Regardless of your age, new skills are a value as a professional. You might have the necessary skills to perform your job, but as the industry changes new tech is introduced and new methods are established. It is important to be able to stay up-to-date. Boomers are often criticized for being unwilling to learn new things on the job. However unfair that criticism may be, you need to be able to prove it wrong. Not only that, but continuously pushing yourself to learn and grow as a professional helps you stay engaged in your work. Teaching yourself a new skill is certainly not easy, but if you’re willing to dedicate the time and effort to learning, you’ll soon have a new addition to your skill set. Here are a few tips to help you along the way.
Structure your learning.
The obvious first place to start is by setting out a game plan. There’s a significant amount of time that needs to be dedicated to learning a new skill and you must ensure you’re putting in that necessary time. If you tell yourself you’ll work on it when you can, it could either drag on for far too long or be pushed aside and forgotten. Set up a schedule for when and how you’ll do the work. Having this structure will help you from going off track and wasting time.
While structure is important, don’t feel the need to set a deadline for yourself. You can have expectations for how your progress is going, but be realistic with those goals. Understand what is necessary to accomplish your goal then base your timetable off of that. You want to stay disciplined, but rushing the outcome isn’t helpful in actually retaining the skill. Also, be realistic about your end goals as well. Will you have mastered the skill? Unlikely, but having a solid understanding of it to build off is a fine goal to have.
Be open to different learning methods.
When learning something like this, you want to have every avenue of learning at your disposal. You might say, “I’m a visual learner” then seek out methods that fit your perceived needs. However, that’s cutting off so many effective and informative ways of teaching. Studies have shown that the theory of different learning styles doesn’t exist. You might have preferences, but if you want to really learn the skill, you need to be willing to challenge yourself with new methods that might be more effective.
Understand the skill before you begin.
It’s likely that, whatever skill you wish to acquire, it’s more complex than it seems on the surface. Take riding a bike for example. On the surface, the skill is being able to sit on a bike, pedal and ride it. But what’s the most important aspect of the skill? Is it balance? Speed? The type of bike? Understanding the whole picture allows you to identify the best process of learning the skill.
Don’t be too narrow in your focus.
Similar to the above point, you can’t look at the skill too narrowly. Maybe you want to use the skill for a specific reason and you seek to learn it from that view point. That only teaches you one aspect of the skill, not the whole thing. Say you were trying to learn how to play the guitar – don’t approach it by trying to learn how to play your favourite song, but rather learn the basic chords that build most any song.
Take it in parts.
You’ll probably know well that tackling a large task is easier to manage in smaller chunks rather than trying to take on the whole issue as one. The same is true of learning a new skill. When you have a good overall sense of the skill, you can then break it down into sections that build on each other. Work on one and when you feel comfortable with it, you can use it to learn the next section. Trying to take it all in at once will probably mean you’re not absorbing key elements.
Test yourself as you go.
As mentioned already, this will not be a short process. When you have a long-term task at hand, it’s important to have some way of measuring your progress as you go. When you make your schedule, add regular progress tests along the way to see if you’re staying on track. This can help you to determine if you need to amend your timeline, as well as which aspects of the learning are working, and which need work.
Don’t neglect the mental aspect.
While your focus on learning a new skill is likely the technical aspects, it’s important to recognize that there is a mental barrier that most of us have to deal with. It can be intimidating trying to learn something new. Especially when you’re starting the process with basically no knowledge, it can seem like a pretty big hill to climb. This is when you need to give yourself that mental kick in the butt and remember all those times you have successfully learned a skill from scratch. This is just one more thing you’re adding to your arsenal so don’t let the process scare you off.
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