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Published on November 27, 2019

How to Learn at Work in the Most Effective Way

How to Learn at Work in the Most Effective Way

The world of work is changing rapidly. It’s common for professionals to be expected to do more with fewer resources. This only fuels stress and feelings of overwhelm.

Not only do you need to perform tasks on hand, but you also need to equip yourself with the skills and knowledge to sustain your career, advance your career and improve your work performance. When you feel too busy to upgrade your skills, how do you make time to learn at work?

Continuous learning impacts your employability. It is essential to show employers your willingness to stay updated or even ahead of trends. Your ability to think critically, be agile from learning and consistently apply what you learn is critical in a constantly changing economy.

In this article, you will discover how to learn at work effectively:

1. Identify Your Learning Goals

Here are a few questions to help you think about your learning goals:

  • Why do you want to learn?
  • What do you want to learn?
  • What’s the motivation behind your learning?
  • What knowledge or skills can help advance your career?
  • What knowledge or skills can help enhance your work performance?
  • What do you need in order to grow in your career and as a person?

Consider feedback or comments from your peers, managers, and stakeholders. There is no limit on what you can learn. The learning can range from technical skills to interpersonal skills.

2. Take Concrete Action

You need to take control. If you’re not invested in your own learning, no one else will be. This means you’ll need to take steps to realize your learning.

Taking action comes in different forms for different learners. For example, asking your manager to be considered for a project or seeking advice from your mentor.

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Take the initiative. When you show others’ that you’re a continuous and willing learner, they will likely see your growth and be more likely to invest their time and resources in you.

3. Make Learning a Habit

Set realistic and achievable learning goals. Select one to a maximum of three learning goals.

Commit to your goal like you would to eating healthy foods or exercise. You may want to find an accountability partner or inform your manager so that you have a supportive network to keep you on track.

Take a look at this article and learn how to do so: How to Develop a Lifelong Learning Habit

4. Budget Time to Learn

You need to make a conscious effort to learn. This means intentionally making time and space to learn.

Make sure that you learn in bite-sized pieces so that it’s sustainable over the long-run. This could mean blocking off 15 minutes daily in your calendar or whatever suits your learning style. For example, if you learn one new word daily, you will learn 365 words in a year.

We all know that life and work happens, and you may feel too busy to learn. However, by being mindful of why learning is important to you and making it a priority in our calendars we are reminded to turn a learning habit into a routine.

5. Learn On-the-Job

A common perception is that the majority of learning happens in the classroom. However, 30 years of research in leadership development has proven that 70% of learning happens on-the-job. Here’s the breakdown of effective leadership development learning experiences:[1]

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  • 70% challenging assignments
  • 20% developmental relationships, and
  • 10% course work

And here’re 7 ways to learn on-the-job:

Stretch Assignments

Once you’ve identified your learning objective, you can find stretch assignments or projects that can facilitate your learning.

For example, if you’ve identified that building relationships is a skill that you’d like to enhance, you may want to seek projects that involve multiple stakeholders.

Create New Experiences

Whatever knowledge-base you’re trying to expand, try to get out of your routine and find new experiences related to your learning goal. Sometimes, in order for you to learn at work, you’ll need to create new experiences.

Review the strategic direction of your organization for development ideas. New experiences can entail activities such as new client opportunities, more cross-functional partnerships, job shadowing, job rotations, or volunteer work.

Learn from Others

Learning from others is a simple and easy way to pick up quick tips.

  • Heighten your observation skills. The next time you’re sitting in a meeting, what do you notice about the presenter? What do you see in their body language? What do you notice about the participants in the meeting? What lessons did you learn from the meeting that you can apply the next time you run a meeting?
  • Learn at work by observing someone who inspires you. Maybe this person is an effective people developer or seems to navigate workplace conflict with ease. What is it about this person that inspires you? What leadership behaviours does this person show? How does this person act?
  • Learn from your manager. We’ve all had managers that were remarkable and those that are unforgivable. What qualities do you want to exhibit? What qualities are better left behind?
  • Learn from your peers. Notice the strengths of every peer on your team. What do they do well? How do they contribute to the team? What do they have in common?

Ask Questions

There is a lot to learn in any organization. Learn at work by being curious and asking questions.

