Is there something you'd like to learn how to do–speak a new language, become a gourmet chef, or perhaps add a skill to help you get a promotion at work? While everyone learns in different ways and at different speeds, here are a few tips that can help you learn faster, understand better, and have more fun in the process.
Discover How You Learn
People learn in different ways. Educational researcher Neil D. Fleming designed the VARK model, which stands for Visual, Aural, Read/write, and Kinesthetic sensory modalities. Some people like to see information demonstrated (Visual), others prefer to hear a lecture or recording (Auditory), still others prefer reading and taking notes (Read/write) and others can't remember anything without active exploration (Kinesthetic). You can discover your preferred style and get help understanding it by answering the VARK questionnaire. Once you know your preferred learning style, you can find teachers and resources to best help you.
Get a Mentor
Asking someone who already has the skills you want can go a long way when learning something new, so don't try to learn in a vacuum. If you can find a person who is willing to mentor you, answer quick questions, or advise you when you hit roadblocks, your learning curve will be much shorter. Often you will learn secrets that could take years to discover on your own. To find a mentor try an advanced people search on LinkedIn or the U.S. Small Business Administration's (SBA) mentor program at Score.org. You can also check out the many online forums related to your subject or just ask around–you might be surprised to find someone you already know can help.
You won't learn your new skill all at once, nobody does. If you let yourself become overwhelmed by self-improvement, you're likely to miss the point and most of the fun! Break your learning down into smaller, manageable goals. If you have only a few things you want to learn, such as being more assertive or more patient, then concentrate on only one thing at a time.
Log Your Progress
If you spend all your time learning and no time thinking about what you're learning, the information is less likely to stick. Keep a journal of what you've learned as you learn it. This will go a long way toward both memory and mastery. Many people prefer to keep a handwritten journal, but you don't have to. Now there are many free online journals like My Diary and Penzu. You can also opt to keep a simple text document on your desktop. Whichever you choose, keep your appointment to write it down each time you learn something new.
Create a Cheat Sheet
Similar to keeping a journal, except you don't put it away. If you need to refer to something often, like verb tenses or keyboard shortcuts for a software program, creating a cheat sheet to keep on a nearby wall or computer screen will help you learn even faster.
Pay It Forward
If you get the opportunity to teach your new skill to someone else, jump at it! There's almost nothing that can help you gain mastery over your subject more than teaching someone else. Information exchange is another way to expand your undertaking and online forums are great places to trade information with others who are just as motivated as you are. You can even be a mentor to someone else much sooner than you may realize, and this can be a better option than explaining things to a disinterested friend or spouse.
Mistakes Are a Good Thing
Unless you're learning how to tame lions or parachute, mistakes probably won't kill you. In fact, trial and error is a great foundation for learning since it develops a deeper understanding of your subject. Educational psychologists might even say learning is impossible without failure. In fact, Thomas Edison was nonplussed at the many failed attempts to invent incandescent light bulbs, saying, "We now know a thousand ways not to build a light bulb." The bottom line: Don't be afraid of failure.
Remember, it usually takes an average of six-months to learn any new skill, even longer for people to notice you've got it, and potentially years longer to master it. According to neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, bestselling author of This is Your Brain on Music, an expert or master is one who's practiced their craft at least 10,000 hours. But don't let that stop you! Follow these guidelines and you'll learn faster–and enjoy the learning process–even more.