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4 Tools for Continuing Your Education

July 9, 2013

For most people,  the idea of continuing education after graduating college or high school calls up images of grad students with no dating life wearing big glasses and ugly sweaters. Many people want to become smarter, wiser, and more well-read, but the idea of “learning for life” seems daunting. Lifelong education is seen as something for overachievers, genuises, and nerds.

“Gee whiz, I just love education!” said Stanley

However, in today’s world it is easier to continue your education than it has ever been. Modernity is filled with distractions, from Duck Dynasty to Twitter (And yes, I love both of those). But it has also given us unparalleled access to educational resources. Anyone with an internet connection, a car, a few dollars and some motivation can begin the quest for lifelong learning without ever stepping foot in a classroom. Here are some helpful tools for continuing the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.

1. Goodwill: Education comes in two forms–experiential and conceptual. Most of us don’t have any problem with gaining experiential learning–unless we’re hermits or couch potatoes, we are always going to be doing something. The problem most of us have is a lack of conceptual learning. We don’t read enough. “Readers are leaders and leaders are readers” says the proverb. The conceptual ideas we learn from books give us new ways in which we approach our experience (job, relationships, etc.) By reading, we are able to learn from wise people, even if they are dead or absent, and we can gain new perspectives we may not find otherwise.

“I’m gonna pop some tags…”

So we want books. But where should we find them? The library seems like the first choice, but if you check out books from the library you can’t mark in them or keep them for future reference. Books-A-Million and other stores are often filled with trinkets, fluff, and display tables for zombie comics. Finding literature in a bookstore becomes an achievement for specialists.Online retailers offer a dizzying array of choices, but don’t allow you to browse, or find surprises. Goodwill and other places that sell used books (Salvation Army, Friends of the Library Sales) are your best bet for building up a library. The selection is limited, but this means that you won’t be overwhelmed by too many choices. You can find many good books for very reasonable prices here. Some of my recent purchases from Goodwill/Salvation Army include Gibbons’ Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire, A Community Of Character by theologian Stanley Hauerwas, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And it’s cheap–you can walk out of a Goodwill with ten or fifteen books for around ten bucks sometimes. I suggest using Goodwill to browse and build up your collection. Amazon and chain bookstores are better when you’re looking for something specific.

     2. Pens: This is one of the greatest tools you can use for your education. A pen can mark notes or underline passages in books that you’re reading. A pen is great for taking notes in a notebook. If nothing else, a pen can make you look more intelligent when you hold it in an intelligent looking way. There are debates that rage over ballpoint vs. fountain pens–it really doesn’t matter as long as you’re going to use it. It is a simple tool, but can be used very effectively.

“I am just loving this lecture on the Napoleonic Wars!”

3. Podcasts and Audiobooks: Books are great, but there are some times when they are not convenient. For one, you shouldn’t read while you are driving. I’m glad the police let me off with a warning. For those times when it’s not practical to have a book, podcasts and audiobooks are a great resource. You can listen to them when you are driving to work, when you are exercising, when you are cleaning house–whenever. I don’t listen to these very often, but there are plenty of great resources all across the web for finding informative and intelligent podcasts. At the very least, you can start by looking around on iTunes. And don’t forget about the CDs put out by The Teaching Company. They’re expensive, but sometimes you can find them used.

“Dear Diary…”

4. Notebooks: Taking in all this information is good, but remembering and processing it is the hard part. I can easily read a whole book and forget what it was about. Note taking is a good habit to form if you want to be reading and listening with profit. Notebooks can be used in different ways that suit your specific needs. Right now I have three notebooks going. The first is a “commonplace notebook,” or a book of quotes. In this, I write down any interesting, funny, or wise sayings that I find in my readings. The second is what I call an “obiter dictum” notebook–“obiter dictum” is just Latin for “remark said in passing.” In this one, I write down things that I come up with–witty sayings, insights, bits of poetry, whatever I happen to think off the top of my head. The third notebook I call the analysis notebook. I basically use this notebook for taking notes whenever I’m listening to a speaker somewhere. You can use any of these notebook ideas, or something different entirely, like creative journaling, or even sketching. The point is that putting in writing the things you have learned will solidify them in your mind, and add to your breadth of wisdom.

One Final Tip: “What should I read about?” you ask. “Whatever you want to!” I answer. If you’re wondering where to start your lifelong learning, start with something you’re interested in. It’s good to be a Renaissance man or woman, but if the prospect of cracking open a book fills you with fear, don’t start with something like Foundations of Anglo-American Jurisprudence, 1300-1800. If you like science, start by reading some good science books; if you enjoy all things medieval, check out a work of medieval history, or Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. All knowledge begins in wonder. Seek out the things that fill you with awe.

Current Listening: The Weight of Glory: Songs Inspired by C.S. Lewis by Heath McNease, The Spirit of the Radio: Greatest Hits by Rush.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 9, 2013 1:37 am

    Good stuff. My local Goodwill has no books – it is also the hometown of Duck Dynasty. I will let you draw your own conclusions.

    I kept an obiter dictum once – it immediately filled with polemics against modern evangelical worship and other Dove Chocolate Christians.

    I like (free downloads weekly, cheap stuff otherwise) and (mostly free stuff). I can load up my phone and blast through 7 or 8 hours of lecture a day at work (not recommended for all vocations, such as brain surgeon or leopard hunter).

    One tip I heard once (that I am going to try more often) is when you start a new book, take a 8.5×11 piece of printer paper and fold it into a fourth. Take notes on this, mark down page numbers, etc, so you can have a quick reference. Use it as a bookmark while reading, and just tuck it inside the cover when you’re done. This technique was invaluable when I was writing my series of reviews of Evolution and the Christian Faith (Bolton Davidheiser).

    • July 11, 2013 9:22 pm

      I’ve never tried the printer paper trick, but I have used the back page of a book as a personal index, and I’ve seen index cards used for the same thing.

  2. dwgill permalink
    July 13, 2013 5:57 pm

    I would recommend this site to anyone seeking a significant education online:

    • July 13, 2013 11:56 pm

      Thanks, Dan. Do you by any chance remember the one website you showed me that had myriad links to different online lectures and things?

      • dwgill permalink
        July 14, 2013 1:12 am

        If I have directed you to any such website I think that is probably it. They just have so many links that they implemented a search engine to index all the resources. There should be an option below the search box to display the full list.

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