How to Learn Almost Anything Using the Internet

The learning power of the Internet

You have likely heard the phrase, “Don’t believe what you read on the Internet”. While this is true in many contexts, the Internet also offers a sea of fact-based information and expertise, and it can be a phenomenal tool for learning and education.

One of the primary shortcomings of the Internet is also one the greatest benefits: the infinite variety of unique voices. A variety of instruction and opinions from subject matter experts on any given topic are available at the speed of an instantaneous Google search. This level of instant information accessibility is incredibly valuable, and a privilege of today’s digital world. In centuries past, such access to open-forum knowledge and expertise was reserved only for university students.

Take for example SEO: there are numerous marketers and SEOs on the web who will claim to hold the “magic recipe” for SEO success, and that their approach is the authoritative. While we know it is impossible for all of them to be 100% correct, that does not mean that there are not truths and valuable insight to be found in the work of each. We can begin to identify overlapping information which is consistent across multiple sources. When a particular idea is cited by multiple authors, chances are that idea is likely a fact. This process, combined with your own knowledge and understanding, as well as a healthy grain of salt, can give way to true understanding.

In the digital age, true understanding lies in the aggregation of sources. Click To Tweet

For another example, consider physical fitness and weight training. There are likely thousands of different personal trainers and fitness experts on the web who will tell you that their  methods are correct. These thousands of individuals will each have a unique approach to diet, protein, supplements, cardio, training, technique, schedule, and more. While they cannot all be completely correct in every area, each unique author will provide certain truths. By recognizing pieces of information which overlap between sources, we can identify common facts.

Content

Using this methodology, how should we approach learning on the web? By consuming.
Don’t read one article on rel=canonical tagging, read several.
Don’t listen to one podcast about backlink strategy, listen to three.
Don’t watch one commentary on pre-workout protein intake, watch five.

Be a content-consuming machine.

By consuming focused content in large quantities, this natural process of fact aggregation will happen rapidly. Aggregation will translate to knowledge. Knowledge, coupled with practice, will give way to understanding. Understanding and experience eventually lead to expertise.

If you have interest in, or are passionate about a subject, devour content surrounding it. You should truly immerse yourself. Read blogs, how-to’s, white papers, ebooks; listen to podcasts, and commentaries; watch instructional videos. Consume any worthwhile content that you come across.

Community

But why stop at consumption alone? Join online communities and forums where experts in the subject gather to discuss and share ideas. These communities offer a whole new dynamic of valuable, niche information. Unlike the content types already mentioned, forums and communities offer an interactive experience. Other like-minded individuals who are passionate about your subject gather at communities daily for discussion and interaction. Become an active member of one such community. Ask questions and interact, reciprocate by sharing your own perspective or by responding to another’s question.

Communities are another unique benefit of the digital age. Never before have like-minded individuals who are passionate about the same subjects been able to gather together and share ideas from across the globe.

Courses

Another option available for web-based learning is online courses. Online courses are available for an infinite number of subjects. Paid and free. Accredited or non. From universities, individual experts, organizations, publications, and more. The recent movement in free online education has produced an explosion in college-level education and courses available free of charge, to anyone with an Internet connection. Officially referred to as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), these courses offer the equivalent experience of an actual college or university course. Many are even presented by top, real-world universities.

Coursera is a leader in the online course space. Among their catalog are courses presented by such names as Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, and Brown University, to name just a few. For more options in online courses, visit edX and Open Education Database.

Many experts will also offer their own courses in their industry. Expert-presented courses are often of very high quality, and carry with them the benefit of years of hard-earned experience.

If you want to be a successful mountaineer, you learn from someone who has scaled Everest. Click To Tweet

One of the quickest paths to expertise in a new area is to learn from an individual who has already reached the top. They have put in the hard time, the blood, the sweat, and the tears to achieve mastery. They have likely learned nearly everything that there is to know in their field. They have learned the in’s and out’s, the do’s and don’t’s. They have made more mistakes than you could guess, and they can save you from making your own.

To get a feel for what is available in your subject, try a quick google search for “online courses in {your subject}”.

On demand

There is a critical commonality between all of the various media types mentioned above. It is something that we often overlook and take for granted. Web content is always available. Anywhere, any device, any time; if it lives on the Internet, it is always accessible. This is another dynamic benefit which the Internet and digital media have provided to the modern learning process. The ability to access informational, educational, and academic material on demand, when it is convenient for you, is something that was unheard of until now. With this comes the power to return to and repeat information as many times as necessary for the viewer. This provides a dramatic benefit to comprehension. If you are watching a video course on Java programming, you have the ability to replay a certain section any number of times until you have fully digested it. Similarly, you would certainly not be able to ask a professor to repeat himself 6 times in class.
(For further commentary regarding on-demand learning checkout Daphne Koller’s TED talk on online education)

When utilized correctly, the Internet is a powerful tool in the process of learning and knowledge building. The benefits are widespread and a privilege of our time. Never before has knowledge and information been so openly accessible, at any time, to anyone, from anywhere. All you must do is choose to make use.

Continue the conversation

Have you used the Internet to learn a new subject? What worked best for you? What didn’t work? I’d love to hear about your experience!
Have some input or feedback on this post? I would love to hear that as well! Feel free to strike up a conversation on twitter or send me an email.


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How to Learn Almost Anything Using the Internet
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How to Learn Almost Anything Using the Internet
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When utilized correctly, the Internet is a powerful tool in the process of learning and knowledge building.
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Brendan Binger Co.
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