7 Tips to Mastering a New Skill Suck Less
Ever wondered how long does it take to learn a new skill? Check out these practical tips and make learning quick and fun!
Consider this scenario, you are a working professional with some interest in music. You decide to learn an instrument, a flute! (A guitar is too mainstream, to be honest). You hire a teacher (well, you earn and can afford one!) and start classes. After some time, you hit a plateau in your learning curve, this could be because the monotony has set in, and a routine just doesn’t cut it for you. And now your interest seems boring.
What is missing here is fun, which, believe it or not, forms a very important part of the learning process. William Glasser, an American psychiatrist, proposes that fun is our basic psychological need. Every person is prone to frustration and tends to seek fun everywhere, even in the learning process. Any kind of “play” during learning brings out the new and unseen. It allows for risk-taking, builds autonomy, and fosters new ideas.
But mind you, this fun is not just for fun’s sake. Fun experiences are exciting new challenges that push people to test their limits and become a better version of themselves.
So, suppose you are trying to learn a new skill set, and the journey seems rather monotonous. In that case, the fun element is probably missing, and maybe that is why the journey sucks a bit. It is the reason why even the things you’re passionate about don’t seem interesting enough! So, you require a better model for learning that involves employing all your senses and breaking the monotony.
We bring to you very practical ways to make learning a new skill set suck less.
Table of Contents:
#1 Understand Your Approach
#2 Use the Chunk Chain Method
#4 Seek Different Learning Methods
#6 Make the Best Use of Technology
#7 Set Up a System of Reward
Let’s get started.
#1 Understand Your Approach
Before making the process fun, you have to understand how you learn and then learn to learn effectively. Confused?
Here is a breakdown:
According to the VARK (Visual, Auditory, Reading, Kinesthetic) model, learners can broadly be of four types:
➔ Visual Learner: Most people respond to a specific sensation while learning. In the case of visual learners, it is their sense of vision. This means they are more likely to retain and process information presented visually. It could be by way of a graph, animation, a map, etc. Visual learners tend to condense complex pieces of information into visual perceptions and distill them into simpler forms like a flow chart or a simple doodle. They tend to use flow charts, mind mapping techniques, doodling, etc., to learn better.
➔ Auditory Learner: As the name suggests, auditory learners use their hearing ability to learn and retain information. They can learn even with their heads down and absolutely no eye contact. As opposed to visual learners, a physical or visual connection is not an essential requirement to learn. Such learners are often a part of the audiobook and podcasting communities.
➔ Reading/Writing Learner: Such learner look for the aid of writing (the most basic method of learning) as a means to learn. They are often a stickler for information. A visual process like drawing a flowchart or even graphs does not work for them as they don’t want to miss out on important information.
➔ Kinesthetic Learner: This kind learns by applying what they have learnt. They perhaps do the most wholesome kind of learning by practical application. Theories don’t interest them much. Instead of learning from textbooks, they dive head first and learn along the way.
Since the VARK model is not an exhaustive one, here are two more types:
➔ Group/Social Learner: They learn best in a collaborative learning setup. When surrounded by people trying to understand the same thing/skillset, they work best. They have a strong sense of teamwork, speaking, and leadership skills. Classroom learning is one of the most effective methods of learning for them.
➔ Multimodal Learner: A Multimodal learner employs more than one method of learning. Such learners are dynamic and can even use more than two methods at a time. As a result, they can easily transition from one mode to another and adapt to any teaching style.
So, how do understanding approaches help? Understanding the kind of approach you prefer will help you make informed decisions while on your journey of learning a new skill. It will help you in speeding up the learning process and make it more effective.
Take this test to know your learning style.
#2 Use the Chunk Chain Method
Could you spell words like Independent in a breath? Or did you mentally go ‘IN-DE-PEN-DENT’ when asked to spell? (Big word tho, both literally and metaphorically).
