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2022-05-23

Rethinking Why, When, and How I Learn


Freakonomics Radio's recent Goes Back To School series was eye-opening as the episodes nicely highlighted how top-tier U.S. universities are operated like "business" by trying to differentiate their products to win the market while preserving their rarity/status in the society based on the strict selection process. As the education systems are commoditized in the developed countries, the real value of higher education and the definition of "good" education have become ambiguous. Thus, I personally believe we, as a learner, need to pause for a moment and rethink why, when, and how we learn as an individual. Otherwise, we likely end up with losing control of own life and being one of numerous consumers who is unknowingly manipulated by the external forcesZombies.

Why I learn. For me, it's all about curiosity. For example, while I started learning software engineering when I was in high school and continued the journey ever since then, I don't see the skillset as a means to secure a job or income source; I wouldn't be surprised if I'm in a completely different occupation next year in case my curiosity is run out. In fact, my focus is leaning more towards nature, history, and social science lately so I can equip myself to tackle real problems I am personally experiencing on a daily basis. Hence, the next job may or may not be completely irrelevant to what I learned over the last decade, and making such unrealistic possibilities happen is the biggest outcome learning will eventually bring.

When I learn. Every day, every single moment. Learning is a lifelong journey of updating how I view the world. It's not like "I'm done once I graduate." When I finished my master's program, my original plan was to gain industry experience for 2-3 years and then enter a Ph.D. program because I saw university as a place to input something, whereas a company is more for making outputs. However, later I realized there are an infinite amount of things to learn in the industry as well, and the environment still works satisfactorily enough considering what I'm currently curious about.

How I learn. Importantly, going to a school is not the only way to satisfy curiosity, and there are many alternatives such as online courses, books, podcasts, interaction with friends/colleagues, and museums. As long as my interest diverges, I will take these "lightweight" options to gain multiple perspectives. Meanwhile, when the curiosity started conversing, that would be the moment I will rethink going back to school; I believe one of the biggest advantages of learning at school is how "deep" the outcomes can be, by focusing on a specific topic and establishing a strong mutual relationship with those who share the same interest but view the world differently.

Learning, especially entering a school, can be considered as a strategic investment, and it's true that the returns will unlock greater possibilities for the future regardless of what you learned. That said, it doesn't mean you no longer need to invest upon graduation. I personally want to be the person who doesn't stop learning until I die. Plus, I should not overlook the fact that I was very fortunate as I received solid education programs in a developed country; I feel I should be responsible for maximizing the learnings and applying the experiences to societal goodness.

Why do you learn? What does learning mean for you?

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  Author: Takuya Kitazawa

Takuya Kitazawa is a product developer, minimalistic traveler, ultralight hiker & runner, and craft beer enthusiast. Throughout my career, I have practically worked as a full-stack software engineer, OSS developer, technical evangelist, sales engineer, data scientist, machine learning engineer, and product manager. See my "now" page for more about what I am doing lately.

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Opinions are my own and do not represent the views of organizations I am/was belonging to.

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