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Learn by Creating Your Own Course

Get the most from books and podcasts by creating your own course of study.

By
Stever Robbins
September 13, 2011
Episode #190

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They say that learning from books is academic, that it doesn’t apply to the real world. Not always!

Juanita wrote in with one of the best questions ever:

“I really like learning through reading and audiobooks, but I rarely make it all the way through. How can I create a course for myself so that I can actually absorb and apply the knowledge?”

When you read a self-help or educational book, understanding is the easy part. Understanding doesn’t mean you can or will do what the book recommends. I read The South Beach Diet. Then I read the North Beach Diet. Then the East Beach Diet. By the time I made it to the South-by-South-Northwest Diet, I had gained 10 pounds from munching on sugar-coated pretzels while reading the books. I hadn’t applied anything I learned.

Formal classes work for a reason. They provide a framework: understanding, applying, practicing, and recalling the material. When you’re reading a book, you’re being given the material, but the rest is up to you. Here’s how to turn your reading material into a course.

Tip #1: Set out a timeline and get a study group.

Schedule a regular time to work on the material. Classes are effective because they're held at regular times set aside specifically for study. Get yourself a study group, if you can. Find some friends or use a site like Meetup.com or Craigslist to find other people who want to learn the book. Then establish one night a week when you'll gather to discuss. If you're really hardcore and have the flexibility, you can schedule more nights a week.

Tip #2: Structure each week with new material and recall.

Read a chapter or part of a chapter of the book for each class. Take notes on the main points. I recommend taking notes by hand, not by typing. Writing the material forces you to review it and engages your muscles in memorizing. The more of your senses—sight, touch, hearing—you can get involved, the better you’ll learn. 

Reinforce the recall of the material you've covered so far by reviewing last week's chapter briefly. If you have a study group, discuss the previous chapter for a few minutes. Share any insights or ideas that have come up between classes. Also spend a few minutes reviewing your handwritten notes from 4 weeks before (obviously, you can't start doing that until week 5). Reviewing information a few weeks later actually reinforces memory better than if you review it every week.

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