Underwater ocean scene

Learning by Immersion: How Novel Situations and Unique Environments Enhance Lifelong Learning

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One of the most powerful tools for learning is immersing ourselves, for an extended period of time, in new contexts and environments. Over time, those who embrace this approach are almost universally transformed by the experiences, and this is a learning technique / lifestyle that any of us can use with incredible results. Before we look at a few practical steps, let’s consider some modern and historical examples of this at work.

The Underwater Explorer

Jacques Cousteau was a French explorer and filmmaker who was passionate about marine biology. In the 1950s, he co-developed the Aqua-Lung, a device that allowed him to breathe underwater for extended periods of time. With this invention, he was able to explore the depths of the ocean and study previously unknowing marine life. His extensive travels and underwater explorations allowed him to learn firsthand about marine biology and oceanography.

The Inuit Adventure

Roald Amundsen was a Norwegian explorer who led the first successful expedition to the South Pole in 1911. Prior to this expedition, Amundsen had spent several years living with the Inuit people in Canada and studying their survival techniques. He learned how to ski and how to live off the land in extreme conditions, skills that proved invaluable in his later expeditions. By immersing himself in the Inuit way of life, Amundsen was able to gain knowledge and skills that allowed him to succeed in his later explorations.

From Venice to China and Beyond

Or how about the famous Venetian explorer, Marco Polo, who embarked on a journey to Asia in the late 13th century that lasted over 20 years. During this time, he immersed himself in the cultures and languages of the regions he visited, including China, Mongolia, and Persia. Through his travels, he learned about new foods, religions, technologies, and political systems that were unknown to most Europeans at the time. His observations and writings about his travels helped to broaden the knowledge and understanding of the world for generations to come.

The River Adventure

Or, closer to home for some of us, consider Mark Twain, who famously sailed down the Mississippi River in 1883, chronicling his journey in “Life on the Mississippi.” Through this journey, Twain gained a deeper appreciation for the river and its impact on the American landscape, which informed much of his future writing.

Do all of these seem too distant to be relevant? Consider one last example.

The Autism Adventure

Sylvia Todd is a homemaker and mother of three who lives in a small town in Ohio. When her eldest child was diagnosed with autism, she realized that traditional methods of education were not going to be enough to help her child thrive. She immersed herself in the world of autism research and education.

She read books, attended conferences, and joined support groups. But she also took it a step further and began volunteering at a local school for children with autism. Through this experience, she was able to learn first-hand about the challenges these children face and the strategies that work best to help them.

Sylvia’s immersion in this unique environment not only helped her to better understand her own child’s needs, but it also gave her a new perspective on education and learning in general. She now uses what she’s learned to help other parents in her community who have children with autism, and she’s become an advocate for more inclusive education practices.

By immersing herself in a new and unique environment, Sylvia was able to gain knowledge and insights that she couldn’t have gotten from books alone. Her experience shows that you don’t have to be a world traveler or a billionaire to benefit from immersion learning. You just need to be curious, open-minded, and willing to step outside of your comfort zone.

Are you ready to join the likes of Sylvia, Twain and the others? Here are ten tips for immersing yourself in new and unique environments:

  1. Join a local club or organization that interests you, such as a book club or hiking group.
  2. Attend free or low-cost cultural events in your area, such as art exhibits or music festivals.
  3. Explore your city or town’s history by visiting local museums, landmarks, or historical sites.
  4. Take up a new hobby or skill, such as painting or woodworking, and attend classes or workshops.
  5. Volunteer with a local charity or organization that aligns with your interests or passions.
  6. Attend lectures or talks on subjects you’re curious about at local libraries or community centers.
  7. Join an online community or forum dedicated to a particular interest or hobby.
  8. Seek out mentorship or coaching from someone with expertise in a subject you’re interested in.
  9. Read books or watch documentaries on topics outside of your comfort zone.
  10. Practice mindfulness and pay attention to the world around you, taking note of new and interesting things you encounter throughout your day.

These tips don’t require extensive travel or large amounts of money, but they can still provide opportunities for you to learn and grow through novel experiences and environments. Perhaps this seems like comment sense, but in a world where more and more of our life us spent in front of a screen, this may just be what some of us need to hear.

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