As leaders in the business of lifelong learning, most of us would likely label ourselves as “lifelong learners”. But how many of us have actually learned how to learn? Since this isn’t a skill that is traditionally taught in the education system, the reality is that most of us probably haven’t explicitly learned this critical – and potentially life-changing – skill.
Nasos Papadopoulos, founder of MetaLearn, a Web destination for learning about learning, is a university lecturer and online course author who is passionate about helping others master their own learning. His work, including his course Make Me A MetaLearner, gives people the necessary tools and techniques to become an effective lifelong learner.
In this episode of the Leading Learning podcast, Jeff talks with Nasos about what metalearning is and why it’s important as well as reflections and advice related to his own experience as a learner, podcaster, and course author.
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[00:18] "]– Thank you to Blue Sky eLearn, sponsor of the Leading Learning podcast for the first quarter of 2018. Blue Sky is the maker of the Path learning management system, an award-winning, cloud-based learning solution that empowers your organization to maximize its message. Blue Sky also provides a range of virtual event and instructional services to help you maximize your content and create deeper engagement with your audience. To find out more about Blue Sky eLearn and everything it offers, visit https://www.blueskyelearn.com.
[01:14] – Highlighted Resource of the Week – Nasos Papadopoulos’ MetaLearn YouTube channel – features dozens of brief videos covering topics ranging from how to learn from famous figures like Elon Musk, Marie Curie and Charles Darwin to how to leverage important learning techniques like spaced practice, reflection, and elaboration. This is a great resource to help you boost your own learning – and also a great resource to share with the learners you serve.
[01:52] – A preview of what will be covered in this podcast where Jeff interviews Nasos Papadopoulos, founder of MetaLearn.
It is noted that Jeff first connected with Nasos about a year ago when he interviewed Jeff for his MetaLearn podcast—catch the interview at https://www.metalearn.net/podcasts/ml56-jeff-cobb.
[03:17] – Introduction to Nasos.
[03:44] – Can you say just a bit about what you mean by “metalearning” and why you think it is something that deserves they kind of focus you are giving it? Nasos defines metalearning as the process of learning how to learn. The analogy he often uses when talking about metalearning is zooming in and zooming out—you want to be able to zoom out enough to be aware of what you’re actually doing when you’re picking up a new skill and as a result you’re better able to improve it and make faster progress.
[05:18] – Greece is the birthplace of philosophy—did your Greek background influence you? Or what else influenced you to become so passionate about learning? Nasos reveals the thing that got him interested in metalearning was when he graduated from university, and was supposed to go into finance but decided to do a u-turn and massively revaluate what he was doing with his life and career. He quickly realized he was going to have to learn a bunch of new skills but realized that’s not something they teach you how to do in school. He was also tutoring part-time which allowed him to stay flexible and experiment and he wanted to help his students learn effectively. All of this sparked an interest in diving into research about the learning process. Nasos notes that his Greek background has been a massive inspiration to him in the learning process.
[07:30] – You have a Greek last name but listeners will notice you have a British accent. Did you come up in the British school system? How well were you prepared to be a better learner? Nasos shares that he grew up in London and went through a very good secondary school (high school), then went to Oxford to study economics and management, and then obtained a three-year degree. In terms of the skills his education provided him, Nasos says it certainly gave him the ability to communicate effectively—to write clearly, speak clearly, and make logical arguments—which he argues are extremely important and often undervalued by people who are too focused on just pure instrumental skills. What he thinks his education didn’t give him was a perspective of where the world was going. He also wasn’t taught how to learn. Had he known then what he knows now, Nasos says he would’ve been a much more effective student.
[09:49] – What do you think is motivating people who follow you (on your blog and podcast)? What do you hear from your subscribers/listeners about what they’re looking for and why they’re attracted to MetaLearn? Nasos thinks the work he’s doing is picking up on a problem that a lot of people have at the moment, which is the difficulty around taking a structured approach to your learning after you leave the educational system. We are living in a world full of noise where it’s difficult to identify what’s good and important and what isn’t. MetaLearn is trying to solve these problems to help people continue to learn throughout their lives by offering tools and techniques to make this process more effective and to prepare people for the 21st century—things like critical thinking, independent thinking, being exposed to multiple perspectives, and asking big and important questions about – not just about where the world is going – but about what’s important to you.
