I swear I used to have more time than I do now. Sometimes I wonder how much of the reason why is my phone.
It’s so easy to lose a half hour here and there to mindless scrolling. Now, it’s OK if you don’t feel guilty about your phone usage—we all get to decide how we want to spend our time on earth, and no one should feel guilty for scrolling if that’s what gives them joy. I, however, frequently find myself feeling absolutely nothing while scrolling. I’m getting nothing out of an activity I’m dedicating hours to daily. I wish I was using that time to learn things instead.
As it turns out, I’m not the first person to think this. There are plenty of apps that can put your phone addiction to work, allowing you to learn new things during what would be downtime.
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I live in a town with a large Spanish-speaking population. I studied Spanish in college, and even used it for work during a summer job at a nursery, but I pretty much forgot everything I knew about the language as soon as I left college. I wish I could still speak it, though, which is why I started using Duolingo. The app offers quick lessons, and I’m regaining my ability to read and speak the language.
What I really find fascinating, though, is how many design cues Duolingo takes from video game design in order to make learning addictive. For example, there’s an XP system, which is used to rank you against other learners. This already hooks me—I’m an RPG gamer at heart, meaning if there’s an XP stat, I want to see that number go up. But the design hooks go deeper: If you practice during the morning you get a double XP boost, which you can use that evening. Practicing in the evening gives you a double XP boost, which you can use the following morning. This little loop helped me build a Spanish learning habit.
There are other great language learning apps, of course. Brilliant offers interactive math and computer science lessons that are designed to be done in 15-minute chunks, which makes it a great replacement for your Twitter/X habit. Or there’s Wonderium, which offers courses on a variety of subjects. (It’s the streaming service offered by the company that created the Great Courses.) You could also look into the various online classes that are actually worth taking, including MasterClass, Skillshare, and Coursera. All offer online lessons and classes about almost any subject you can imagine.
And there are apps to learn music. There are apps for learning meditation. There are also apps that can help you learn about the world around you: Merlin Bird ID, for example, can help you identify what bird is singing outside your window right now. And don’t forget, there are all kinds of free digital resources you can find at the library.