Want to Become a Better Thinker? Start Learning in Public

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In this post, we cover:

  • Why learning in public helps sharpen your thinking
  • How talking about what you're learning helps organize your thoughts
  • How to check and re-check your assumptions through conversation
  • Why talking about what you're learning helps you look at things from new angles
  • How to get started putting all this in practice

I had a conversation a few weeks ago with someone who was trying to figure out how to think better about the things she was learning.

She was listening to podcasts and reading articles about topics she found interesting, but she wanted to figure out how to better organize her thoughts around the things she was learning.

I challenged her to make her learning public.

My case: there’s no better way to think than to have your learning public.

Learning in public isn’t just a good way to build a portfolio and make connections (and friends!). It’s also a great way to help you think better.

There are a few reasons why talking about what you’re learning is so valuable to your thinking:

  1. It helps you organize your thinking
  2. It incentivizes you to think harder about what you’re learning (to make sure you’re getting things right!
  3. It opens up angles of thought you may never have thought of before.

We’re going to talk about all of these here.

Talking about what you’re learning is one of the best ways to organize your thinking

You may have heard this before: Writing is one of the best ways to organize your thinking.

Writing (or any type of content you can create -- an explainer video, a podcast, etc.) is much more organized than just plain thinking.

Thinking is often a messy business. Our ideas are disjoined, and not always well thought-out. But when you’re creating an organized piece of content, you have to put your thoughts in order, in a way that makes sense.

That organization helps you better understand the topic you’re talking about.

Organizing your thoughts helps you see how different things relate to each other, and why things work the way they do. Explaining your learning to someone else helps you better learn yourself. It’s actually a very important part of the learning process.

Here’s what this looks like, in practice:

Have you ever noticed how, when you’re explaining something, you land on a phrasing you really like -- and then you use that same phrasing again and again?

I do this all the time -- in sharing a fun historical tidbit I’ve learned (I love history), in telling a story, or in explaining something work-related (like a new feature in Edvo!).

It’s like a shortcut hack for your brain. When you’ve explained something well, it becomes easier to remember that thing, and easier to reference it later.

This is how our brains work -- they like having phrasings for different things. Once you’ve explained something well once, your brain isn’t going to reinvent the wheel next time you have to explain the same topic. It goes back to the good phrasing you initially settled on. That phrasing becomes a part of your brain’s wiring around the topic in question.

Writing helps you build these pathways in your brain, because you have to explain (and phrase!) everything you’re learning.

Once you’ve explained something clearly in blog post form (or video form, or podcast form, or any other form you choose!), it’ll be much easier for you to reference or explain that topic again and again in the future.

Talking about what you’re learning pushes you to think more critically

When you’re talking about something publicly, you feel more incentive to get it right.

You double check things that you might not double check if you were only researching for fun -- which means that you think about things longer, harder, and better.

This extra level of checking is helpful for two reasons:

  1. It pushes you to think longer about the things you’re learning about (instead of reading something once, you go back and read it a second or even third time)
  2. It pushes you to sharpen your thinking, because you feel more pressure to double check the details. That in turn makes it more likely for you to catch the important stuff.

The stakes are much higher if you’re getting something wrong on a public stage -- and because you care more about the details, you’re more likely to think harder about what you’re learning.

In turn, that extra level of attention to detail helps you better remember the things you’re learning.

Here’s what this looks like, in practice:

I once had a friend who liked to finish writing his blog posts, click publish, and then do a final round of editing once the post was already live.

His logic: he was more likely to catch mistakes once the post was live than he would be if it wasn’t.

He had a fairly large blog following, too, so it’s not like no one would see any errors he made. But he knew he’d edit better when the stakes were higher.

He was tapping into something extremely true about being human -- that when we feel like we’re being observed, we’re much more likely to pay attention to the details.

Using that external pressure of being observed can be a great learning hack. I tend to remember the things I’m talking about publicly better than I remember the things I learn in private and never share. You’ve likely experienced the same thing -- and this is a fact of human nature that you can harness for your benefit!


When you engage in conversation around topics, it helps you look at angles you hadn’t thought about before

Personal challenge: next time you learn something new, engage in a Twitter dialogue (or even better, a Twitter argument) about the topic. Let me explain why.

When you post something publicly, especially on social media, you open yourself up to discussion about it. You’re basically signaling to the world: hey, this is a topic I care about, and I’m sharing something, and you’re welcome to respond.

Any discussion that ensues is key for sharpening your thinking, for two reasons:

  1. Talking through things in dialogue helps you sharpen and articulate your thoughts on a topic
  2. People will ask you questions you hadn’t thought about before. They’re likely looking at the topic from a different angle, and these new angles that open up will help you think about the topic better. 

When you share your thoughts on something, you’re sharing how you’re thinking about the topic. When someone responds from their own perspective, they might bring up a point you never thought about before. They might ask you a question you’ve never had to answer.

These things help round out your understanding of whatever topic you’re learning about.

Sidebar: It’s easy to feel intimidated by having people engage you in dialogue (what if they ask me a question I can’t answer? What if they call me out on something I got wrong?). But it should actually be something you embrace. These things don’t make you a bad learner -- they make you a stronger learner, because they push you to flesh out your own understanding!

Here's what this looks like, in practice:

I shared a blog post I’d written a couple weeks ago on social media, about a topic I’m very interested in -- homeschooling.

I got a response very quickly from someone I’d never met. This person was asking me clarifying questions on my stance (questions that insinuated that they didn’t agree with me).

These were all questions I was comfortable answering, but some of them were things I’d never had to articulate before. These questions forced me to sharpen my thinking around my take on homeschooling, and pushed me to put into words things I had vaguely thought about before, but had never consciously examined.

It took me a few minutes to fully answer this person’s questions, and doing so was the best investment I think I could’ve made with those few minutes.

I walked away from that conversation feeling even more confident expressing my ideas around the topic at hand -- and honestly, even with ideas for a couple more blog posts.

Ever since, I’ve felt like I’m walking around with a better understanding of this topic -- and that’s an empowering feeling.

So how do I put all of this into practice?

The key here is that learning in public is an important part of the learning process itself.

As long as you’re learning in public, how you do it is far less important -- meaning that you can and should do whatever works best for you. 

Social media is a great way to get started learning in public -- a simple LinkedIn post or Twitter thread is all you need to get started, and it can be done in as little as 10 minutes.

Blog posts, video explainers, and podcasts are all great formats, too -- and you can find instructions for getting started with all of these different mediums on our site. 

Really, though, the key is to make sure you’re consistently sharing what you’re learning -- so you want to choose the format that feels most natural for you.

And remember -- learning is supposed to be fun, and sharing what you’re learning should be too. So choose the format that feels most exciting to you, and have fun with the process!

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