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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 January 21, 2020

5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

Do you forget stuff every now and then? Are you trying to enhance your memory but not sure how?

All you need is the right memorization techniques to make the most of your memory.

The human brain is fascinating. More specifically, the vast interconnections within our mind. Mendel Kaelen compares the human brain to a hill covered in snow,

“Think of the brain as a hill covered in snow, and thoughts as sleds gliding down that hill. As one sled after another goes down the hill a small number of main trails will appear in the snow. And every time a new sled goes down, it will be drawn into preexisting trails, almost like a magnet. In time it becomes more and more difficulty to glide down the hill on any other path or in a different direction.”

The intent of Kaelen’s discussion is to think of new ways to temporarily flatten the snow. Kaelen remarked,

“The deeply worn trails disappear, and suddenly the sled can go in other directions, exploring new landscapes and, literally, creating new pathways.”

The idea here is to temporarily rewire your brain, or as Michael Pollan remarked in How to Change Your Mind,

“The power to shake the snow globe, disrupting unhealthy patterns of thought and creating a space of flexibility-entropy-in which more salubrious patterns and narratives have an opportunity to coalesce as the snow slowly settles.”

So, how can we rewire our brain allowing deeply worn connections to disappear and new connections to form? The answer is quite simple. We must change the way we store information in our mind.

    Let’s examine 5 specific memorization techniques that will change the way you think and remember information.

    1. Build a Memory Palace

      What is it?

      The method of loci[1] (aka memory palace) is a method of memory enhancement using visualizations with the use of spatial memory. It uses familiar information about your environment to quickly recall information. It is a method that was discussed by Cicero in an ancient dialogue called De Oratore.

      How to use it?

      Ron White discusses in How to Memorize Fast and Easily: Build a Memory Palace, that it’s essentially a room or building that you have memorized and you use locations in the room to store data. Ron informs us,

      “You memorize locations in a room and then you later go back to those locations to retrieve the data that you want to remember.”

      Example

      An easy 5-step example, in the form of a Wiki, can be found at Artofmemory.com. Let’s examine the the steps:

      • Step 1. Choose a place that you know well. For example, your house or office.
      • Step 2. Plan the route and pick specific locations in your route. For example, your front door, bathroom kitchen, etc.
      • Step 3. Decide what you want to memorize. For example, geography, list of items, answers for a test, etc.
      • Step 4. Place one or two items, with a mental image, and place them in your memory palace. Exaggerate your images. For example, use nudity or crazy images forcing it to stick in your mind.
      • Step 5. Make the image into a mnemonic.

      You can learn more about this technique here: How to Build a Memory Palace to Remember More of Everything

      2. Mnemonic

        What is it?

        A mnemonic is a memory device that aids in retention and/or retrieval of information. Mnemonic systems are techniques consciously used to improve memory by helping us use information already stored in long-term memory to make memorization easier.[2]

        How to use it?

        Mnemonics make use of retrieval cues to encode information in our brain allowing for efficient storage and retrieval of the information. The trick is to learn how to easily create mnemonics. If you find that you struggle with creating your own, try the following website: Mnemonic Generator.

        Example

        I recently came across a video using mnemonics to memorize countries. Memorizing Countries using Mnemonics is a video created as an introduction to a class for using memory techniques to learn the names of countries on maps.

        I actively search for videos that provide enormous educational value, yet receive very little exposure. At the time of this writing, this video has received less than 4k views. Let’s examine the video.

        Goal: Create a mnemonic to memorize the countries in the Caribbean (just the countries you need to learn).

        Step 1. Looking at a map – write out each country (for which five were chosen).

        Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico.

        Step 2. Write the first letter of each country vertically.

        C

        J

        H

        D

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        P

        Step 3. Create a sentence or phrase.

        Cubs

        Just

        Hate

        Doing

        Push-ups

        Cubs just hate doing push-ups. (Cuba Jamaica Haiti Dominican Republic Puerto Rico)

        3. Mnemonic Peg System

          What is it?

          According to Artofmemory.com, a mnemonic peg system is a technique for memorizing lists and it works by memorizing a list of words that are easy to associate with the numbers they represent.[3] These objects are the pegs of the system.

          How to use it?

          The trick is to create a Number Rhyme System with each number having a rhyming mnemonic keyword.

          Example

          Let’s look at an example of a Number Rhyme System:[4]

          0 = hero

          1 = gun

          2 = shoe

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          3 = tree

          4 = door

          5 = hive

          6 = sticks

          7 = heaven

          8 = gate

          9 = line

          Another technique like the Peg system is the Number Shape System.[5] Here you are assigning mnemonic images based on the shape of the number. Watch the following video for an example of this system: Number Shape System for Memorizing Numbers.

          4. Chunking

            What is it?

            Chunking is a way to remember large bits of information by chunking them into smaller pieces of information. We are more likely to then remember the information when we put the small pieces back together to see the entire picture.

            How to use it?

            In the video Chunking – A Learning Technique, we can see that there are several ways to chunk information.

            Example

            Let’s examine a simple example using a nine-digit number.

            Step 1. What is the number you are trying to remember?

            081127882

            Step 2. Cut the number into smaller pieces through chunking.

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            081 – 127 – 882

            Let’s look at one more example from the same video.

            “Piano teachers will first demonstrate an entire song to students. They will then ask their students to practice one measure at a time. Once the part has been learned and the neural connections in the brain have been built, then students go on to the next measure. After all chunks have been played separately, they are combined until the entire piece is connected.”

            5. Transfer of Learning

              What is it?

              Transfer of learning is a way to learn something in one area and apply it in another. Authors of Thinking at Every Desk, Derek and Laura Cabrera inform us about the transfer of learning,

              “If a student has a high transfer skills, she can learn one thing and then teach herself 10, 50, or 100 additional things.”

              How to use it?

              There are two specific ways to use it:

              1. Vertical Transfer (aka Far Transfer). Think of learning something in grade school and applying it another grade or later in life.
              2. Horizontal Transfer (aka Near Transfer). Think of learning a concept in history and applying it in math.

              Example

              I provide a detailed step-by-step example for this technique in this article:

              Learn How to Learn: How to Understand and Connect Difficult Ideas Easily

              The Bottom Line

              The key to using the techniques discussed here is to remember that we must actively think about information.

              We cannot simply drill information into our brain through rote memorization. We must change the way we think about memorization. We must find a way to “shake the snow-globe” in our mind or flatten the snow so that we can create new learning paths.

              Or as Derek and Laura Cabrera point out, we must insert “Thinking” into the equation,

              “Information X Thinking = Knowledge”

              More About Enhancing Memories

              Featured photo credit: Nong Vang via unsplash.com

              Reference

              [1] Remember Everything: Memory Palaces and the Method of Loci
              [2] The Learning Center Exchange: 9 Types of Mnemonics for Better Memory
              [3] Art of Memory: Mnemonic Peg System
              [4] Art of Memory: Number Rhyme System
              [5] Art of Memory: Number Shape System

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