After being in school for more than 20 years, I realized that most things aren’t that difficult. They just seem difficult because you haven’t learned them yet (alternatively, because they are taught in a poor manner). As Charlie Munger always says, if you have the fundamental mental models from the various important disciplines, then you probably have 90% of what you need to know for worldly wisdom. The hard part is learning these mental models from a wide variety of disciplines. Most people don’t have access (or time) to take undergrad level courses across a wide variety of subject areas. Moreover, since many courses are taught so poorly, there is little or no motivation to learn things properly through traditional lecture-style learning.
Reading, of course, is one of the most important ways to acquire knowledge but that comes with its own problems. Figuring out what to read, how to get answers when the text is not sufficient and a general methodology for self-study by reading is definitely not straight-forward or easy. It you have this figured out, you probably are well ahead of the curve. However, for those of us still developing that methodology, the interweb (unlike in many cases) provides the solution: Khan Academy.
The site started by former hedge fund analyst with degrees from MIT and Harvard Business School, Sal Khan, makes short online videos teaching the fundamentals in a wide variety of subjects (e.g. mathematics, finance, biology, computer science, physics, current events…) — just the type of place for one to start acquiring worldly wisdom. I’ve been using it for the past half year or so (32k energy points!) and I’m really enjoying it. I’ve been particularly interested in the finance related aspects as my two courses economics really didn’t explain everything I wanted to know about fractional reserve banking or collateral debt obligations.
The beauty of the site is that Sal explains everything in simple terms, removing all the unnecessary fluff that usually gets attached when learning things formally in school. He presents things in a more practical manner to give good intuition on the subject rather than drone on through formalities — and, trust me, I know a thing or two about unnecessary formalities (e.g. research papers). His teaching style matches up with exactly how I believe most subjects (especially introductory courses) should be taught — focusing on understanding concepts, rather than focusing on all the little details. It’s exactly the kind of place I would like to start when learning a new subject area. What it is not, however, is a substitute for in-depth study. To achieve a more useful level of knowledge, it takes much more than watching a few videos. Actually doing some work, is usually a good starting place but that’s another subject entirely…
Learning just got a whole lot easier because of one man, his tablet and the interweb. I’m incredibly skeptical of the yet unfulfilled revolution to education that technology promises to bring, but Khan Academy is definitely starting to turn the tide.