How to Learn the 21st-Century Way

We live in an exciting time. Never before in the history are there so many resources available for individuals. Never before in the history are there so many opportunities for us. Here, in the 21st century, lack of resources or opportunities is no longer a problem. The problem is how to take advantage of them.

Let’s see some of the things you have today:

  1. Knowledge at your fingertips
    With just a few keystrokes or mouse clicks, you can get to know almost anything. You don’t need to go to the library for that. You don’t need to call an expert. In most cases, you just need to go to Wikipedia. If Wikipedia doesn’t have it, Google is there for you. This is not to mention the many other resources available.
  2. Easy communication
    Communicating with people from halfway around the world is just about as easy as communicating with someone next door. Not only that, you can choose the mode of communication you like. Between Twitter, Skype and Facebook, there are many flavors of communication you can choose from.
  3. A voice
    For many years, individuals can only be passive recipients. In the age of radio, newspaper, and television, you were just a consumer. You couldn’t have a voice. But now you can. Everyone can start their own blog or YouTube channel and have a worldwide audience. You can become the producer and not just a consumer.

Of course, in this kind of world, we need a new way to learn. The strategy that worked well in the 20th century may no longer work today. We need to know how to learn the 21st-century way.

For that, there is one thing to keep in mind: the world is moving fast. What was popular two years ago might no longer be popular today. What is popular today might no longer be popular two years from now. So, to be an effective learner, you must be quick to adapt. You must become a versatilist. Don’t stick with things that no longer work. Change the way you do things as situation demands.

With that in mind, here is what I believe is an effective learning strategy for the 21st century:

1. Stay up to date

Before anything else, you need to know what’s going on in the world today, not just in your field but also in other fields. This is how you see new threats or opportunities coming.

I do that by subscribing to blogs and publications through an RSS reader (I use Google Reader). Some people prefer to use Twitter and that’s fine too. Just use whatever tool that works for you.

The important thing here is to keep the signal-to-noise ratio high. Get rid of the sources that don’t give you enough value for your time.

2. Make assessments of the subjects you come across

When you find something interesting from step 1, look for more information about it. For example, if you find a new term that you are not familiar with, look for the definition and some background information. If you see that a certain field is getting popular, find out more about it and why it’s getting popular.

Your goal here is not to be an expert. Your goal is to know enough about it to understand the impact it might have on your life and the world. Your resources are limited, so you need to assess how good something is before committing more resources to it.

Wikipedia is your friend here. It gives you good background information about practically any topic you want.

3. Immerse yourself in the promising subjects

When you decide that something is promising, allocate more resources (time and money) to it. Buy books, watch online lectures or tutorials, subscribe to related blogs. This is the time to utilize the abundance of resources you have on the Internet.

Here are some good sources of online lectures and videos:

  • iTunes U
    With iTunes U, you can find video and audio courses on many subjects. This is useful if you want to get a deep understanding of a subject. I, for instance, followed a course on iTunes U when I learned about application development for the iPhone.
  • YouTube
    YouTube has a lot of tutorials on practically any topic you want. Just enter your keywords into the search box and browse the results. If you find something you like, you might want to subscribe to the channel.
  • Khan Academy
    Khan Academy a good place to learn about basic science like math or physics. It also has videos on topics like economy and finance. Sal Khan (who makes the videos) is a great teacher who can explain things in a clear and fun way.

In addition, there are Q&A sites out there that you can use to find answers to your questions. Two of them are Stack Exchange and Ask MetaFilter.

The key here is to immerse yourself in the subject. Don’t just use one of the ways above; use as many of them as possible. Even better, don’t just watch or read the lessons. Do the exercises as well.

4. Create real-world projects

Real-world experiences are still your best teacher. Nothing can replace it, not even the abundance of resources mentioned above. Those resources simply help you get into the real world sooner.

One big advantage of living in this age is you can, in most cases, get into the real world much quicker and cheaper than ever before. For example, if you love to write, you can create a free blog in just  a few minutes. If you love to sing, you can record your performance and put it on YouTube in a matter of hours.

So take advantage of it. When you want to truly learn something, create something and put it in the real world. Learn from the feedback and adjust accordingly. Keep doing it and you will learn a lot in the process.


That, in my opinion, is how to learn the 21st-century way.

Remember, the world is changing fast. So keep this line from Steve Jobs in mind:

Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

For updates and interesting links, please follow me on Twitter.

Photo by yprime


  1. is a website worthy of mentioning.

  2. Very important post.
    What I would like to know more about also is how to retain what is learned and not forget it? like how to practice? is there a systematic and efficient way of practicing what one have learned? what are the best tools/learning aids that can help?

    • Many of the courses on iTunes U have exercises that you can work on. I found that doing the exercises was really helpful. Beyond that, I think the best way to retain what you have learned is to create a project out of it.

  3. I agree, the world is at our fingertips now. I believe it’s actually easier to communicate with people on the other side of the world than to the person next door. Do waste the opportunity for your voice to be heard.

    Great idea for an article! Thanks for sharing

  4. Donald:
    So true. I think we really do have to update our approach and strategy and learn in a 21st Century way because so much has changed and improved in terms of the access we have to information. I appreciated your advice though that you still have to do real world projects. It is so true.

  5. Its worth reading point #3 ten times 🙂 we might spend 5-10 years in our job, but taking interest and courage to spend few months on a promising subjects is what few of us does. That’s where the major difference comes in one’s life.
    Keep up the good post.

    • I agree with you, that does make a big difference. But that also takes a lot of effort which is why many people don’t do it. It’s our chance to stand out from the crowd.

  6. Hi Donald,

    I agree. We have so much wonderful technology to make use of now. It can make things that were once complicated and time-consuming so easy (once you understand how the technology works).

    To avoid information overload and confusion, I am careful to only choose to learn about what I need at that moment. Then I can better enjoy my new discoveries.


    • Karen, that’s a good suggestion. One danger with the abundance of resources we have is to learn something that turns out to be unnecessary. Our time is limited, so we must be careful with how we spend it.

  7. Hi Donald

    I am ravenous and I am such a fool that I surround myself with people – like you – who are smarter than myself – and take notes furiously. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  8. Hi Donald,
    Food and fun sound like great motivators to me. Time becomes the great equalizer. If you could focus on only 2 specific tools, where would you spend your time?

  9. Sometimes, I feel like I’m on information overload. There’s a tremendous amount of information available online; not to mention the number of newsletters, blogs, and videos you can subscribe to. It can be overwhelming.

  10. Hi Donald,

    I agree that keeping up to date is very important. New opportuniteis are waiting for everyone now days. It is just a matter of harnessing the 21st century.

    I do like, “4. Create real-world projects”. We don’t have to just listen to the news now, but we can hear and learn from real people that have been there.

    For myself I have made friends with people accross the pond. I learned that in London a cookie is a biscut.

    I think what I like best about the 21st century is I am learning that where ever we live we are all connected and want the same things. Live life, enjoy it and love our work.
    Thank you Donald for helping move us forward.

  11. This article is really useful , exactly i have learnd many things from youtube the i had no acsess to it thank you

  12. Even though I studied IT at college I only just started to realise how amazing the internet is over the last couple of years. As you pointed out we can find out anything using Google/Wikipedia in a matter of seconds for free! When not so long ago you would have had to go all the way to the library and dig out a book.

Comments are closed.