According to Cognitive Psychology, this method of breaking individual sets of information down and grouping them together as a meaningful whole is known as Chunking. The word chunking comes from a paper by George A. Miller called The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two. It is the same method you have been using to remember longer spellings and phone numbers (by breaking them into sets of two), etc.
How do you use this method to learn a new skill? First, treat the new skill as a difficult spelling that you must learn, and break it down into smaller skills or subskills. Once you have broken a skillset down into smaller chunks or subskills, you can begin perfecting each chunk on its own, and as you perfect those parts, you start forming a chunk chain. Then, you add a new chunk to the chain by perfecting one at a time, thereby perfecting the whole skillset.
As an adult trying to learn new skills, you cannot limit yourself within the confines of textbook learning. This is where collaborative learning comes in. It is a method where two or more people learn or attempt to learn something together. You don’t have to start with a group of 10 people, just one person would do.
But is it not distracting? Learning/studying with people? Chatter? What if I learn better alone? We will answer these questions but let us look at the benefits of Collaborative Learning. According to a study published in The Journal of Technology Education, ‘individuals can achieve higher levels of learning and retain more information when they work in a group rather than individually, this applies to both the facilitators of knowledge, the instructors, and the receivers of knowledge, the students.’
Teamwork will provide all kinds of benefits. You will:
➔ Be exposed to information that you are possibly not aware of
➔ You will get to meet and engage with people who are possibly better than you.
➔ The environment of discussion and debates is intellectually stimulating.
➔ Invariably you will establish a system of accountability where you check in on each other once in a while.
For example, if you are learning to speak French. A group learning setup will help you meet people who are at an advanced stage of learning French. You can always learn to get better from such a person. In addition, you can practice conversing in French with the group. Online collaboration communities will also allow you to meet tutors and learners from other cultures, facilitating cross-cultural learning.
Now coming to the questions.
➔ A bunch of dedicated learners working together to get better at a skill can never be distracting. Such groups for adult learners are usually mentored, which negates distraction.
➔ Sure, you can be a solitary learner. Still, irrespective of your learning approach (see point 1), you can see the collaboration as a sounding board or a focus group and seek constructive criticism or exposure from them.
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#4 Seek Different Learning Methods
Irrespective of the kind of learner you are (see point 1), you must always be open to adopting new and different methods of learning across various approaches of learning.
If you are a visual learner and learn better from visual stimuli, try tweaking your learning methods a bit for a week, maybe?
For example, if you are learning to say, cook. You will obviously have to practice it and watch videos to learn different cooking methodologies. You will surely doddle your notes and try to learn by drawing flow charts etc. Now, to make things fun, you can maybe shift to listening to audiobooks and podcasts to learn culinary skills. Where you listen to books on the science of cooking etc.
If you are a solitary learner, try collaborating with people who share similar interests and are on a journey to learn the same skill.
Prof. Jean Paul Martin evolved the process of learning by teaching in the early 1980s. You will be surprised to learn that this method was developed to overcome a lack of resources in the olden times! However, after being introduced, it quickly gained popularity because it emphasized acquiring life skills, and the end goal was to ensure the learner’s independence.
This system of learning was developed and implemented across schools. Still, researchers and learners across age groups have used it over the years to learn and understand concepts better. You can use this method to level up your learning and make the process really enjoyable and enriching.
Take, for example, learning a new language, say French. You can begin by understanding the grammar of the subject on your own. Then try teaching the material to the study group you are a part of (this is where having a community of learners can be super helpful).
You can be as creative as you want with your teaching method. Try a PowerPoint presentation, videos, humor, basically whatever sails your boat!
This will help you greatly in getting a better understanding of the subject/concept/skill.
You also want to actively seek feedback from your peer group and fill the knowledge gap that you might have in your understanding.
➔ Platypus Learning: This technique will work for people who cannot find a learning community or are simply not into group learning. This technique is based on evidence that shows that teaching an inanimate object improves understanding and knowledge retention of a subject. The advantage of this technique is that the learner does not need another person to teach the subject.
