Tuition free education – Part 1

By David Crandall

Old school
It hasn’t always been like this. Once upon a time, those hoping to gain specific skills had no choice but to gather together in rooms under the tutelage of someone more experienced. As time has gone by, this type of education has brought larger price tags which we refer to as tuition. Apprenticeships and mentoring where necessary aspects to learning anything more than what the masses discussed in daily conversation, which was (and will always be) near to the lowest common denominator when it comes to intellectual quality.

You probably think you know where this is going. You know times have changed, that we live in an era where information sits waiting at your fingertips to be discovered, and that you know that if there is something you DON’T know, you can arrive at the answer within minutes.

But does your life strategy take advantage of that information? Are you proactively using that knowledge in your career or lifestyle pursuits?

Are an intentional student of education or a passive consumer of information?

I’m going to share two strategies (one today and one tomorrow) that I proactively employ to gain a quality education that is completely tuition free!

STRATEGY 1 – Enroll in class

Regardless of the niche you are in, there are those that are considered masters of it and a lot of them are blogging in some form or another. It’s not just that they know a lot about the subject, but they are like mini-Midases where everything they touch turns to gold. They live in that ideal place you currently only HOPE to get to. Every time you read their blogs you have an epiphany; every video is an eye opener. You dream of being their student as they mentor you in the ways of your craft.

OK, stop daydreaming. There’s no reason that we can’t learn what they are teaching! We know these people because they keep a blog, make videos, or record podcasts. They’re offering us the education we wish we had; TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT!

The “How to” part
This strategy pertains to the people you really wish you could emulate. Your going to treat their information just like a university text book (only the cost is significantly cheaper). Be forewarned, that this is not a strategy you can bang out in an hour or two, but it’s still much quicker than a college course!

  1. Subscribe to their blog in an RSS reader – This makes it easier to read their work chronologically
  2. Grab a pen and paper – Your brain retains more if you write stuff down (don’t be lazy or think you can skip this step!)
  3. Scroll to the earliest entry you can find – You’re going to walk through the progression of what they learned along with them
  4. Begin reading – Don’t jump around, just start reading at the beginning and then move to the next one
  5. Write down anything that stands out to you – If you don’t write it down, you won’t remember it…which means you’re wasting your time. Plus, this will be an invaluable resource to return to later. Here are some things to look for:
    1. What ideas do they present that are new to you?
    2. What new ideas and thoughts do YOU have while reading?
    3. What strategies do you start seeing them employ in their writing?
    4. What strategies can you start using yourself?
    5. What things about their writing do you like?
    6. What do you NOT like?
    7. What are some methods that they did in earlier works that they stopped doing as they became more polished?
    8. What are some methods that they did NOT do in earlier works but appeared to learn along the way?
  6. Read their entire archives – Yes, all of it!

Reading the entire body of someone’s work is much different than reading it one at a time amidst your daily schedule. The goal is to move from passive consumer to intentional student. You are focused on their work and what they have to teach you. Look for what you can learn from their writing; you admire that person for a reason.

This will likely take a number of hours to complete, but when you have finished, you will have amazing insight in to how that person thinks and writes. You’ll be able to identify their voice even when you encounter it off of their blog.

My experience with Strategy 1
Many of you know that I became active in social media over a year before starting my blog. While I don’t necessarily recommend that strategy to everyone, it did enable me to focus quite heavily on the research and development that I would later rely on as I began writing. During that time is when I developed this strategy.

I have now used this method on numerous authors’ sites. It has enabled me to see deeper in to a writer’s work and identify more subtle themes and messages that a casual reader will certainly miss. It has also enabled me to see when someone is struggling with their craft or taking it in a new direction. Each of those subtleties is gold, especially if I can learn from what they’ve done without having to go through the rough parts firsthand.

By treating someone’s blog like a textbook, you allow yourself the mindset of a student which enables you to learn much more than reading a post or two each week from them.

Paper vs Digital
For those of you who had a small heart attack when I said to use paper and pen, I have two thoughts.

But what if I just copy/paste the good stuff?” – Using copy/paste (or even highlighting) is a nearly passive act; it does not actively engage your brain like writing. You just don’t remember as much as if you write it down. Remember, this is not the passive information consumerism that we use bookmarking sites for, this is intentional learning.

But I won’t be able to search my notes like I could if they were digital?” – You’re right, you won’t. But chances are you wouldn’t have the quality of thoughts that writing creates. Plus, there’s nothing to say that you can’t MAKE them digital when all is said and done. The additional act of going back and typing your notes in after handwriting them will allow you to review all that amazing new information you’ve gleaned from studying. But, if that sounds awful to you, then you could always scan them in and outsource that work to someone else.

