Characteristics of Great Learners
Have you ever known someone who was a great learner? Not just a smart person, but an individual who could quickly and easily absorb new knowledge?
If you’ve had a chance to observe these folks in action, you’ve probably noticed they take a very earnest and involved approach to learning. Typically, they’re visibly engaged in these kinds of environments, listening attentively and making insightful comments when appropriate. They’ll ask questions that instructors often have to stop and think about before answering. In short, rather than just dip in a toe, these people dive right into the learning process.
What is it about them that makes them so enthused about education? Well, each individual is different, but they’ll probably share these common characteristics:
To begin with, great learners are interested in finding out about new things. This is attributable to two factors, one positive and the other negative. The first is the satisfaction that comes from comprehension. Feeling as if they understand something gives them a certain power over it in their minds. Secondly, great learners don’t like to feel confused. Being in situations where they don’t understand what’s going on or what’s being discussed is anathema to them because it makes them feel as if they’re not in control.
These two aspects are essentially two different sides of the same coin. For either reason (or both), great learners do everything in their power to try to grasp a new concept when presented with the opportunity.
Because their intellectual curiosity is motivated by a desire to understand, great learners will take an active approach to learning. Essentially, this means that the memorization of content — while important — is only the beginning. For students who take an active approach to education, the key objective is to truly be aware of how things work in a given field and why.
By contrast, passive learners are primarily interested in memorizing certain words, phrases and formulas, usually for the purposes of passing an exam. Whether knowledge is retained after that is irrelevant for them. People in this category, however, often come up short on these tests if the same information they learned from an instructor, book or other source is presented in significantly different ways on exams.
“Network” Style of Thinking
Another trait of great learners is they can place new information in a context. That is, they’re “big picture” thinkers who can take data bits and put them into a system. They also understand how the parts of these constructs interrelate, and they can dissect and reassemble them. Whether they know it, they’re employing an Aristotelian, network-centric way of thinking.
This is important for comprehension because no information exists in isolation. It always relates to something else, which relates to something else, which relates to something else and so on.
Find Great Teachers
Lastly, great learners seek out great teachers. Having an instructor who’s excited about the subject they are teaching — not to mention energized by the joy of pedagogy — substantially boosts one’s own eagerness for education. Great teachers actually raise their students’ appreciation for a topic in addition to showing them its inner workings.
Great learners out there, we want to hear from you! If you think I’ve left out any characteristics that are vital to exceptional learning, please let me know about it at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.