Ultralearning: Staying Ahead of the Curve

At the dawn of the second decade of the 21st century, humanity stands at a unique crossroad, having the potential to redefine its role within society. The much-talked-about 4th industrial revolution can potentially wreak havoc by obliterating jobs long considered safe from the clutches of technological disruption.  According to The Economist magazine, 50% of the jobs are vulnerable to automation. Some sectors are more prone to automation, particularly those having repetitive tasks, where AI-powered robots can easily replace humans. Rapid advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning will likely jeopardize the employment prospects of not only blue-collar workers but also white-collar employees.

So, how do you future-proof your career?  

Continuous learning is probably the single most important antidote for staying relevant amid the turbulence of the 4th industrial revolution. According to a futurist: the purpose of education in the 21st century is to distinguish oneself from a machine. Although we probably can’t emulate the speed at which machines can learn, the idea is to keep learning in order to stay relevant amid the rapidly evolving world.   

I have become a big fan of the concept of ultra-learning since reading the book UltraLearning by Scott H Young. Ultra-learning is the systematic and focused approach to self-directed learning and is appropriate for those looking to acquire specialized knowledge and skillset within a compressed timeframe. For example, anyone planning to learn to code might not be in a position to devote significant time and resources by enrolling at a university; but might be able and willing to complete self-paced online courses, read relevant books, and practice coding.  

Over the last six months, I have tried to adopt the following techniques (gleaned from the book) which have paid rich dividends in fostering my ability to engage in focused learning.

Know your ‘Why’: Ultra-learning is mentally taxing and requires significant willpower and attention to keep toiling amid a plethora of distractions e.g. Netflix. It’s therefore imperative to have full clarity on the rationale for undertaking an ultra-learning project. Someone aiming to become a data scientist might find it worthwhile to systematically focus on learning R or Python. Others without specific career goal alignment might repeatedly falter and eventually lose interest.

Develop a learning map: It’s imperative to learn how to learn. This means researching what materials to absorb and what online courses to complete. The main goal of this meta-learning exercise is to understand the path of least resistance while planning the ultra-learning project. The research process might also entail reaching out and interviewing individuals who have gone through a similar journey or have mastered a certain discipline. A solid learning plan will smoothen the process of learning any discipline.  

Practice to retain: Learning is useless without retention, and regular practice can not only deepen understanding of the discipline but instill confidence. For example, someone looking to become a good public speaker should not only read relevant books but regularly practice public speaking in front of a crowd.

Feedback loop: The learning process should be iterative in nature and any bottlenecks to learnings have to be dealt with by making possible course corrections. If any material is proving to be difficult to absorb, the learner might decide to read more foundational content or watch relevant YouTube videos, which would help clarify complex concepts.

Let me know if you have any other relevant strategies.

Happy learning!

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