The 7 Keys to Effective Learning

Most people accept that learning is essential to get ahead in their career, or even stay on top of their current role. In an ever-changing world, believing that current skills will remain relevant forever is simply wishful thinking. In order to stay ahead of the curve, you need to continue improving and learning new skills. But finding time (and sometimes funds) for learning is hard. Some programs are really expensive, and everyone I meet seems to be getting busier and busier. Every minute or dollar spent learning and improved must be maximised.

Over the years, I’ve trained thousands of people, and I’ve found that these seven keys can help you make the most of your training.

1. Find purpose.

People often show up for classes or training without any discernible purpose or reason. These individuals are more likely to zone out, or are generally distracted for the duration of the lesson. Did that result in effective learning? Of course not. There is a direct correlation between purpose and learning. Those who knew what they wanted out of the training, or at least why they were there, retained information longer, and performed better during assessment compared to those who did not.

Work out why you want to learn something and what it will do for you. Will it make that raise a bigger possibility? Get you onto a key new project? Improve your chances of a promotion? Even if it is just to ensure you perform better in your role, purpose-driven learning is more effective.

2. Set measurable objectives.

For example, “I want to learn Italian” is vague, and, well, never-ending. Never-ending tasks can be demotivating - everyone likes to cross the finish line, so to speak. Set objectives linked to your purpose. Objectives are measurable and have a time frame. Here’s an example: “I want to learn basic conversational Italian so that I can chat with the locals on my trip next summer”. It’s measurable (conversational italian) and has an end-point (my trip next summer). It’s almost guaranteed to lead to more effective learning than “I want to learn Italian”.

3. Practice makes perfect.

Things we learn get forgotten unless we use them. As adults, we only remember 20% of what we hear, but up to 90% of what we do. Effective learning solutions allow you to practice the skill while you learn it, but to make it really stick, it’s best to use the skill in the real world as quickly as possible.

4. Utilise dead time.

Think about your day. How much time did you spend waiting or commuting? We often overlook time spent travelling to and fro, but this time can be better utilised to learn something new, or even revise the day’s learning points.

5. Don’t quit.

So many people start learning programs (especially free ones) but drop out. There are always times when it’s tough to stick with your learning agenda. Work gets really busy. Something comes up at home so you have to make an unplanned trip. That’s OK. Things happen so don’t beat yourself up. If you have a plan you can get back on it. Most importantly, don’t give up. Learning requires commitment.

6. Go through it again. Repeatedly.

In most of the training programs I run, we send out a follow up quiz a few weeks after the program. It’s not a test: students can review the materials. But just the process of accessing the material once more, massively increases retention of what’s been learnt. We’ve seen that recall can improve by up to 60%. Create a plan to review materials, and put into action any new skills.

7. Celebrate!

Everyone loves a celebration. You’ve worked hard, you’ve learned something new. You’ve achieved your objective (you did set one didn’t you?) and that’s worth a celebration. Go have a beer, or just pat yourself on your back, and say ‘well done!’