People-Driven Learning

The Internet is inspiring a people-driven model of online learning.

It’s the end of intellectual silos and soul-crushing specialization. 

The traditional learning environment inhibits the cross-pollination of ideas. It’s led to a world of isolated subjects where cutting-edge discoveries in fields like physics and mathematics can only be understood by a small number of people. 

To see why, consider the layout of our university campuses. Earlier this year, I audited a philosophy class at Columbia. Before class, I finished my reading in the coffee shop at the journalism school on the western side of campus, met my friend at the business school on the northern side of campus, and walked with him to the philosophy building on the eastern side of campus.

To show the fragmentation of academia, the graph of the sciences below highlights the disconnect between fields as measured by co-citations between fields. 

How Learning on the Internet Contrasts This Model

We’re desperate for an alternative to siloed learning. With its people-driven approach to information discovery, online learning will inspire a generation of polymathic thinkers. A kingdom of epiphanies is waiting for intellectual ambassadors who can connect the dots across disciplines. 

The People-Driven Method is driven by influencers instead of professors and the serendipity of the Internet instead of the rigidity of a classroom curriculum. It’s also a more natural way to learn because humans are wired to be interested in other people. For proof, look at People Magazine. Beginning in the 1970s, it had the largest paid audience of any American magazine. Today, it’s the most valuable magazine in the world. 

How can you benefit from people-driven learning?

The best way to get started is to form a Personal Monopoly.

How to Benefit From People-Driven Learning: Build a Personal Monopoly

You can benefit as a creator and a consumer. 

As a creator, you should build content based on a personal monopoly — your unique combination of skills, interests, and personality traits. 

The Internet creates winner-take-all markets, which reward people who define and master their own areas of expertise. Unlike school, it rewards people who create instead of compete. In school, we are taught the same things. We learn the same subjects so we can ace the same standardized tests, attend the same colleges, and work for the same prestigious companies.

But the Internet rewards people who are different. It rewards learners who escape the well-worn path and fuse their interests to create their own discipline instead

Here are three examples: 

  • Meagan Morrison: She built a career around travel, writing, and a drawing style defined by bright colors, fashionable outfits, and sweeping brush strokes.

  • Peter Attia: By focusing on healthspan (how many years you’re healthy for) instead of only lifespan (how long you live), he created his own way of thinking about longevity.

  • Casey Neistat: Neisat fused his passion for filmmaking, skateboarding, and consumer technology, to pioneer vlog-style YouTube videos. 

How You Can Take Advantage of People-Driven Learning

Building a Personal Monopoly is the best way to thrive as a creator, but there are two ways for consumers to take advantage of people-driven learning. 

  1. Follow the Trader Joe’s Strategy

  2. Become a Fan

I’ll take each in turn.

  1. The Trader Joe’s Strategy: This strategy revolves around finding an online curator to be your learning guide. They will do the hard work of finding information for you, so you can spend less time searching for ideas and more time consuming them.

    What makes a good online curator? 

    A good curator will reduce the number of options you have to consider. In that way, they’re like Trader Joe’s. The typical grocery store has 35,000 items in a store, but the typical Trader Joe’s only has 3,000. The chain scouts and sources their products, so customers don’t have to sort through tons of choices. Compared with other grocery stores, Trader Joe’s has fewer options with higher average quality. It’s no coincidence that of all the grocery stores I know, Trader Joe’s has the most loyal customers.

    Example: Take a look at James Clear’s list of great speeches and Patrick O’Shaughnessy’s list of great books.

  2. Become a Fan: Resist the conventional wisdom to start by reading all a creator’s books. If you’re anything like me, you do this naturally. I’m spending more time reading summaries and less time reading books. Yes, I feel guilty about it. But no, it’s not a bad thing. Start with articles, summaries, and podcast interviews, and only buy their books when you’re ready to devote 15-20 hours to exploring their ideas. 

    Example: I want to learn about Gilles Deleuze, who is one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century. His ideas are famously complicated, so I familiarized myself with his ideas by listening to summaries. I started with a 15-part series from John David Ebert and a series of lectures by Justin Murphy. Then, I listened to podcasts hosted by Deleuze scholars. Unlike books, lectures are affordable and I can listen to them while I’m on-the-go, which makes the learning process efficient and enjoyable. 

Similarly, studying Marshall McLuhan led me to Lewis Mumford’s critiques of technology, Water Ong’s perspectives on literacy, and Martin Gurri’s analysis of the political impact of information abundance. All those ideas led to the most popular essay I’ve ever written: What the Hell is Going OnTrue to the people-driven learning mentality, studying McLuhan helped me find my personal monopoly: teaching online writing. Following the intellectual breadcrumbs of his mind is the best caution engine I’ve found, better than any curriculum or social media feed. 

People-driven learning is more fun and efficient than the traditional learning model. As you curate your social media feeds, you can access an entire library of ideas instead of having to slog between university buildings to engage with new ideas. As you cross-pollinate ideas, you’ll find the synthesis of new ideas and make unprecedented connections between them.

Each week, I write two popular emails. Monday Musings is a collection of the coolest things I learn every week. Meanwhile, Friday Finds is a links-only newsletter where I only share the kinds of ideas you won’t find anywhere else. 

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