Learning How To Learn

The ability to learn is one of our most primitive traits and it’s what makes us human. We begin learning the moment we enter this world and will likely continue to learn until the moment we leave it. Having said that, there are ways in which we can maximise our learning potential whilst ensuring we don’t waste energy learning things we don’t need to.

Often, in our careers, and life in general, we have a rough idea of the direction we want to head towards, and maybe we even have some loose learning goals, so figuring out the best way to learn is a crucial skill and is something that can further distinguish yourself in anything you choose to do.

Before we go on the path to learning anything, it’s essential we come to terms with what learning means and what we to expect to achieve from the process.

Below are some of the things I consider with regards to learning:

  • Am I learning the right things?
  • Will I be able to retain what I have learned?
  • How long will this take me to learn
  • How much do I already know?
  • How will I know when I’ve learned it?

In this article, I have outlined things I consider crucial in helping me to learn effectively,

Find a Mentor

Some of the most influential and effective mentors for me have been the ones who never officially took on the role of mentoring me, some may not even be aware of the influence they have had in certain areas of my life and career. I cannot state how important this has been for my development over my short career journey so far. Finding someone you are comfortable with, providing they have the time has helped me to learn from so many of my mistakes. It does take humility and patience on your part, as well as a willingness to be criticised but the trade-off is infinitely worth it. Don’t expect to be over-dependent on this person and if you have become, then this could obviously have negative effects on your learning. 

A mentor doesn’t have to be a single person, nor does it have to be the same person forever. it stems from building positive relationships with anyone you meet and respecting what they have to offer.

Mentoring others is another great way to learn and develop in areas that you may have previously learned in the past. The best mentors can often be those people that appreciate the benefits of mentoring. Generally speaking, the mentee/mentor cycle is one of the best ways to learn and develop.

Write things down 

Writing your thoughts is key to better thinking, and better thinking is key to better learning. Working memory, which is the number of things you’re able to keep in your mind simultaneously, is believed to be a major factor when considering intelligence, writing things down is an easy way to expand your working memory, in turn expanding your working intelligence.

When working through an exercise or video tutorial I’ll often find myself forgetting what I’d read or watched only a few minutes earlier, making notes, or even just highlighting text on a document has helped me to separate the relevant from the irrelevant whilst also giving me something brief to look back on. 

Taking things one step further, blogging can be a great way to double down on what you have learned, working in a similar way to mentoring. Information in your head can often make more sense when writing it down or teaching it to someone.

Keep up with the latest news 

With regards to learning, here I’m talking about keeping up with news regarding topics related to your learning, although keeping up with the latest news from a general sense is a guaranteed way to constantly learn new things. 

This can be vital with regards to getting a clearer picture of what to learn as well as often confirming things you may already be focusing on. Regularly checking blogs and podcasts on surrounding topics can be a great way to achieve this clarity.

I will very often also use the latest job posts to also get an idea of what areas I should be focusing on in the near future, whilst again, also giving a sense of comfort with regards to the topics I am currently spending my time, which can act as a great motivator.

Having a Learning goal

In order to be at your most productive a high level of clarity is required. The best way to get the most out of your learning experience is to not have too many goals at the same time. Learning too many things at the same time can require an overly complicated system in order to keep track of what you are learning and can ultimately hinder your productivity.

Keep things as simple as possible if you can. That has the added benefit of allowing you to focus your energies on a small number of goals, making you far more effective with them.

Once you have decided on a particular area to focus on, breaking down the topics into smaller manageable chunks can help you to routinely assess how well your learning is going whilst also giving you a sense of progression, each success you achieve will help you build a winning mindset.

When setting your goals try to keep the time frames relatively small whilst also trying to keep your goals challenging, though not overly challenging, you can always ramp up as you progress.

Making Mistakes

Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable

Getting it wrong can often be the best way to learn, with learning how not to do something, sometimes being just as important as learning how to do something. 

When making mistakes, within the context of learning we’re not talking about taking wild guesses, rather we are talking about being serious about our mistakes and owning them. We can only do this if we feel we have made an honest effort the first time around. Studies have shown circumstances such as these can be one of the most powerful ways to absorb and retain knowledge.  

Mistakes are often seen as negative and are to be avoided, but a well-rounded learning experience will and must include mistakes along the journey. How you view your mistakes will determine how you react to them, reframing mistakes in a positive way will help you to make the most of the opportunity, acknowledging the mistake whilst also using it to learn and develop.

Research is growing that supports the view that an environment that encourages mistakes produces better education and long term retention. A learning process that includes mistakes can help you avoid mistakes in the future, ultimately allowing you to make better use of what you have learned.

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