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Learning how to Learn

Via LinkedIn : Timing is everything. Coincidental that I have been planning to make this weeks post about “learning” and LinkedIn recently announced huge news regarding its acquisition of Lynda.com. For those who are unfamiliar – lynda.com is an online educational and training platform seemingly covering any topic you could think of. As LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner has been articulating, this recent acquisition represents LinkedIn’s long awaited final piece to the puzzle. Everyone knows LinkedIn’s company mission is to “Connect Talent to Opportunity at a Massive Scale”…Something many circles would agree, has already been far surpassed. So why does this deal matter? Because as Jeff mentioned, providing an opportunity to apply for a role is only one facet of the maze. To truly make an impact on peoples lives – you must go further and help them accomplish their goals by securing these opportunities now made available to them. This is done through learning. Education reform seems to be a hot topic in many organizations and its truly inspiring to see companies like LinkedIn make devoted efforts towards improving access towards educational tools.

Learning how to Learn

Transitioning now to the topic at hand! One of the things that truly fascinated me about Human Resources was this idea of talent development and how it related specifically to ones ability to learn. Throughout your professional experience or going back to your days at college, you must have remembered all the different styles in which your colleagues or peers used to learn and digest information. There are those who are visual learners, those who only need to see something once and be good to go…there are those who need to write everything down, some need tangible hands on experience and so on. The list goes on and on of the various styles in which humans learn new skills. Before continuing it is important to note that there is no one right way to learn. The most important thing is to stay true to what is most comfortable to you. Never make adjustments to the way in which you take in information if it disrupts your natural flow.

Many people – managers specifically, have asked me how I have been able to learn things “so quickly” or make processes so much more efficient than it was done in the past. My answer is a little bit complicated. I attribute much of my success to my style of learning which I developed over time due to my previously most prevalent style of learning (writing everything down – which takes up far too much time, though there are still instances I do it!)

The new style of learning I developed is a Three Pronged Approach.

  1. Traditional Learning / Execution
  2. Training Others
  3. Breaking the System


1) Traditional Learning / Execution

It’s funny sometimes when people tell me I am a “fast learner” because I don’t necessarily agree with that comment. I often appear to be a fast learner in hindsight due to my dedication to flawless execution once I fully learn a new skill, process or strategy. In truth, I spend a lot of time early on gathering information. That is why the first step to my system is the traditional learning element, which can be inclusive of any of the styles previously mentioned (visual, writing, hands on, etc) The key difference here though, is to focus this traditional learning with the lens of execution. As you learn something new, spend tons of time filling in all the gaps of information. This is the time where you ask your professor or supervisor every single question you need answered. The cliché usually comes up here “There is no such thing as a stupid question”. Live by that statement. I have learned that the questions on the surface that appear to be most irrelevant are the most meaningful questions. Why? Because when it comes to learning, so much of ones ability comes from their level of confidence. The more information one has, regardless of relevance, the more confident they feel about their overall knowledge base. This in turn allows them to be a quicker learner, and more importantly one with less anxiety – one of the biggest learning obstacles. When you can focus on gathering information, you have all of the tools at your disposal. You then must then spend a good amount of time reviewing. If you think you learned all you can, look again. There is always something that can be gained from taking a step back and thinking more critically.

2) Training Others

Another strategy to learning that has been really helpful for me is to think about training others on what you are learning. You must be thinking, how can I possibly train someone else on something I have not even learned or have yet mastered? So many people justifiably take in new information for just themselves. They learn so that they can do the tasks at hand as they are the ones responsible for it. In my experience, I have been afforded the opportunity to train many new team members even in situations where I was fairly new myself. Its through these experiences I understood that one of the best ways to learn is to begin thinking about how you can teach this same information to someone who will be joining your team in the future. This forces you to begin synthesizing information in a manner in which you have to transfer to someone else. When you think about teaching or training someone else you begin to have empathy and realize things need to be communicated in a clear and easily understood way. So as you learn with this new frame of mind of potentially having to reteach whatever you are learning, you pay more attention to details as you would want to be able to answer any question the new team member would have for you – a great way to ensure you are learning all that you possibly can.

3) Breaking the System

The last phase of my learning system is also my favorite – Breaking The System. Ever see a hackathon? The entire premise of these contests is to break the systems and firewalls companies, security, and developers have made to better ensure overall protection by increasing awareness from fresh perspectives. The same premise can be said about learning. In most teaching and training ecosystems. we are inclined to believe what we learning is the best practice and best method of solving whatever task is at hand. If you learn in this manner you will not gain as much as you would if you went into each of these situations with the thought “how can this be better?” So when I am in the process of learning something, half of my attention is devoted to mastering the execution of what has already been set in place but the other half of my attention is fully devoted towards breaking the system, finding its flaws and coming with my own ideas of process refinement and innovation. Its this type of thinking that truly enables you to become a big picture thinker. Too often people get caught up spending too much time on minor details of how to do something without spending any time on the why we do something. Answering the “why” is what accelerates learning potential.

These are some of the ways in which I have found found learning success. I would love to hear your strategies and what works best for you. Please share thoughts in the comment section below!

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