Learning is a key skill in today’s fast-changing environment. It’s part of the adaptation process – without gaining new knowledge it will be harder to find ourselves in a new situation. In addition, changing professions has never been so frequent as it is now – for that we also need new skills.
The most common rule that people hear about acquiring a new skill is the “10,000 hours” rule. This model was developed by Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. However, this conclusion came from a 1993 study published by the American Psychological Association, which states that 10,000 hours is required to become an expert. It’s a huge amount of time, approximately 5 years of a full-time job.
The keyword is expert. Most of us don’t need to be an expert on something. We just need to be good enough or, in other words, feel comfortable with new skills. And for that, we don’t need these magical 10,000 hours.
As in many other fields, the key is a good strategy. To help you understand how you can be a better learner and gain new knowledge in an effective way, check out my 10 tips to learn things faster.
1. Start with the “Why”
In this article, I wrote about a book written by Simon Sinek about finding a purpose to do something. We have to have some reason which drives our learning. There is no way that you are learning something without having in mind that you will give you benefits from it in the future. There could be many “Whys” but it should be as specific as possible. For example – if I learn this in 1 year I will be able to change the job.
Think about your reason before you start. It will keep you on track and motivate you to be regular in your practice.
2. Break “10,000 hours” myth
I have mentioned at the beginning that the 10,000 hours rule is a period of time to be an expert in something. In most of the cases, we don’t need to be an expert. The question is then, how much time we have to practice? According to Josh Kaufman and his TED talk he gave in 2013 to be good enough in something we need 20 hours. It’s about 40 minutes per day for one month. Sounds better than the 5 years of full-time job mentioned earlier. To justify my words let’s look for one of the variations of the learning curve.
This means that in the first hours/attempts we are gaining the most of the knowledge. It is totally enough to be good at something. I’d like to mention also that this number of hours is only an approximation but we can take these numbers as a starting point.
Before we begin it is essential also to plan out our learning time. We can, for example, make appointments in our calendar or set reminders on our phones. It will help us create a habit of learning.
On the other hand, the size of chunks of one learning appointment also matters. Instead of scheduling a 1-2 hours session try 10-20 minutes per day. It’s important to start small – to avoid frustration and problems with concentration on the new thing.
3. Find your learning style
There are multiple ways to do things in this world, learning is no exception. The traditional approach is to sit down, take a book and repeat as many times as it’s possible. I do not deny that solution but we have plenty of possibilities to get the same result – to remember a particular part of new knowledge.
Books are not the only source of knowledge. The key here is to find that source (of course with proven knowledge) that best suits you and which you will enjoy the most. You can take part, for example, in interactive online courses, or use phone apps. Different media activate different parts of our brains which is also helpful in the learning process.
In addition to sources, it is also important how we learn. I wouldn’t like to replicate someone’s words so I recommend this or this article about learning methods and styles. I have also found a useful 4-step process ( called DiSS) presented by Tim Ferris
4. Focus on fundamentals
Pareto’s rule also plays an important role in the learning process. It is truly said that 20% of knowledge will give you 80% proficiency in new skills. The key here is to find this 20%.
As an example, many researchers confirm that knowing 1,000 words in a new language (in the English language there are around 170,000 words) is enough to speak about most of the daily topics with people whose this language is the native one. Another example is the guitar- you only need three chords to be able to play dozens of songs.
Deconstruct your skill and instead of feeling overwhelmed with a number of things to learn focus on the most important parts.
5. Sleep enough
Good quality and duration of sleep are crucial in our everyday lives. Without that also we cannot be effective learners. This is proven by science – you can read about the connection of sleep with the learning process for example here. In general – how we sleep makes a big impact on how we learn and remember new things.
On other hand, also the time when we are learning also matters. Some people prefer mornings, some people afternoons, it’s totally individual. However, from my perspective, I would say that choosing learning during the night instead of sleeping is not a good idea (of course there are people who believe that they could learn more during the night). In addition, I realized that short naps during the day also make my learning time more effective.
6. Learn by practice
It’s obvious that at the beginning of learning something new we have to do some research. Nonetheless, the practice should be a parallel activity to researching. We are learning the most from doing and learning from failures and tries. The question here is how to balance practice and theory.
In the books The Talent Code and The Little Book of Talent written by Dan Coyle, we can find techniques called the “rule of two-thirds”. It says that we should spend only one-third of our learning time on studying up, and the other two-thirds on doing.
I agree totally with the statement that “Practice makes perfect”.
7. Learning from actual experts
We have this luck that we don’t need to start from scratch. We can find experts in any area and in any skill that we want to learn. It’s all about getting more information about that person and his/her experience.
If you know that people in your environment, ask for a conversation. In case you don’t know someone like that, use your network or spend time on networking and research. For famous people there is a possibility that his/her biography describes the journey to be good at what you would like to be good as well. Thanks to the Internet you have dozens of possibilities to learn from others. Many people are open to sharing their thoughts on their learning paths.
Most of the time I’m using LinkedIn for research but also there are websites like ExpertsFinder.com to find experts.
I’d like to recommend websites where you can find courses from any field, in most cases for free.
- Coursera – include courses from many top universities.
- Khan Academy – free online education with a user-friendly interface which may make it easier to keep learning goals.
- Udemy – similar to Coursera, there are also paid courses, but it easy to find a variety of free ones.
- edX – another great opportunity for free online education. It brings courses from different schools like Harvard or MIT.
- Stanford Online – a place with all online learning offered by Stanford University.
- Codecademy – a platform dedicated to teaching coding.
- LinkedIn Learning – some courses are free to use.
- YouTube – very useful if we need to find a solution for a particular problem but there are also full courses on many topics.
I wish you happy learning and share in the comments your tips to be a more effective learner!
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