Learning to learn: a series on hacking your own brain

I recently partook in a discussion among some fellow community managers on the best ways to learn about the industry and how to train its future generations. When the conversation reached the point where we all shared the “training” we went through ourselves, the answers began getting interesting.

“I studied marketing in college.”

“I studied communications and the art of rhetoric.”

“The job I’ve had that contributed most to the development of my community management skills was being a community manager.”

“My social life and interactions with others have been one of the biggest contributors to my professional skill set.”

It’s no secret that there just isn’t a degree to be earned in social media or community management. In fact, I graduated college one short year ago, and never even knew that this extensive professional field existed until I was thrown into it.

The reality is, this isn’t only the case for community management. It’s the case for SEO. It’s the case for entrepreneurship. It’s the case for social advertising and Internet marketing. We’re living in the transition phase from analog to digital; from broadcasting to social conversing.

How, then, can we find the proper education and training to become experts in these fields? Though there’s not one training program fit for everyone, there is one thing we can all do: learn how to learn.

Following this conversation, I was inspired to start a new journey for myself: I’m going to learn to learn. Whether this means learning how to learn or learning for the sake of learning I’m not sure. Maybe it’s both. What I do know is that both of those goals are extremely important today and I’m sure there will be great value to be found in the process.

Step 1: Get a Notebook. Or Three.

Call me old fashioned, but I love to write things down. There’s a mental reaction in our brains when we write things down with a pen that simply can’t happen from typing things out. It helps us better process information and remember it, and makes it easier to go back and reference.

What’s my “notebook strategy,” you may ask?

-One large legal pad for outlining tactical things I learn and can put to use immediately.
-One smaller notebook for To-Do lists and short-form notes.
-And, most importantly, one pocket-sized notebook that can be taken anywhere and everywhere, because you never know who you’re going to talk to. This notebook is already halfway filled with random tidbits, names of authors to explore, short pieces of advice, etc.

In the coming weeks (months, even), I hope to go through at least five or six rounds of these notebooks as I continue my mission to learn to learn.

Until next week! If you could learn about anything, what would it be? Let me know in the comments.

Ally Greer is the Community Manager for Scoop.it. For great content on social media, community building, and random nerdisms, follow her on Twitter (@allygreer).


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About the Author

Ally Greer
Ally is Scoop.it's Director of Content & Community. She loves to geek out over anything social, Internet, or tech related. When she isn't working, you'll probably find her running the streets of San Francisco. Follow Ally on Twitter @allygreer.

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26 Comments on "Learning to learn: a series on hacking your own brain"

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Crystal Coleman
So timely! I’ve been keeping notebooks full of notes from books, meetings, meetups, etc. And for the same reason… I feel like it hits me differently when I write it vs. typing it. The tough part is that, for me, the notes get taken and then I never look at them again or find them when I want to reference. I was actually thinking lately that I want to go through my notebooks and start turning them into evernote files so I can actually sort them and search through them easily, as well as copy from them when I want… Read more »
Ally Greer

I totally agree! I’ll definitely be taking time on a weekly basis to make sure I organize (and maybe even type up) my notes. Check back here to see that 😉

Seth Dixon
Great points…I LOVE that even employees of companies that are all about social media, emergent technologies on curating and producing materials still advocate for old fashioned notebooks. I personally love to take a composition book to professional conferences to take notes (makes it feel more official for me). Never feel that you learned (in the past tense) how to do something. The illiterate in the 21st century are going to be those that are unable to relearn how to do things in a changing technological landscape. If are skills are going to stay relevant, we must evolve with the landscape.… Read more »
Ally Greer

Thanks so much for the feedback, Seth! I always love hearing your opinion and perspective as an educator.

Also, I totally agree with the idea that we should never say learned in past tense. I’m all about always learning and I really think that it is a mission that can NEVER be complete, which is what makes it so awesome!

Heather MacCorkle Edick

I have a little notepad in our master bathroom for those “great thoughts” (ahem…) that I get while I am getting ready for work in the morning. 🙂


I love writing notes and lists on various pads, notebooks, smartphones, etc. However, I misplace the darn ‘physical’ pads (especially when I need them most!).

Marty Koenig
Crystal, writing things down to help commit to memory. I find that going back and reading my thoughts and notes often, helps my synthesize the information with the goal of putting the new learning into action. Learning for the sake of learning is nice, and knowledge can be powerful, but action and results that benefit you, your community and the world makes learning actually mean something. Ally, I’m a committed, life-long, continuous learner that’s insatiably curious about most things. Especially those things that I’m passionate about (and that’s a long list). If I could learn about anything, it would be… Read more »
Luciano Humberto Lampi
Ally, great topic! Three weeks ago I purchased a Galaxy Note 10.1 to combine hand notes with One Stop Storage. I still struggle with the small e-pencil but I`m getting better every day. Indeed it is very comfortable to have access to my notes everywhere through Dropbox (I can even display them with a Data Show. But, the main topic is that I`m a continuous learner and just now I`m improving my learning skills using CAS(Complex Adaptive Systems), very usefull in a world imersed in a Big Data framework. It is a good complement to our instincts and intuition! Take… Read more »

Mr Lampi, the world is surely completely surrounded and engulfed in Big Data, the little data becoming superfluous to the point of extinction, along with the exponents of it. I cannot currently find your topics on Scoop but I am sure they are as abstract as this post was. As for the Complex Adaptive Systems, the line between the wood and the trees grows increasingly blurred.

