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Five ways to learn new skills fast

Friday February 14 2020

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If the skill you’re learning is work-related, consider making a presentation to your colleagues. PHOTO | SHUTTESTOCK 

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They say the brain is like a muscle which, like all others, needs to be nourished and kept fit, through learning.

Research shows that acquiring new information or learning a new skill can help an individual develop new neural connections in their brain, and also make him happier. Additionally, learning new things can help keep at bay diseases such as the Parkinson’s disease.

Surprisingly, the major barrier to learning a new skill is not intellectual incapability, but unwillingness to change. Over time, human beings naturally develop their own unique routines, which can limit their ability to acquire new knowledge.

We often get comfortable and become reluctant to get out of our comfort zones to explore new ways of doing things. In short, the more we do things in a particular way, the more difficult it is to change our routines and start something new.

Yet learning should be embraced by anyone who desires to advance both in their professional and social lives. With the year in its second month, this is an ideal time to start learning something new. Here is how to go about it.

Set clear goals


When acquiring a new skill, one must be committed to achieving their goals, and these goals must be concise and attainable. Rather than having a broad objective such as to learn how to play a music instrument, pick one instrument that you would like to play and set a goal such as: Learning how to play the piano.

List down all the skills you would like to acquire, and then arrange the items in order of priority, then move to the execution phase.

To help you stay focused and committed, always remind yourself of the reasons that prompted you to learn that particular skill. Also, ensure that you settle on learning one skill at a time, rather than studying several things at a go.

Break it down

Once you’ve settled on the skill you would like to acquire, do your research and get to know the topics or sub-elements you will need to cover as you go along.

Be careful not to stay on the research stage for too long, as his could breed procrastination. The idea is to get an idea of what you are getting into before you start out so that you can approach the learning process from a point of knowledge.

By identifying the core skills you need to develop, you will find out which areas to direct your time and energy. Also, you are likely to feel less overwhelmed by the process as you will be working on one sub skill at a time.

Identify the pitfalls

The first few hours or days of learning a new skill can be quite challenging, and this can make you lose the motivation you need.

Therefore, you need to know the pitfalls, and avoid falling into them. Learn to turn off the voices that tell you that you can live without that skill or knowledge, or that the process is too long or too hard, or that you are pushing yourself too hard.

One great way to maneuverer through the challenges is by applying the pre-commitment psychology to your advantage. According to Josh Kaufman, an author and entrepreneur, you need just 20 hours to learn a new skill. Therefore, always dedicate at last 20 hours of practice and assess your progress before you think about quitting.

Start now

After planning and strategising, get moving. Whereas we have been made to think that we can only learn through certain techniques, this is not the case.

“Forty years of research on learning styles has found that matching teaching styles to learning styles makes no difference at all. In my experiments, I found that students learn the same way regardless of the way the material was presented to them,” says Tesia Marshik, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin.

Do not limit yourself to a learning style that you think is best for you. Instead, seek to get as much information from a variety of sources. Additionally, rather than memorise random facts, put the lessons you’ve so far acquired to practice. This will motivate you to keep learning, and also give you an opportunity to learn from your own mistakes.

Share your newly acquired knowledge

Part of the findings from a research done by John F. Nestojko, a professor in Washington University, were that: “To determine the potential effects of teaching on learning, it turns out that learning with an intention to teach yields the best result as compared to learning to get tested.

“Learning with an intention to teach forces one to identify the main points better, and break down the material to smaller, manageable chunks which makes it easier to recall.”

Try talking with someone about the specific skill or knowledge you have acquired, or answer their questions on the subject. If the skill you’re learning is work-related, consider making a presentation to your colleagues, or putting up a blog or YouTube channel where you can share the new found knowledge, thereby polishing your skills further.