4 Steps to Maximize the Skill of Learning

Young boy standing in front of classroom at chalk board

Do you remember the excitement of your final graduation?  Whether it was high school, college or a graduate program.  No more homework or tests, a new sense of liberation, looking forward with an eagerness to start that new phase of life.  Fast forward to today, and while the testing and homework may be in the rear view mirror, the skill of learning remains a necessity.  Learning is a lifelong journey- and the ability to apply those learnings to everyday life is not only priceless- it's wisdom.

Impact of Learning

The further removed from that graduation day, the more apt you are to understand learning is a skill we can not put on the shelf to collect dust.  Learning skills have impacted personal and professional development for years and will continue to do so at a faster pace.   According to R. Esra Demirdöğen who conducted a study of advances in technology for adult learning, "Economic growth is increasingly driven by knowledge, and neither the countries nor the individuals can remain competitive without applying knowledge."

One of the conclusions of the study was that, "Due to the growing integration between learning and commerce, education is not a distinct activity anymore."  Other research has shown that our learning, and earning, is a matter of growing our personal, professional and social ambitions.

In today's world of technology and social media, these once siloed aspects of our lives have evolved and become intertwined.   It is more than obtaining knowledge.  We have to take action and apply our knowledge.  This  wisdom- being able to apply the knowledge- is what sets in motion the positive impact in our homes, communities, volunteer organizations and workplace.

Where to start? Keep it simple.

Visual of the "s" shape learning curve

S- Curve of Learning (Visual)

There are four basic styles to learning according to Fleming's VARK model.  As with most things in life, we are multimodal, meaning we can learn from most all of these modes.  However, playing to your strengths, with an understanding of your optimal learning style you can shorten the S curve of learning and help one breakout of a learning plateau.

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, defines a learning curve as the rate at which skill is acquired, so a steep increase would mean a quick increment of skill. A steep learning curve would result from where the learning is fastest and easiest.  Contrary to how many refer to it today, as steep being hard or difficult, as in running up a steep hill.

Flemings VARK Model (4 basic styles of learning)

  • Visual
  • Aural
  • Read/write
  • Kinesthetic

These are also modes of communication,  so it's fair to say learning to learn is akin to learning to communicate more fully.  Effective communication is key at every stage of life and requires us to be continual learners.  Great leadership starts with effective communication skills at home and in the workplace.  Regardless of age or how much one uses technology, these primary modes are utilized when taking in or giving out information.   As individuals, we have preferences for some modes and not for others.

Playing to your Strengths: Understanding of the learning styles can also help us when providing information to individuals or groups.  Impactful individuals apply their knowledge of learning styles to not only to help them learn, but also to improve their communication skills.

Graphic showing various forms of communication and learning

Communication is a CORE leadership function.

Learn and understand your preferences; use them to be successful.  As Neil Flemming stated, "It will give you strategies that are matched to your preferences and it will encourage you to play to your strengths."

How do you learn best?  Below are examples of ways people learn.

  • Studying on whiteboards, smartboards and powerpoint presentations
  • Reading diagrams and handouts
  • Following a distributed study guide or instruction manual
  • Reading from a book, industry journal or review
  • Listening to an audiobook, keynote speech, podcast
  • Participating vocally, contributing to the conversation
  • Making recordings and listening to them
  • Iron sharpen Iron- studying with a partner or group
  • Conducting experiments
  • Acting out – role play
  • Studying while standing or moving
  • Doodling during lectures
  • Learning while performing an athletic activity like running, walking or shooting hoops

What does it look like to maximize the impact of your learning?

Learning how to learn- sounds crazy- right?  For many it seems that way, then one day you have that "ah ha moment".  Once you do, you are positioned to expand your knowledge base and have maximum impact in your world.  The challenge for many (myself included) is they graduated from high school never fully understanding how they learn best, how to convert information into knowledge, and knowledge into wisdom.

Marine Combat Training in wooded area

Marine Combat Training (MCT) 1990

High school was a good experience, but I was not a strong test taker.  Following those days, I began a path where I was exposed to other learning styles and perceived "rewards".  Off the Greyhound bus onto the yellow footprints of Parris Island, SC, I was introduced to a new style of learning.  While an average student at best in high school, the Marine Corps exposed me to other ways of learning where I was above average.  Yes, I'm likely undercutting the "motivation" of a drill instructor.   In the Marine Corps, I learned I'm a "hands on, show me, let me do it kind of learner."

This type experience is not unique to me, there are many similar stories of those who seem to excel in their learning post formal education.  Research has also shown that the frontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls reasoning and helps us think before we act, develops much later than many would realize.  The age of 25 is cited most often as the age of full development in multiple studies and research.

If you are not certain what style of learner you are, you can do a quick self assessment visiting the resource center.  You can scroll to the bottom of the resource page for links to no cost assessments.  Our learning styles can vary over time, and regardless of your style these are time proven methods to improve your learning skills.

Here are 4 steps to maximize the skill of learning:

  1. Take notes, preferably old school with a real pen and paper.  According to a study in the journal Psychological Science, using pen and paper, not laptops, to take notes boosts memory and the ability to retain and understand concepts.
  2. Communicate and collaborate with colleagues and others about your learnings as this enriches the individual learning experience.  Find and/or create a community of interest and build new relationships. Harvard Business Review did a study on the real value of online communities. Online or in the coffee shop, there is great value to those you can share with and learn from.  We all have treasures of knowledge around us if we will look for them.
  3. Use multiple modalities to maximize your learning experience.  Don't just read books, listen to podcasts, write blogs, interact on blogs, volunteer in areas that will get you out of your comfort zone and provide opportunities to put your learnings into action.  Find out what your learning style is; how you process and acquire information.
  4. Optimize your learning style: visual (charts/graphics), auditory (listening), Read/write (words displayed) or kinesthetic (doing)..  When you know your learning style, you can then attend classes, webinars, conferences that incorporate your preferred style.

Continual learning is key to reaching your goals and maximizing your impact.  Learning is a lifelong journey- and the ability to apply those learnings to everyday life is not only priceless- it's wisdom.

Have a best practice for learning you'd like to share with others?  Leave a comment below, we're better together!


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