Learning a new skill is not difficult. There’s a lot of information available about what skills to learn to advance your career, but not much about crafting a learning plan to master those new skills. If you want to know how to learn a new skill, you need to discover your own learning preferences and understand some basic educational principles. As you master this information, you’ll be able to learn new, higher paying skills more quickly and accelerate your career.
You will learn a new skill more quickly if you understand some basic principles of learning:
– Use your eyes, ears and activities
Experts usually break learning channels into three categories: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (or, hands-on) learning. The best way to teach or learn varies from person to person and may change depending on the type of skill you’re trying to master. The best way to learn a new skill would be to use a combination of all these channels. If you are trying to learn a new software skill for example, you could watch an online video (visual), have someone who knows the software explain it to you (auditory), then dive in and try to do the software tasks yourself (kinesthetic).
– Active learning is better than passive learning
Another thing to remember about learning a new skill is that you will learn it faster (and retain it longer) if you actively participate while trying to learn it. People who passively sit and listen to a presentation don’t retain very much (if any of it) 24 to 48 hours after the class. People who participate in some type of hands-on or application exercise are able to recall the information much better than those who don’t.
As you work to learn a new skill, don’t simply read through a book hoping you will recall the information when you need it. Immediately try to apply what you’ve learned. Try to use the actual tools or techniques you learn as often as possible.
– Learn in “chunks”
People can generally understand, process and remember about seven pieces or “chunks” of information in a given study session. It takes time and effort to comprehend these pieces of information, attach meaning and context to them, and then store them in your long term memory.
What this means for you and your own skill development is that you will learn more effectively when you break your study sessions up into smaller intervals rather than using one longer stretch. I talk about this approach more extensively in the Learn Higher Paying Skills program.
How You Learn Best
People prefer to learn new skills in different ways. Take the learning principles we just discussed into consideration, but be confident in your own learning preferences. Remember the following points as you create a plan for learning new skills:
– What’s worked in the past?
Think of skills that you have successfully learned in the past. Ask, “How did I do it?” Also look at other people who have already mastered the skill you are trying to learn. What approach did they take? Go ahead and ask for experts’ advice as you try to become an expert yourself.
Also reflect upon things you were not able to learn very well in the past. What got in the way of you learning the new information effectively?
– What’s in it for me?
One important key for you to use in your skill development is to remind yourself of why you want to learn it. Keep the incentive for learning the new skill in mind throughout your study or practice session. It even helps to write it out and hang it on the wall. For example:
- “I need to learn this computer skill so I can make more money and get out of debt.”
- “I will learn the principles of finance and investing so I can retire in five years.”
- “I need to get this certification so I can get promoted and have a more enjoyable career.”
– Get into your learning “flow”
You can create an environment where you can experience optimal learning. In addition to having a specific plan for what and how to learn, you need to find where you learn best. Is it at home, or perhaps at a library? Does it need to be quiet or are you one of those people who need a little ambient noise to help you concentrate? What resources do you need to be available to get your information…books, Internet, a mentor?
As you answer these questions and work to create an ideal learning environment, you should be able to create a mental state where you are fully immersed and focused on your skill development.
Your Learning Plan
After you answered some of the questions we’ve discussed, you can put together a simple plan to learn your desired skills. A simple learning plan (you should type/write/print it out) includes your specific learning goal, a statement about why you want to learn it, when you will learn it, and specific steps about how you will learn it.