This will be the first of my three-part series on how to learn a new topic. Think about how you’ve learned most of your life. You were first exposed to a topic in a classroom. You took notes, studied them, and sometimes even did your homework. You studied because you wanted to pass and potentially get into a better school.

As soon as you’re tested on the material, you forget it and hope you won’t be tested on it again. Sound familiar? I call this first part of learning structured learning and it’s how practically all of us learned anything.

It worked fairly well. I mean look at us, here we are with fancy letters behind our names. Well, now you have something outside your career you want to learn about. Maybe it’s about a business you’d like to start or you have some money and would like to figure out where to invest it. Or just something for fun.

You go to start learning like you always do, and, uh, where’s the classroom? You find that some community colleges have a class that you might be interested in, but how are you going to go with a full-time job?

 

This is one of the first problems with structured learning. It requires structure. Class starts at a certain time and assignments and tests are also on a certain schedule. The other is the price. If you remember your grad school days, none of those classes were very cheap. It’s even more expensive if you want to go back and take classes after you graduate

 

Fortunately, there has been a quiet revolution in education in the past few years. Online classes. Now you don’t have to hope to get the one passionate professor. We can all take her class. Many classes are even asynchronous meaning that you can take them at your own time. The four-week class starts when you start.

The cost is often a fraction of what you would pay for a full class at a college or university. You can get classes as low as $47 and many of them will have online virtual office hours just like you would have if you were taking an in-person class. The course may also have another benefit that we will see in the next two steps.

Online classes are a step in the right direction, allowing you to break apart structured learning to something that fits your schedule. Another good option is to find a beginner’s books. For example, when I wanted to start investing in real estate, I did a quick search and asked around for what Real estate books people would recommend and just got the top 1-2 books. After reading them, I felt fairly comfortable moving on to the next step in my learning process.

The first part of learning is just to get a framework. Learn the basics. Understand the language of the subject. In the next two parts, we will apply that knowledge and get feedback.