#6 Make the Best Use of Technology
The major upside of being a learner in today’s day and age is that you have technology at your disposal. Using it most innovatively allows you to get the most out of your learning process. Technology enables easy access to information, accelerates learning, and provides opportunities to practice your skills.
Following are the ways you can use technology to make your learning fun:
➔ Learning: You can explore and expand methods of receiving information by using technology. Books are indeed important. They are definitely the primary source of information, but tweaking your learning methods will definitely spice up the process and even help with retention. You can listen to podcasts or audiobooks to learn new things. You could be washing dishes or attending to other household chores and still manage to do learn. Just pop in your earphones and learn as you work. This will work especially for someone trying to learn a new language or training to be a writer.
YouTube will give you access to a bunch of learned professionals to learn from in your said field. Channels like Vsauce, Crash Course, etc. have a huge base of learners and are excellent at disseminating information in the most innovative way (they have the best graphics!)
➔ Building a community: There are a bunch of online communities that you can be a part of and connect with people who are on the same journey of learning as you.
Following are some popular learning communities that you might want to be a part of:
- Busuu– Language learners who join this free language community can practice their skills with other people worldwide. Busuu also provides interactive lessons for learning English, Spanish, German, French, and Italian.
- Academia.edu — This academic community helps scholars discover what other people around the world are researching and why. Academia.edu makes it easy for any academic to stay abreast of new papers and developments in their field.
- TeachAde– TeachAde is a social network for educators. Members can find and share lesson plans, audio, video, and other multimedia resources.
- LearnHub– LearnHub is home to many different online communities for students and lifelong learners. Some of the most popular communities focus on studying abroad, standardized test prep, languages, social sciences, and mathematics.
➔ Time Management: Several applications allow effective time management and help you keep track of your day! We strongly recommend that your use apps like
- Pomodoro timer
- Keep Notes etc., to manage your time and make an effective to-do list for better utilization of the limited time that you give to polishing or learning a skill. Some of these apps are meticulously designed to keep track of your time and task to the last minute.
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#7 Set Up a System of Reward
Incentivizing the process is one way by which you can make learning fun. A UCL-led study focused on understanding adolescents’ response to reward, and punishment found that adolescents are more receptive to rewards than punishments of equal value.
It further suggested that it is useful to frame things in more positive terms to get better output. This reward can be in varied forms — It can be appreciation from your teacher or mentor, a bonus that you have received for a job well done, etc.
To put a reward system in place for yourself, you begin by breaking the skill into sub-skills (see point 2) and reward yourself each time you master a subskill. Small rewards, mind you. It could be watching an episode of a show you really like (we recommend Schitt’s Creek, brilliant comedy…okay coming back), eating that last piece of cake, buying a book you have been really looking forward to reading, you get the drift.
Now it’s time for a bonus for our lovely readers!
#Bonus: Value Progress Over Performance
During any learning experience, we have to choose between Progress and Performance. Which is basically choosing between getting better or looking good (as in the optics of it).
Most times, by default, our approach is to focus on performance which pivots on the outcomes. This focuses on variables like
➔ Wins and losses
➔ Test scores
➔ Grades etc.
These all form a large part of our learning experience as children, which carries over to adulthood. But when marks, grades, and numbers on the scale become too important — progress, growth, and enjoying the process takes a backseat. In fact, the process ends up becoming the punishment!
Therefore, when learning a new skill, remember that you are doing it for yourself. All that matters is that you are better than yesterday.
The tricks that lead up to quick outcomes are usually not the best approach to learning and development. So, do the outcomes not matter at all? They sure do, and it is absolutely all right to want to see results. Still, it is often counterproductive when you begin chasing them. Also, choosing performance over progress robs you of an opportunity to learn.
The bottom line — as a learner, especially as an adult learner, it is important to focus on the process of learning and shrug off the pressure of marks, grades, scores, etc. Remember learning a new skill is about you getting better at something and less about absolutely anything else.
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