ways to better utilize technology you may already be familiar with.
9. “Mind your Body”: Have you ever stayed up late studying or working so late that you fought off sleep with a dizzying amount of sugar, caffeine and junk food? If you were cramming, trying to learn, how much were you really retaining? Real learning, Cobb says, takes place when we respect our bodies through exercise, sleep and nutrition. Maybe this seems obvious, but all too often health is taken for granted when lives get busy. The reminder to respect you health in regards to learning is valuable.
10. “Embrace Responsibility”: A new skill should not be like a painting—crafted with skill, patience and vision until it’s hung on a wall in an unused room. A new skill should be something learners should want to actively use. Cobb’s steps to better learning try to hone in on learning on a personal level and then turn those personal skills into things which can have benefits for others.
Cobb does not tell viewers it will ever be easy. His work stands out because he does not sugarcoat the obstacles and struggles people have when trying to learn—anything from baking a perfect pie crust to learning a new language, from learning a new skill at work to learning the bus routes in a new city. Instead, he presents readers with methods to overcoming roadblocks.
About the Author
Jeff Cobb is an expert and business leader in professional development and lifelong learning endeavors, and has written and spoke extensively on the topic. He is interested in the shifting landscape of eLearning and public education, and has spoken on the social aspects of online learning. He is the co-founder of Tagoras, a company which specializes in helping businesses develop their own learning strategies for professional development. He has written other books on learning, including Shift Ed: A Call to Action for Transforming K-12 Education with David Houle, and has contributed to 199 Ways to Enhance Learning.