[11:50] – Do you think most people get that being a better learner is a skill that they need to have or are the people tuning in to you maybe outside the average a little bit? Nasos explains people are starting to recognize that it is extremely important because if you look at the trends in our society more broadly, things are changing so fast that we really need to be picking up new things on a continuous basis. Although people are starting to recognize the need, he says there is always a degree of cynicism about how meta/abstract to get about stuff which can take away from the practical experience of learning and make it meaningless. Something Nasos says he always tries to do with his work is to ground it in concrete examples in his own teaching and learning experience so that it’s not just intellectualizing about the learning process because the goal behind all of this is to get people to take real action in their lives to develop the skills they need to thrive.
[14:00] –What do you see happening in areas like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, robotics, etc.—all things that are going to have an impact in one way or another on learning? In terms of specific trends, Nasos admits he probably doesn’t know enough about them in order to make a qualified prediction. But he has identified that those are areas that are fundamentally going to change the world so he is being a lot more proactive about learning about them—the guests on his podcast over the past few months have been a lot more technologists and people who are involved in this space. He stresses that everyone should be getting at least a working knowledge of these things because they could potentially completely disrupt your life and career in ways you can’t even imagine. Nasos also talks about the importance of thinking critically about these technologies.
[17:18] – How do you decide that somebody is a good candidate to come on the MetaLearn podcast? Nasos describes what he looks for in a guest and says it boils down to three main things:
- He has to have a personal interest in them – it has to be something that he’s interested in currently or that sparked his curiosity because he feels that always brings out the best in the guest.
- They have to be a good communicator.
- They have to be saying something original or different.
[19:59] – Are there one or two interviews that stick out in your mind as very memorable – and why? Nasos says he just published episode 106 but about 70 of those are actual interviews. He talks about two interviews that stood out in his mind to include those with Seth Godin and Barry Schwartz.
[23:50] – What are some of the key pieces of advice you’d give to somebody who wants to launch and grow a podcast? Nasos’ advice for somebody thinking about launching a podcast is to:
- Just get started – you will learn so much once you actually start.
- Ask yourself, who is it for and what problems are you solving?
[27:15] – When you think about teaching people to be metalearners, how do you think about teaching that and how do people actually learn that (is it like the idea that it can’t be taught, but it can be learned)? Nasos agrees the idea of not being able to teach it but to learn it certainly applies to this because metalearning is ultimately about you developing an awareness of how you learn. Although he can’t teach this, he can give you a set of tools and techniques and a kind of broader framework/structure that will allow you to explore that in a way that means you actually do it. The way he sees his course, Make Me a MetaLearner is twofold – first, it walks you through the process of learning a new skill and then by doing this you develop an awareness of how you learn. Jeff recommends that learning businesses should consider licensing and promoting this course to their learner base because it’s going to help them create better, more engaged learners.
[31:08] – What are one or two things you will make sure you don’t do next time you create another course? Nasos talks about how he had a structure in his head for Make Me a MetaLearner for a couple of years before he actually produced it. Although it was good to wait because he developed a level of expertise, he thinks he could have put together a first draft more quickly. He stresses it’s really important to believe in what you’re putting out there but you have find a balance of what works for you. Also, don’t think that making your course more complicated will make it better—if anything it will make it worse for the user.
[34:58] – What is one of the most powerful learning experiences you’ve been involved in, as an adult, since finishing your formal education? Nasos shares two: The first was related to a trip he took to Brazil after graduating where he decided to learn Portuguese in advance of the trip. This was a profound experience because he traveled alone which allowed him to meet a lot of new people and engage with locals in a deeper way. He was also there for a couple months and it allowed him to learn about himself and reflect back on his life from a different perspective. The second was when he started MetaLearn. Over the course of the project, he’s learned skills he could never have dreamed of learning so fast.
[39:00] – How to connect with Nasos and/or learn more:
[39:48] – Wrap Up
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[41:40] – Sign off
For related episodes, see:
104. Learning How to Learn with Dr. Barbara Oakley
97. Mindfulness and Learning with Dr. Ellen Langer
78. Design for How People Learn with Julie Dirksen
31. Exploring How We Learn with Dr. Monisha Pasupathi
20. Make It Stick with Peter C. Brown