My Favorite Ways to Learn

My Favorite Ways to Learn

(preface: John O’Neill is the Marketing Manager of the Vail Symposium. He wrote this blog)

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I was sitting in the back of Jamie Metzl’s program on genetic engineering in humans this summer thinking to myself, “wow.” I was fascinated by the subject, and from an expert like Jamie Metzl, I was learning so much.

Two weeks earlier, I was in a hurry to meet press deadlines when I picked up the phone to talk with Ben Stone, one of the nutritionists on the nutrition for peak performance panel. We started talking about fat. Almost an hour later I hung up with four pages of notes and quotes about fat. Yes, fat. The nutrient. Who knew there could be so much to know about fat? I loved it.


I like to think that I have the best job in the world.

Marketing for the Vail Symposium, an organization willing to learn about anything, wanting to learn about everything and working hard to bring such neat lectures to our audience, is a treat.

I think I enjoy the work so much because, simply, I love to learn.
It wasn’t always like that. I wasn’t a star student in high school and went through college like it was a race to the finish line. I even finished a semester early!

But something changed after college. I started treating education as less of an obligation. I started seeing the opportunity in it and, importantly, I started to see it as a form of entertainment.


So, now that I’m out of school and thirstier than ever to hear new things, I thought I would share my 5 favorite ways to learn.

  1. Talking to old people

I use the term “old people” with the utmost respect. Seriously. Before my last Grand Parent passed away, I came to love sitting at the dinner table asking questions long after we finished eating. My grandpa fought in WW2. I read his war journals. My Grandma told me about her experience living in Holyoke, Colorado through the Great Depression and what it was like going to school in Northern Colorado. Even little things like “what was it like when TV came out?”Or, better yet, “what do you think about Facebook?” Opinions, stories, lessons learned – it all offers great perspective when it comes from someone with so much experience.

  1. Reading the newspaper

Vail-Daily-logo-4C-1024x466From the Vail Daily to the New York Times, in hand or online, a newspaper is the first draft of history. Most reporters would cringe at that cliché. But it’s true.

Newspapers are a great, dependable way to keep up with the times. Did you know Battle Mountain High School is 43% white and 53% Hispanic while the local Ski Academy, also a public school, is almost 95% white? Did you know Colorado is getting solar panels from the federal government, and how much solar energy production is going on in the state? Do you know who Xi Jinping is? Or who will succeed the Queen of England? What I love most about newspapers is not only how much you can learn, but how you can apply it to the current issues.  

  1. Traveling

Shanghai skylineVisiting new places rocks. International travel is a sensory overload, but even visiting a new state or town is telling in its own way. I’m lucky to be able to go overseas often. I was just in China. I learned all about Shanghai’s Bund Area from people who live there, while I was standing there, staring across the Huangpu River at the financial district skyline. Before that I was in Cozumel at a Senor Frogs talking to guy from Hungary and a girl from New Zealand about beaches. Before that I was in Ogden, Utah, reading a history placard about the railway and the once booming brothel business. Later, at dinner, I learned that in 2010 Ogden was voted the 6th best place to raise a family. What a turn of events that town had!

  1. Listening to Podcasts

radiolab_regular_webI love podcasts. If you ask my friends what I love, they’ll tell you that I love podcasts. I’m addicted. What is a podcast, you ask? Let me tell you – it is like a spicy radio talk program. The topics and style of podcasts vary between different entities.  My favorite is RadioLab – a show about curiosity. They say “Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.” Sounds AWESOME, right? I usually throw on an episode while running or riding my bike, and that 60 minutes of fitness is spellbinding. I’ve learned about the untold stories of WW2 American POW Camps and how well we treated German POWs, about elevator buttons and how the ‘door close’ button most likely doesn’t work, about how we perceive color, hunting exotic animals, elements, organ donation, national security and privacy, tracing the first AIDs patient, the extremes of the Cuban punk rock movement, how to social media sites engineer trust, how Native Americans shaped the game of Football, and so, so, so much more.

My other favorite podcasts: 99% Invisible, Serial, Love and Radio, Sword and Scale, Stuff You Should Know.

Seriously, try them. You’ll love them.

  1. Surfing the INTERNET

At no point in our existence has it been easier to learn something about anything than it is right now. Enter: the INTERNET.  It is in all caps because the INTERNET is a Goliath of information. You are five seconds away from a page that will teach you about weather patterns in New York City, or the calorie density of an Idaho Potato, or how long it would take to walk from Vail to Denver. Even on social media channels you can learn about things you didn’t even know you wanted to learn about. I let my curiosity run rampant on the internet and, in exchange, the internet serves up an all you can eat buffet of knowledge!


The Symposium is between seasons. When we kick back up again in December, we’ll be bringing another phenomenal opportunity to learn about a range of different things. In the meantime, enjoy spreading your curiosity across all the other ways I like to learn about new things.

Especially podcasts.

You’ll love the podcasts


-John O.

Comment List

  • Kathy Kimmel 15 / 02 / 2016 Reply

    Have I told you lately how awesome I think you are?
    Love that blog!!

  • dale mosier 17 / 02 / 2016 Reply

    Great to have you in your VS role. One of these days I hope to be old enough to sit around the dinner table and sharing wisdom both ways.

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