When you ask questions, you are clarifying and seeking to better understand the situation and people involved. The information you gather expands your mind and knowledge-base.

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Try asking more open-ended questions beginning with Who, What, Where, When, Why, or How so that you can get a more descriptive narrative from the other party.

Find a Mentor or Trusted Advisor

We all need someone who we can talk things out with. A mentor or trusted advisor can provide you with a safe space to express your feelings without being judged.

Be very specific about what you need from your mentor: How to Find a Mentor That Will Help You Succeed

What efforts have you made to enhance your knowledge and skills? Share with your mentor the action you have taken. This is a great starting point to show your mentor that you have experimented with a few options and would now like to have a discussion on how to move forward. This approach will likely be better received than just asking your mentor for advice.

A peer once told me to bring RIBS – Raise an Issue and Bring a Solution.

Remember that your mentor’s time is valuable. Show him/her that you have invested in yourself and tried to make improvements on your own first.

Get Support

Let your manager know that you welcome opportunities for learning. She/he will likely have exposure to on-the-job opportunities that are aligned with your learning needs and the organization’s goals.

Keeping them updated on your learning progress can also support your performance goals. This will give you an opportunity to tweak your learning goals based on your career aspirations and their observations of your performance.

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Ask to be Introduced to New a Colleague

Building positive relationships across the organization can help increase your cross-functional knowledge.

Speaking with people outside of your department can help you better understand different perspectives as you work towards team and organizational goals.

Employers recognize collaboration as a key skill to build organizational capacity and influence without authority.

Bottom Line

You need to be very intentional about your own learning.

The most effective way to learn at work is on-the-job. This means you need to identify your learning goals, create a learning habit and identify on-the-job experiences that will effectively facilitate your learning.

Some key ways to learn on-the-job include:

  • Stretch assignments
  • Create new experiences
  • Learn from others
  • Ask questions
  • Find a mentor or trusted advisor
  • Get support
  • Ask to be introduced to new a colleague

No one can take knowledge away from you. It’s in your own interest to continue to grow and develop yourself.

Learn with a beginner’s mindset, stay curious, and keep your assumptions a bay to gain new perspectives.

More to Help You Learn Faster

Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Center for Creative Leadership: The 70-20-10 Rule for Leadership Development

More by this author

Ami Au-Yeung

Workplace Strategist | Career Coach | Workshop Facilitator | Writer | Speaker | Past Business Professor

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Last Updated on October 5, 2020

How to Use Deliberate Practice to Be Good at Almost Anything

How to Use Deliberate Practice to Be Good at Almost Anything

I first came across the principle of deliberate practice in the book Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. According to Anders Ericsson,[1]

“Deliberate practice involves stepping outside your comfort zone and trying activities beyond your current abilities.”

What that means is breaking down the skill you want to acquire into separate components and developing your skills, so you master each individual part of the skill. Deliberate practice is not practicing something over and over and not pushing yourself to improve.

In this article, you will discover how you can make deliberate practice work in your everyday life and achieve your goals faster, even when you lack innate talent.

How Deliberate Practice Works in Everyday Life

Imagine you want to become a better presenter. Deliberate practice requires breaking down the presentation into different sections.

For example, you could break down the presentation into the beginning, the middle, and the end. Then, you would work only on the beginning one day. You would practice the tone, the pauses, and even your movement at the beginning of the presentation. On another day, you might practice the transition from beginning to the middle, etc.

The opposite approach would be to mindlessly run through the presentation over and over again until you memorize the script. This type of practice might help you to memorize your script, but you would not necessarily deliver a great presentation. It would likely sound forced and over-practiced instead of dynamic and natural[2].

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Do Lots of Deliberate Practice

    In my teenage years, I was an aspiring middle-distance runner. During the winter months, we ran a lot of long distances on the road as well as cross country. The purpose was to develop our overall stamina and basic strength.

    As the summer approached, we transitioned onto the track and did a lot of 10 X 600 meters with 60 seconds rest between runs. Here, we were working on our speed endurance, a key factor in performing well at middle-distance running.

    Six hundred meters was not my racing distance. I ran 800 and 1,500 meters, but those 10 x 600-meter training sessions were a form of deliberate practice to develop the necessary skills to be able to perform at our best in a crucial part of the race—the middle.

