6 Tips to Learn More Effectively as a Multipotentialite

6 Tips to Learn More Effectively as a Multipotentialite

Written by Neil Hughes

Topics: Learning

Whenever I meet somebody studying an obscure academic niche, I ask so many questions that it usually takes the poor researcher a while to realise I’m not being sarcastic and I genuinely want to know about (for example) 18th century plumbing in the Netherlands.

I’m prepared to admit that I might be weird, but I don’t think I’m alone in this: multipotentialites are often obsessed with learning.

Recently in the Puttytribe – our online community for multipotentialites – some multipods have been discussing their favourite learning methods.

The scientific evidence about people having different learning styles is heavily disputed (as a warning, I got too interested in learning about the debate about learning, so follow that link at your peril!)… but regardless of the science on the effectiveness of different learning styles, it seems that many people can express a style we prefer.

Personally, I’m more theoretical than practical. I’d happily absorb articles, lectures, and books without ever actually doing the thing I’m learning about.

Today, I thought the wider multipotentialite community might benefit from the discussion we’re having in the Puttytribe, so I’ve pulled out some highlights and lessons from the thread. Let’s see what our brilliant community has to say…

1. Learn By Doing

The debate about theory versus practice kept coming up in the discussion. I suspect the best approach is finding the mix which works for you, and noticing when you’re doing too much theory and not enough practice (or vice versa).

Matt says:

I don’t do well with JUST reading books, but if I can just start doing, then use a book as reference when I run into troubles I usually understand better. I’m very much a ‘learn to do by doing’ person. I’ll tend to do a little research on the internet, youtube vids, blogs, etc.- but I find I retain more by just getting in there and making mistakes.

2. Embrace Your Mistakes

And on that note, Maria says:

I like learning by doing and to learn from my mistakes, That is also kind of what being a multipod is to me: to dive in head first for the love of learning and just get to do a lot of fun stuff.

3. Use All of Your Multipotentiality to Learn

If you can bring in multiple skills and interests, then whatever we learn is more likely to stick. Meg and Cornelia say:

Anything goes: Reading, writing, listening, repeating, watching and practicing. Possibly in a complete smooshing approach.

Usually, I start out by researching (mostly online or through ebooks at the moment), then podcasts, YouTube or, if possible, online classes (Coursera, for example). I like to try stuff out and/or talk about it with others when I understand the basics. The next step would be wild experimentation and trying to connect that new thing with all that I have learned before °cue mad scientist laughter°

4. Get Immersed

Many people looked for ways to bring the learning into other parts of their lives. For example, Joan and Alicia shared these ideas:

When learning a language, I like to listen to songs [in the language], or watch music videos, or get an audio book.

I take my ebook to the gym and read it while on the bike or the crosstrainer.

I listen to TED talks while cleaning.

5. Try the FOR Method

Richard offered his own method, complete with an acronym (which always helps!):

I also learn by what I call the FOR method. (F)ocus, (O)bservation, (R)eflect. Focus on a subject, and then, Observe it in action (reading on websites, watch videos, or try it yourself). Then, Reflect on the experience, ask questions.

6. Keep It Fun!

And many people mentioned the importance of keeping motivation high. Alicia expressed this very succinctly:

The only downside to this approach is that it’s a bit “all work and no play”. Instead, I turn “relaxation” into another objective, so, for example,  if I am reading a novel it counts as part of my relaxation.

As well as ensuring relaxation is part of our goals, everyone agreed on the importance of remembering our initial motivation – whether that’s love of learning, completing a specific project, or reaching a certain level of mastery.

How Do You Learn?

As ever, the biggest hurdle with learning is often about recognizing our own blind spots. Perhaps we’ve been neglecting learning, or focusing too hard on it. Perhaps we’ve forgotten the fun, or our initial motivation, or we’ve forgotten to mix in our other interests. You know yourself best, and hopefully these snippets will remind you of something you can do to learn more effectively.

Your Turn

What’s your favourite way to learn? Do you have any tips or stories you could share with the community? Let us know in the comments!

Wanna play in our multipotentialite playground? Learn more about the Puttytribe here.

neil_2017_2Neil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety. Along with writing more books, he puts his time into standup comedy, computer programming, public speaking and other things from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question “so, what do you do?” and is worried that the honest answer is probably “procrastinate.” He would like it if you found him at walkingoncustard.com and on Twitter as @enhughesiasm.


  1. Dear Emilie,
    my favourite way to learn something is studying it, then stop studying and reprising it shortly after: it seems to me that something happens inside me, and the concepts become clear!

    What do you think about that method?

    Best regards …

    • Neil Hughes says:

      This happens for me, too – I’m sure the subconscious continues processing what we’ve learned even while we’re not directly working on something :)

  2. Susan Katz says:

    I mostly learn by doing, but I also enjoy watching Ted Talks–they give me new topics and new ideas to share about with my spouse, my friends, and my students (I’m a college professor). But I’m also a really busy person, so I have found that I rarely take the time to seek out and watch Ted Talks. When I knew that I was going to be absent for a week during the current semester, I gave my students the assignment of each finding a Ted Talk relevant to our coursework and posting it for everyone to see–along with their own introduction about why they chose it and how it was relevant. Of course, I then HAD to watch all of the Ted Talks! It was fun, and I think I have now shown myself that I can make the time to watch more Ted Talks in the future.

