I was thinking recently about learning processes and how they change, both from person to person and over time. It's interesting to me how streamlined we have made learning these days.
In the mainstream educational model, you become an expert (or at least educated) in a particular topic or field by paying a sum of money to an institution who in turn runs you through the gamut of material until you show them you know enough to be considered proficient, often indicated by a score received on a standardized test or piece of writing that is deemed acceptable. This is typically followed by some form of diploma or certificate indicating that you are competent enough to share or use your newfound knowledge.
Society has seemed to increasingly put faith in this process. In fact, the faith in this process is exactly how postsecondary educational institutions have managed to make so much money off of learning. I guess this works. It's kind of like "fast food" education, though. Immediately gratifying, but oftentimes ultimately insufficient.
When I think of the things that I feel the most knowledgeable about, most of the time they were learned by doing or experiencing things on my own. They always began with an interest or intrigue about something--a question and a deep desire to find the answer. Sure, this process includes tapping into the knowledge and expertise of others (just like mainstream education), because hunting down experts and analyzing their thoughts, ideas, opinions, etc., often created the foundation of my own beliefs.
However, the more important component in self-directed learning is a big and often incredibly time-demanding self-check. Rather than taking the word of others as gospel and running with it, I engage in trial and error and self-experimentation. I love this type of slow, gradual, and personal approach to learning. The patience required to uncover an interest or question, and go through the process of trying different things until you arrive upon a scenario that works or makes sense to you is very satisfying.
Two of my biggest interests, nutrition and endurance training, have been things I have spent countless hours studying and experimenting with. All the information that I have gained about these two interests were learned by asking questions, trial-and-error experimentation, and researching what others have done and proclaimed to work for them. Although this approach is much more time-consuming compared to the modern-day desk, professor, and textbook approach, I believe it to be much more satisfying and infinitely less dogmatic. It allows for the evolution of thought and belief as opposed to blind acceptance, with the added benefit of recognizing that very little in this world is really one-size-fits-all.
Approaching everything I do in this manner has taught me to not fear being wrong, but rather see every outcome as a stepping stone toward finding my own answer. In other words, learning is a journey, not a destination.