    How to Use Deliberate Practice

    There are specific steps you can take to get good at deliberate practice and achieve a high level of performance for a specific goal.

    1. Break it Down

    Whatever skill you want to acquire, you need to break it down into different parts.

    Imagine you want to become better at writing. You could break down the writing process into creating eye-catching beginnings, strong middles, and inspiring endings.

    If you were to work on the beginning part of the writing process, you could practice different types of introductions. For example, you could try starting with a quote, a detailed description, or a personal story.

    Anything you want to practice can be broken down into smaller steps. Identify them and put them in a list to make sure you stick to the right order of things.

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    2. Create a Schedule

    Now that you know the steps, you should create a schedule to keep yourself motivated. Studies have shown that having a set deadline helps improve motivation by offering feedback on how close or far you are from a goal[3].

    For example, if you want to learn to play the guitar, try scheduling an hour each day to start practicing the chords. You can set yourself a deadline to learn your first song within three months.

    Find what schedule feels doable with the lifestyle you have. This will help you experience continued improvements through purposeful practice.

    3. Get a Coach

    One key part of deliberate practice is toget feedback from teachers or coaches.

    In our writing example, you could ask a friend or a person you know who reads a lot, and ask them what they think of your beginning. Ask them how you could improve it. With the feedback in hand, you can then go back and rewrite the introduction to make it even more eye-catching.

    If you were to develop your presentation skills, you could practice your opening with a colleague or friend you trust, and ask them for feedback. The key is to listen carefully to the feedback and then to go back and fine-tune your practice so you push your skills further.

    If you do not have access to anyone who can provide you with honest feedback, you can video yourself performing your presentation and do a self-critique. It is hard to watch yourself at first, but after you get over the initial shock, you can watch dispassionately and see how you move, sound, and perform.

    Do you use your tone and energy to make it interesting? Are you conveying your message clearly? Are you using too many filler words? All these questions will help you to improve your craft and skills.

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    Earlier this year, one of my communication clients asked me to review and coach his senior leadership team on a presentation they were to give to the CEO of the company, who was visiting Korea. After going through their individual presentations with them, I felt there was no passion, no emotion, no pride in what they had achieved over the previous twelve months.

    Because they had rehearsed their presentation alone with no coaching or feedback, they had focused too much on the script and missed the important energy and passion.

    I advised my clients to look at their scripts and think about what they were proud of and what they were excited about in the coming year. That one, small shift in perspective quickly put the energy and passion into their presentations.

    Getting feedback is an important part of getting the most out of deliberate practice.

    4. Use the Internet to Get Anonymous Feedback

    Another way you can get feedback is to put your writing skills online in the form of a blog post and ask people to give you feedback on your writing style. Or, you could record yourself and upload the video to YouTube. I began a YouTube channel three years ago, and this allowed me to improve my presentation skills through self-analysis.

    I have also received a lot of feedback, both positive and negative, which I reviewed and corrected where I felt the criticisms were justified. An example of this was my introductions to my videos. When I first began, my introductions were long and rambling.

    I received a lot of feedback about this, and I soon shortened them and learned to get straight to the point. It has helped me to sharpen my message.

    Bonus Tip

    The role of deliberate practice is

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    to accelerate your learning skills. With learning languages, for example, traditionally we would buy ourselves a textbook and learn grammar principles and long lists of vocabulary. Once we had some basics learned, we would then practice speaking and writing sentences.

    If you were to apply deliberate practice to your language learning process, you would find someone—preferably a native speaker of your target language—and talk to them. They would correct you and advise you where you can improve your pronunciation and intonation.

    Chris Lonsdale talked about this when he delivered his TEDx Talk on how to learn a language in six months. All the advice he gave in that talk was based on the principles of deliberate practice:

    Final Thoughts

    Whatever it is you want to master and improve your skills at, when you use the power of deliberate practice, you can quickly become better than the average and achieve top performance.

    Developing your skills in the area of communication can give you huge advantages in your workplace. Learning and mastering anything new can give you the skills to stay relevant in your industry.

    As we go through the disruptive changes of the “fourth industrial revolution,” the onus is on you to develop yourself, and engaging in deliberate practice is one way you can give yourself the advantage.

    More to Help You Learn Faster

    Featured photo credit: Elijah M. Henderson via unsplash.com

    Reference

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