Cynthia Hartwig

One thing I like to do with whatever I’ve put in my notebooks is review the whole lot at the end of the week, then list the top 5 things I want to do with them. It’s a way to make the learning actionable.

Sam Burrough

Hi Ally – this is a really important topic because today things move so fast that you can’t expect to be prepared, you can only be ready to adapt and learn. Unfortunately most school systems around the world don’t teach kids how to learn, they teach them how to pass exams. I work in the learning and development department for an insurance company and this year we’ve been running an internal campaign to help people rediscover their natural passion for learning. Scoop.it is one of the main channels we’re using to make this happen, it’s such a valuable learning tool.

Dave Rothacker
Hi Ally, “How, then, can we find the proper education and training to become experts in these fields?” We go out and talk with folks who are on the road ahead of us. We nurture that contact by updating them on our progress and relating back ways their advice helped. The “what’s in it for them?” is knowing how they made a difference in another’s life. (Guess who is going to think of you when the need to refer someone comes up?) I would like to learn why most young adults (and old adults) are reluctant to do this. I… Read more »
hélène b.

Old fashion too. Your article gets quite to the point: with all pads tabs and whatever else they want we still like good old paper despite all the intents of skeuomorphic design (What? see: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20130509-apple-designs-break-from-the-past) but basically it’s the problem of the academia being rigid to quick changes. Rigidity was a mark of longevity before but now it has got to change and offer flexible curriculum where we learn to learn cuz anything else will be outdated soon

Van k Bazaldua

Very good tip, ideas always catch you in places less accurate. Keeping a small cuadreno annotations, has changed my life forever.

yves lefevere

Malheureusement je ne parle pas anglais, donc j’utilise un traducteur en ligne et je n’ai pas compris grand chose à votre démarche. Sachant que la traduction n’est pas toujours fidèle. Si vous pouviez m’apporter un peu plus d’explications…

Myster CreatIF
Ally! I was a public school teacher for 26 years and left to start my own business teaching kids how to take charge of their own learning, so this is a dear topic to me! More than ever, schools are not equipped to meet the needs of individuals because they are too focused on getting high test scores. I believe that every person’s education should be tailored to meet their dreams and goals; that it is a waste of money and time to deliver a curriculum designed for everyone. I have literally yesterday started a business under the name Myster… Read more »
Jerome Provensal

Great topic, Ally! Looking forward to reading more about it.

I’ll probably skip the notebook part because I like to keep all the information available from either my phone, tablet or computer. I’ll use evernote for that. I hope that the change of medium won’t be an issue with the learning strategy that you have in mind.

Will you be talking about mind mapping (http://provensal.com/lbb/mind-mapping-mapping-ideas-in-and-out-of-your-brain/ )?


I’ve been in love with (OK….addicted) to the ‘notebook method’ you mention for decades. I still have all of them too! Great to thumb through if I ever need an idea or inspiration!

Amie Breedlove

I’m right there with ya! I have about 3 to 5 legal pads that contain info from everywhere. From client lists to webinars to to-do lists and more…it totally works for me and my brain that likes to learn, as well. 🙂 Looking forward to your series!

Mayan Avitable

Other than a few sticky notes, I never write things down because I have gotten so dependent on Evernote that I don’t even need to any more.I have so many projects going it’s a tool I have found to be so valuable — not only for jotting things down, but for organizing info from the web, email, and everything. It syncs my information with my computer, my phone, and my tablet. It is also available on the web. Very handy to take all of it with me everyplace. See it here http://www.evernote.com.


This idea works for me because it really helps me organize the information rather than having it all in one book and then just having a Mish mash of stuff that is hard to use. Thanks for this!

Colin Mackay
“The reality is, this isn’t only the case for community management. It’s the case for SEO. It’s the case for entrepreneurship. It’s the case for social advertising and Internet marketing. We’re living in the transition phase from analog to digital; from broadcasting to social conversing.” We are not transitioning from ‘broadcasting to social conversing’; these represent two completely different functions. Do I want that guy/girl who yells fire when there is one, absolutely! Do I want a source of news and reliable information, absolutely! Do I want to engage in the broader conversations surrounding shared interest and group identity, absolutely!… Read more »
Mark G

I use Evernote to do the same thing .. which I know kind of defeats the object of writing it down but I know I won’t leave the house without my phone whereas I frequently leave the house without many other things I really should have with me … keys, money, wallet etc.

Frank C
I’m actually on the same quest myself. I’ve been (better yet, was) in financial services for 14 years and needed to retrain myself to actually think and learn again. Versus just memorize and create habits, which I think summarizes what it’s like to work in financial services, equivalent to being on autopilot. Just because you can execute a task doesn’t necessarily mean that you actually understand what’s going, hence some of our most recent issues. I am now trying to explore more creative avenues. I have kept a marble notebook of ideas and thoughts for awhile to combat the brain… Read more »
Thank you, Ally Greer for initiating this topic. Plus, these personal learning experiences in each comment are amazing, thank you all for sharing. My experience is different and old-fashioned now. adopted to this complicated procedure of note taking: For tasks/events i use two ways: on the go: Astrid mobile app for tasks (which sync to Google Calendar) on desktop: Google Calendar For ideas/brainstorming notes i use this procedure: on the go: ipad notes app or Google phone notes app (all sync) on Desktop: a) white board for brainstorming, then save it as a picture into dropbox, [save it to penzu]… Read more »
Reginald Gite

This is the very same concept I have been using for years. I do take it one step further, I also keep a notepad on my nightstand were I sleep so I capture my dreams, thoughtsand ideas when l wake up in the morning.

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