  3. Being a Learning Designer, as I am, is a wicked profession for multipotentialites! Not only do you get to learn about a new domain each time you start a new project, but you get to analyse it, reshape knowledge and expertise in a new way – and teach others! It involves lots of writing and empathetic prediction. Perfect. If anyone wants learn more about being a Learning Designer, just ask me here or @madelinep ??

    • Neil Hughes says:

      This sounds really cool, Madeline – it’s not something I’ve heard of before! Will have to check it out :)

    • Stefania says:

      Hi Madeline! I am very interested in Learning Design. I used to be a teacher (Elementary and ESL) for many years, then turned freelance tutor. I suspect I am a multipotentialite (just recently found our about Emily’s site and book): I have attended lots of courses on different platforms and different topics (I very much relate to the Coursera addiction Emily writes about) and became curious about creating a course myself, and then started to research a bit on Learning Design. I would love to know more from someone who is actually working in the field!

  4. Elise says:

    I have always been insatiably curious and dive into subject pools with abandon. The only problem is that I sometimes want to share what I have discovered with others. I guess I just need to keep the company of multipods. My preference is to meet face to face and not just online.

    My mode of discovery is not only experiential but from books and online googling. I facility between learning by doing and learning by reading.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      It is so good having someone to share that excitement with, especially when you’re in the honeymoon phase of early discovery! I hope you can find some local multipods, or enthusiasts for whatever you’re into!

  5. Anais says:

    Hi! Thanks for the article.

    Personally, I learn the best when I listen to someone explaining what they do. I try to relate to them and make connections between what they say (and feel) and what I’ve experienced myself in the past. That way, I get their motivation behind what they do, that’s what I find the most useful and it makes me want to learn more.

    (Of course for practical things you also have to learn by doing ;-))

    See you!

    • Neil Hughes says:

      That’s interesting, I’ve never thought of it like that before – putting yourself into the position of the teacher and imagining how it would feel to know what they know. I like it :)

  6. Morgan Siem says:

    I like to learn in a structured class format. If I’ve paid money and I have an instructor (who I respect), that seems to be the best way to summon my follow-through. I like courses that are given in an all-at-once intensive, rather than once hour a week for several months. I like the just set aside the entire weekend for one weekend rather than spread it out endlessly.

    Recently I took a 3-hour watercolor class. I’m brand new to visual art, and I found it terrifying then exhilarating :)

    • Neil Hughes says:

      I’m really liking how varied the comments are – sometimes I feel like I *should* learn in a different way than I prefer, but it’s a good reminder that everyone is different. Thanks Morgan!

  7. I often learn by researching. Sometimes I get lost down the rabbit hole of learning because there are just so many interesting things to learn about and then they inevitably spin off into other interesting things to learn about… :)

    • Neil Hughes says:

      I love that feeling of stumbling onto whole new realms of knowledge which I didn’t even know existed..! And the world is gratifyingly large enough that that just keeps happening :)

  8. Nelson says:

    I like the idea of learning by doing. I like to read but one can’t learn to swim, ride a bike, fly by reading about it.

  9. aselniczka says:

    I actually don’t care about learning for the pure sake of learning… If I need/want a skill – I do it. I didn’t learned Portuguese because I wanted to learn a new language – I wanted to learn it to understand the songs we were singing in capoeira, to be able to talk to Brazilians (who rarely speak English) and to my then bf. (I learned by following a textbook, which I never finished – I stopped when the lessons began to take more time than my way to work and back. That’s why my grammar is, well, quite simple. I’m still able to communicate quite fluently.)
    As for physical/artistic skills, I prefer figuring-out approach, especially if there’s a technique without a tutorial or a tutorial is not enough for my needs.
    I have to admit though, I really love the excitement of a new samba batucada piece to learn for a gig or an event…

  10. Pia says:

    I’ve recently taken up crossword puzzles again after decades of not doing them. It’s so much fun, more and more words and tricks are coming back to me, and I can barely stop.

    It also counts as my relaxation…… (when my other half is watching something silly on Netflix for instance, or instead of computer time with my morning coffe)

    • Mary-Lou says:

      My hubby has done crosswords for years, and I started doing them after I retired, to help my “cerebral cortex.” We finish each other’s puzzles…two heads are better than one! And if neither one of us can figure up the answer, I first check “Crossword Heaven,” then google the background info.

  11. Gabi says:

    I often go down the rabbit hole with learning. I do tons of research and maybe a class. Writing about a thing is always helpful for me. Talking to people who do the thing I am interested in is always good too.

    One of my branches is fiber arts (like yarn and wool), I started out small with just a bit of wool a drop spindle and a You Tube video. Almost eight years later I teach classes, have my own sheep and angora rabbits, but totally as a sided gig. I recently jumped back into singing which I haven’t been doing in a while, and I feel the need to get some voice coaching. I find music to be very intuitive and natural but always want to improve. Maybe it is time to learn a new instrument. So lessons or You tube or maybe buy an online class .. The true dilemma, as always, is finding the time.

Leave a Comment