How to Learn from Others

Educational Consultant, Research Psychologist, and Writer

Last Updated: May 3, 2016

Humans are better than any other animals at learning from one another. Take advantage of this superpower and learn from as many people as you can. At least, learn the good things and not the bad stuff.

You can learn from others both directly and indirectly.

Direct learning takes place when you ask people how they do something, listen to their answer, and try to imitate what they did. A good example is asking friends how they are going to find the time to do all the reading for a literature assignment.

Indirect learning is when you observe someone doing something and imitate the procedure the person follows. Suppose you notice that a friend doesn’t eat in the cafeteria, but instead brings lunch to a quiet spot and eats while studying. The friend is always on time for the next class. This seems like a good strategy, so you imitate it. By doing this, you have to give up some social time with friends in the cafeteria, but you think it is a reasonable swap.

When learning from others, you have to be sure to evaluate the effectiveness of what you have learned. Not everyone is successful with the same strategies. The evaluation should take place in two phases. In phase one, you determine the likelihood of the strategy working with you. If you think it may work, then try it. Be sure to follow through with the second phase of the evaluation, determine how successful the strategy was after you have completed it.

A surprising number of people are reluctant to learn from others. They feel it is somehow demeaning, especially in academic areas or life skills. Nothing could be further from the truth. All of us try to imitate the techniques of skilled athletes, business people, scientists, and such. There is no reason why we should feel any different about people we consider our peers. If someone is doing something effective, don’t hesitate to try it out.

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