This past week, I downloaded the Duolingo app on my phone. If you aren’t familiar, Duolingo is a free educational app that has “gamified” the way that you learn to speak and read a new language. (In case you’re curious, there are currently 28 languages you can choose from; I chose Spanish.)

I downloaded this app because I’ve found myself playing Two Dots, an addictive game on my phone, a little too much lately. I got to thinking, if I’m really in need of a distraction, why don’t I at least try to learn a little something while I’m at it?

Duolingo is just one example of how easy it is to learn something new right now. And, despite the fact that I’m really enjoying the app, I have to admit that I’m also a little overwhelmed by all the different ways that I can learn.

The amount of information that is available to us through blog posts, podcasts (Duolingo just launched one of those too), training sites like Lynda and Skillshare, and online course sites like CreativeLive where you can view live courses for free (if you can carve out the time in your schedule) — not to mention the older technologies like, ahem, books — is absolutely amazing.

Here’s the problem: I’ve realized that I’ve started collecting some of these learning experiences as if just owning them means that I am somehow absorbing the knowledge. This is especially true of things like online courses, which I always have good intentions to carve out time for, but also things like ebooks (I currently have 115 unread on my Kindle).

As the learning has become easier, it has also become easier to collect these experiences without ever truly engaging with them. There’s a satisfaction to knowing that you “own” the knowledge.

Well, I think we all know that learning and knowledge don’t really work that way.

Owning the book, buying the course, or downloading the podcast is not the same thing as reading the book, taking the course, or listening to an episode.

In other words, the real learning takes time.

And, yet, there’s a certain amount of comfort knowing that you have the possibility for learning just waiting in the wings… it you could ever carve out the time to just experience it.

It’s the ultimate FOMO (fear of missing out), especially for an academic.

Cheap learning? Or free learning? I’m totally there.

However, in the past year when I’ve been actively pursuing learning for my small business (for example, through my coaching training), what I’ve really seen is that the best quality of learning for me is coming from the experience I’m gaining over time. It’s also coming from making mistakes.

And it’s really hard to get those same benefits from an unread ebook.

To be sure, I’m not giving up on learning through all the mediums that I’ve mentioned above. You know I love a good podcast episode and I’m a bit addicted to keeping up a streak on Duolingo. But I am committing to being a bit more intentional about what I’m trying to learn and why.

I’m looking to my vision statements from earlier this year to make sure that I’m learning for a purpose, while also trying to leave some room for exploration.

Through this reflection, I’ve also realized that sometimes I collect the things I want to learn out of fear. That I don’t know enough. Or even that I’m not enough.

And, you know what? That just sucks all the fun out of learning.

When learning is driven by fear, it’s no longer about curiosity and wonder. It becomes all about trying to keep up with outer expectations.

So, I’ll be spending the next little while culling some of these learning experiences that I’ve collected over time. I’m going to start by reflecting on my inner expectations for my learning. What do I want to learn and why? And how will learning that thing help me achieve my vision and goals?

I’m looking forward to seeing what I find out.

To think on:

  • What are you trying to learn right now?
  • What are your inner expectations?
  • Have you invested in any learning opportunities that are waiting in the wings?