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Learning with Lists

List One of the more popular blog posting formats is the list post, probably most famously seen in the various memes that periodically go around, like the "8 Random Facts About Me" meme from a few months back. What I'm finding, though is that lists are really effective for learning, particularly when we use the "X Things I Learned from Doing X" format. This is a strategy you can use whether or not you're a blogger, although if you blog your list, you're likely to learn some additional things from comments. You also get to help other people learn from your experiences.

I see two big ways in which lists can help:

  • To debrief yourself on an event, project or activity.
  • To get yourself in the learning habit.

Use Lists to Debrief On a Project
I find that lists work particularly well as a way to debrief following a specific activity, project or event. For example, last week I blogged about the 9 Lessons I Learned From Running My First Webinar and after the 31 Days to Building a Better Blog Challenge, I came up with 31 Lessons I Learned from the experience. Lori Reed of Library Trainer has done the same thing with her 10 Lessons I Learned from Running My First Synchronous Training Session.

The other day I ran across a great Lifehacker post on how to move on from a big project. It has a ton of great questions you should ask yourself at the end of any assignment, each of which lends itself to some learning lists. Some of the questions include:

  • What were the best and worst parts of this project?
  • What were the good and bad outcomes?
  • What did I learn about myself?
  • What connections and contacts did I make that I could use for the future?

So the next time you complete a project, go to a conference or attend a workshop, try using a list format to debrief with yourself on what you learned.

Use Lists to Get Into the Learning Habit
Another key way to use learning lists is to get yourself into the habit of asking "What did I learn from that?" Try ending your day with a list of the three things you've learned in the past 24 hours or ending your week with the top 10 lessons. This could fit in well with your weekly GTD review if you're a Getting Things Done kind of person. You might also try ending meetings with a short list--each person could share two new things they've learned.

Your lists don't have to be long or complicated. Something as simple as "I learned that I need to leave 5 minutes earlier to get to this meeting on time" will do. The point is to use lists as a way to keep asking and answering the question "What Am I Learning?" It's also a good way to make sure that you ARE continuing to learn. If you find you consistently don't have things to put on your list, then that tells you something about the activities going on in your life. If you find that you're "learning" the same lessons over and over again, then you may need to re-think how and what you're really learning.

These are two ways that I've used lists to learn. Have you used lists in other ways? Any good examples to share? How do you think lists can help with learning?

Photo via arimoore


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Thanks for this. It sparked an idea. For me, writing is usually a learning experience to begin with. It's my medium of choice for figuring stuff out. And if I want to be sure to remember something, I'll write a blurb about it in my journal. Your learning with lists idea takes that a step further. I'm adding it to my list of things to try. :-)

I learn through writing, too, so that's probably why I like the list idea. And blogging. :-) Glad it helped.

Hi Michele
I usually add "What would I do differently next time?" to the project round-up set of Qs. It tends to focus on the really bottom line.

I've been finding lists really useful for learning recently.

There is something helpful in their bounded nature that makes capturing learning points manageable.

Starting with '5 things I learnt from...' means I only /have/ to come up with 5 things and can prevent myself getting carried away into long essays of learning that are not very useful to me or anyone else in future (although I usually find I'm going back to edit the title to 6 or 7 things later).

Good point, Tim, about how the bounded nature of a list makes you capture the essence of what you learned, rather than sending you off into long musings on a topic. That's something I hadn't considered. Thanks for that point.

Michele, you've inspired me yet again this week. I just put up a post with a list of some things I learned from a meeting facilitation workshop earlier this week: You are inspiring my blogging and thinking left and right this week! :)

Elisa--that's an awesome list! I love how you also wrote about what you wished you had learned and what could have been improved on the part of the facilitator. That's another great question to add to the list for learning from an experience!

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