Have you proactively studied the people you admire? Have you gone through and treated their body of work like a textbook? If so, who have you studied? If not, who are you GOING to study?

Tomorrow I talk about the second half of this strategy, but for today tell me in the comments who’s “class” you want to take?

(Note: Here is the link to the next post in this series: Click here.)

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  • I like this a lot David, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about. Why do I find a blog I love and add it to my RSS, but rarely go through the archives? The content is rarely time-sensitive, but if it isn’t on the front page, I don’t read it. These people are GREAT writers often times, with a lot of information to share.

    We should get our education going through the archives as you say. A great reminder!

    • I actually happened upon this strategy by accident. I was looking for something specific on a particular blog and kept scrolling through Google Reader trying to find it. After a few minutes I wondered how far back I could scroll (it was ProBlogger so there was a LOT of archives!)

      I’ve now used this strategy a number of times for different bloggers (including yours, btw) and have found that I learn waaaaay more about a topic than just reading them one off.

  • Did you see this?

    p.s. really impressed by your commitment to note-taking…I need to pick up on that.

    • Believe it or not, but I had not seen that. If I had, I would have totally linked to it in this article!

      Regarding the note taking, now is a great time to get started. Most stores are having back to school sales. Go and pick up a package of cheap spiral notebooks; they’re usually only a few dollars at most. I keep a stack of them on hand so that I can just take notes as I please. (They also make great coloring books for my daughters…so they end up using more than half of them usually!)

      A big key is to not edit yourself when you take notes. Don’t worry about grammar or punctuation; just get it to where you can understand it when you come back to it. I have boxes of notebooks from the past 17 years (since high school) that I have taken notes in. Pulling one out randomly and reading through it always produces tons of ideas that I never had before.

  • David —

    This is an *excellent* learning strategy for people of a certain learning style — those who learn well by reading, like you {and me}. And I love the advice to take notes on the best points by hand. *Physicalizing* the learning totally reinforces it.

    In my earliest days of tiptoeing into online biz {because, hey, let’s be honest, I’m still in my early days!}, I went back and read the entire archives of 3 blogs that stuck out to me. I got a darn good education that way in subjects that had previously been foreign to me.

    Looking forward to Part II in this series!

    — Abby

    • Glad you liked it! I’d love to know the 3 archives you read through. I’m going to guess Naomi and Navarro’s stuff, but can’t pin down the third. Am I right?

      I think this could be modified for other style of learners. I look at Srini and Sid’s site BlogcastFM or Dan and Ian’s site Lifestyle Business Podcast and I think it would be awesome for those audio learners among us. In fact, while I am certainly a more visual learner, I have intentionally applied this style to these guys and am working through both of their sites even now.

      I’m excited to release Part II; I think it may seem obvious to some people once I put it out there, but I don’t hear a lot about it so maybe it is something people don’t think about.

      I’ll look for you in the comments of that one too. 😉

    • Oh, you’ll see me there. And the third? Sarah Bray from S. Joy Studios.

    • You were telling the truth! I see you over there right now. 😉

  • “But I won’t be able to search my notes like I could if they were digital?” – Yes you can. Go over to and sign up for a free account, then take a pic with your cell phone, camera, or scanner, and submit it to their transcription services. I’ve done this many a time when notebook wasn’t present, and have used it for library books also. As a matter of fact…I think I can foresee a blog post coming out of this tactic!

    • Very cool! I love taking notes on paper (mostly because it’s easier to doodle!) but hate that I can’t search through them. Everyone’s told me I just need to get an iPad… this looks like it’d do!

    • It works like magic Velda! Try it out, I think you’ll be VERY impressed!

    • All of my notebooks are full of doodles in the margins!

    • Josh, this is a great tip! I use Evernote but I’ve never uploaded a picture of text; I always just enter the text in via keyboard. I can’t wait to give this a shot.

    • Sweet magic doesn’t even describe how amazing Evernote is. It’s so epic (along with this post topic), that it is spurring on a future blog post from me. Weeeeeeee!

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  • I really believe in this!! I mean everything I’ve learned about Internet marketing, blogging and just a lot of stuff I look it up online. Someone I really study is Gary Vaynerchuk, I’ve spent a lot of time on his archives, just because they are short videos and powerful information.

    I plan to study David Crandall that dude has some great stuff in the archives…LOL

    • I don’t know about that David Crandall dude; he seems like a crazy bastard to me. 😉

      I’d say that the majority of what I’ve learned about marketing has come from online sources. If only we could get some sort of credit for the studies we’ve done. (I’m hoping that credit eventually comes in the form of $$$)

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