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What is a learning attitude, how do I determine whether I have one, and what can I do to cultivate it?

I have also noticed that during interviews, the interviewers ask questions to see if the candidate has a "learning attitude". How can that be checked at run time (i.e. what are quickly and easily discernible signals that someone is pre-disposed to continuous learning)?

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1, I like this image, well done. – Abid Rahman K Nov 11 '12 at 8:56
@AbidRahmanK thanks for the compliment, but this has nothing to do with the topic of this thread. :) :) – TheIndependentAquarius Nov 11 '12 at 9:17
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Given that attitude is about how one does things generally, the idea of a learning attitude would be about having a great deal of curiosity and willingness to explore. If someone talks about something you don't know, what do you do:

  1. Tune it out. How important could it be if I don't know what they are talking about?
  2. Ask questions. What is this? I want to know more so I can participate.
  3. Change the subject. Rather than let them continue, I'll take it from here...

An interviewer could ask what recent things has someone learned and listen to the story to see if there is enthusiasm behind it. There are also a large number of broad topics that one could pick and start going down a rabbit hole and see how the other person takes it. Is this an opportunity for the interviewee or a threat? Are they communicating if they are scared, hurt or something else? Those would be some other points to note I'd think.

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got it. Thanks :) – TheIndependentAquarius Jan 4 '12 at 12:11

Learning attitude in my understanding as a non-native English speaker is just you willingness to learn something. As long as you are genuinely interested in the subject you will definitely master to a more depth with less effort and time investment as when you have to force yourself to learn something.

It should be easy to find it out whether you have it: if you are really interested in what you are doing/learning, then you have it.

How to get it? Just make something interesting for you. Here are some recipes how I make things interesting for me:

  1. If you study something too abstract, like math, I usually read a little bit about how people first come up with the idea of the notions I have to learn. Why did they need all these integrals, Fourrier-transofrms etc? It is really entertaining if you see the reasons behind what you are learning.
  2. If you study something you need to memorize without much logic involved, like human anatomy: try to find the logic, there must be some here as well. For example if you look to Nervus trigeminis, it has three main branches because there are only three way (i.e. three holes!) how it can go through the skull bones to innervate the teeth and eyes etc.
  3. If this is something you'll never need in your life, like I used to study war-time medicine as a subject in my medical school, just imagine you're playing a strategy game where you might need this knowledge (it perfectly worked for me and war-time medicine :) ).

About interviews:

It is easy to see if somebody has a "learning attitude" or not just by lookinig at how peopole answer open questions requiring some kind of generalisation and overview in your area of competence. If you are excited about finding some interrelations in the area, if you show your erudition and don't stop until requested, being ready to talk on this topic for much longer than the time of the interview, then you definitely have a learning attitude towards this subject :) If not, it means nothing -- maybe you are just anxious or generally of an introvert type. Experienced interviewers can see the difference very well.

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thanks, that was nice. I'll edit the question. – TheIndependentAquarius Nov 28 '11 at 12:49

I think a learning attitude is the founding skill of a self-taught person. If you go after your own resources for any new subject you approach, whether it be learning from books or videos or the web as a whole, I'd be sure you have a learning attitude. If, on the other hand, you need a teacher or someone to direct you and pass that knowledge down to you, I'd put you as being more passive towards learning.

So there you have it, a learning attitude for me translates directly into active learning. And when you consider this attitude in the little things (e.g. a programmer finding solutions to his problems on google instead of asking the senior colleague), it's definitely one of the most important ones to look out for on any employee who's to have a degree of freedom--a knowledge worker.

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Helpful answer. :) – TheIndependentAquarius Jan 4 '12 at 12:11

Nothing trumps a concrete example

When trying to convince someone that you have a learning example in a very short amount of time, it is an good option that you give them a concrete example of how you tackled the knowledge in an unfamiliar field. The following shows the example I would provide if I am being interviewed for a job that requires a good learning attitude.

The learning attitude of me

In my case, if I am faced with a totally new area, Wikipedia would be a very good start for me. I would learn the key concepts in that area from Wikipedia and probably some external links. This is step one, and I call it "defining the area".

Next, I would start with books on that particular subject. You don't want to spend your precious time reading through a thick book that is poorly written. So, I would ask for help. There are many good people who share their reviews on books about your targeting subject. I would go through the review of those books. Note that, we should read both the five-star reviews as well as the one-star reviews, since sometimes the reviewers who give only one star have their unique insights on the drawbacks of that book. This is step two.

After I find the right book, things become easy and hard. It's easy because you now know what to spend time on -- the book. However, following a book carefully can be hard and boring, and it takes time. I'll try to be patient, because I know that the seemingly hard way may also be the easy way, since reading through a book requires minimum amount of dependencies from outside of the book.

Once I've gained the basics, I would do some real projects in order to polish my skills. Then, online forums and Google kick in. The process of polishing one's skills can be unbounded in terms of time. Just spend time at it, and you will improve gradually.

Time and experiences matter

Learning attitude is not like a recipe that once you get, you get it all. It's a ongoing process of gradual improvements. Improve by actually doing it.

Good luck.

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welcome to the site. I see the kernels of a good answer above and agree that all the things you'd do to prepare to teach someone else about a topic would probably help you learn about it yourself. But we try to have longer-form answers on this site. Can you elaborate on yours to prevent it from being deleted or down-voted? – Adam Wuerl Dec 6 '11 at 13:09
@AdamWuerl Thank you, I will elaborate on my answer. – Ning Dec 6 '11 at 17:22

To improve your learning attitude I would use this as a guide:

When you see something you don't know / don't understand / haven't seen before, say to yourself "Hmm, how interesting, I wonder what that is" and then look into it or make a note to do the same.

This sounds simplistic, but if you think about our normal, human reaction to new stuff is often one of:
- ach, it's different from the way I normally do things
- it would imply me changing my opinion, point of view, way of doing things, etc.
- what a pain, now I have to learn this!
- frustration when I want to do A but I have to learn X,Y,Z !

Again, every time you feel the above repeat "hmm, interesting, I must learn more". I'm really not talking down to you either - this is what I have done myself to change my attitude and it's worked.

The only downside now is that my attitude has improved but the attitude of some that I work with still leaves something to be desired.

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thanks for the answer. – TheIndependentAquarius May 7 '12 at 3:50

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