Accelerate Up the Learning Curve

Unless you already know everything, you probably have a great deal still to learn. So it will undoubtedly help a lot to find a few effective ways to accelerate up the next learning curve you tackle.

Learning has certainly become somewhat easier because we are the beneficiaries of many amazing advances in technology, and will undoubtedly continue to benefit from more of them in years to come. But information technology is not enough. The problem is we still see, speak, listen, read, and in other ways absorb information (including work and life lessons of various kinds) at pretty much the same speed as our ancestors.

It’s true you can learn to “speed read” a little faster. You can set your audio and video devices to more rapid playback. There are other tricks to learn stuff faster rather than slower. (One of my favorite ways to quickly become familiar with a new field of study is to go through a book on the subject intended for children. It’s all boiled down in there and simplified for easier learning.)

But there’s plenty of important stuff you can learn only from actual hands-on practice and real-world personal experience.

To ascend this category of learning curve faster, it’s helpful to try the following:

Start With an Overview

Ever try installing a new toilet? Changing an automobile brake pad? Arranging flowers? Putting up drywall? Writing computer code? Folding origami? Styling hair?

These and a million other topics are more or less well-explained on the internet, many of them in the form of instructional videos for beginners. They won’t make you an overnight expert, but they will provide you with an overview of the topic, the terminology, and the basic concepts you must learn if you want to add that particular capability to your portfolio of skills and abilities.

But they can help you start learning only simple things. I would advise you not to try a hostile takeover or a double black diamond ski run on the strength of one or more instructional videos.

Take Some Tutelage

Once you’ve climbed up past the “total ignoramus” stage of whatever know-how you’re trying to acquire, the best way to accelerate up the learning curve is to work directly with someone who already knows what they’re doing.

In the old days, this was called “apprenticeship.” If you apprentice yourself to the right person, you’ll receive a valuable combination of experience and explanation, plus exposure to the tools and techniques involved in whatever you’re trying to learn.

You can also obtain some valuable observation, experience, and information by taking a course or working an entry-level job in your field of interest.

Be careful about a bad fit, however. I remember taking a factory job as the assistant to the only person who knew how to build a certain complicated electrical component. Rather than share what he knew, he always sent me for supplies or various errands so I wouldn’t be around to watch him perform the crucial aspects of his job.

As far as I know, he’s still the only person who can do that work.

Contemplate and Absorb

Overviews and tutelage are valuable, but what really helps you accelerate up the learning curve is the extra time you take between each of your study and hands-on sessions to contemplate and absorb what you’ve learned.

You may have noticed this in your past learning experiences: You were likely somewhat clumsy and hesitant during your first session, but you were noticeably more adept and skillful the second time, and you became even better in subsequent sessions after that.

Scientists have discovered the simple phenomenon: idle periods of introspection between learning experiences significantly accelerate your learning.

In these intervals, your brain reviews and contemplates what you have done, identifies and isolates the muscle memories and insights, and sets up to utilize that learning in your subsequent efforts.

In practical terms, you can learn a certain amount in eight solid hours of study and practice, but you can become a great deal more proficient if instead you break up those eight hours into a number of one- or two-hour sessions of study and practice, and between them allow for an hour or more of intentional time to contemplate and absorb what you’ve learned.

An hour of rest between learning sessions will help you refresh and recover for the next stint, of course. But use that hour for conscious contemplation, review, and analysis of what you’ve experienced – including both your successes and your errors – and you will greatly accelerate your development of the skills and abilities you’re trying to master.

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