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How to Make It Stick When You Learn Something New

We get it, you're busy. But despite how busy you are, you still have the desire to learn something new, whether it's a new language, or a new sport.

We get it, you're busy.

But despite how busy you are, you still have the desire to learn something new, whether it's learning a new language, or a new sport.

We're fascinated by how people learn, since our company's livelihood depends on creating the most optimal learning experience for students.

Before we dig deeper into the practical guide of how to stick with learning a new skill, we should first try to understand the reason why most of us quit when we learn something new. If you want to skip this step, you can scroll down and start reading our more actionable tips below.

Why we quit when we learn something new

With the rise of MOOC's (Massive Online Open Courses) in the past decade, the ability to learn something new has never been easier. Any one of us with internet access can start learning from the leading experts in any industry, including recorded lectures from the world's top universities.

But access does not necessarily mean usage.Duke University is one of the many institutions sharing courses online. Unfortunately, their course on Coursera from 2012 to 2013 had a completion rate of only 3.5% out of 60,000 students (2,100 students).

One can assume that it could be due to the quality of the "free" courses put out online, but this wasn't the case. When students who didn't complete the courses were surveyed, here were their top 3 reasons:

1. Takes too much time (couldn't fit learning into their busy lifestyle)2. Requires too much basic knowledge (too difficult)3. Too basic (not challenging enough)

In other words, students didn't complete the course due to lack of personalization and time, not due to the lack of quality.

Overcoming "The Dip"

Bestselling author and entrepreneur, Seth Godin, shares openly about when we should quit doing something or when we should persist. In his book, he talks about the most common reasons why most people quit before they reach their full potential, which can be very useful to know before it happens to you.

the dip

According to Godin, these are the five reasons why you might fail to overcome "The Dip."

1. You run out of time (and quit)

2. You run out of money (and quit)

3. You get scared (and quit)

4. You’re not serious about it (and quit)

5. You lose interest (and quit)

You can apply these reasons to common situations, including learning a new language, starting your own business, or getting in shape.

When we look deeper, we can identify the different emotions that you feel as you transition into the new cycle of the "The Dip." The most important one is the "Crisis" mode, because one of three events could follow:

  1. You quit.
  2. You accept the crisis and go through an extended crisis.
  3. You re-construct, recover, and transform yourself to reach a higher standard than when you started.

As we continue our learning journey, "The Dip" is something we will continuously face. The faster we can get ourselves out of "Crisis" mode, and into "Transformation" mode will determine the potential of the talent we can reach at the skill.Now that we have a high-level understanding of why most of us quit, let's talk about...

How to Make It Stick When We Learn Something New

Develop a Growth Mindset

You can have the best strategies and resources, but they're unsustainable without the right mindset.Bestselling author and psychologist at Stanford University, Carol Dweck, talks about what's known as the Growth Mindset in her book, Mindset. According to Dweck, humans can have one of two mindsets: Growth mindset or Fixed mindset. And Maria Popova of BrainPickings differentiates the two mindsets clearly:

A "fixed mindset" assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way, and success is the affirmation of that inherent intelligence, an assessment of how those givens measure up against an equally fixed standard; striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled.

A "growth mindset," on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of un-intelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.

growth mindset

Dweck's three decades of research on mindset reveals that the desire to fight instead of flee, or the ability to become more motivated by the experience of failure, can predict the potential of one's achievement. It's why the best become even better, despite the hardships and obstacles that stand in their way.If you're on the brink of giving up -- no matter what you're learning or working on -- remember that you're undergoing a process of growing, and struggle is part of the path to mastery.

Figure Out How You Learn Best

Just like you wouldn't expect a professional basketball player to be amazing at kicking, we shouldn't expect our brain to learn the way everyone else does.The truth is, we all learn differently. Some of us learn better by listening to an audio recording, while others would be bored out of their minds.It turns out, there are seven core learning styles that exists:

  • Visual (spatial): You prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
  • Aural (auditory-musical): You prefer using sound and music.
  • Verbal (linguistic): You prefer using words, both in speech and writing.
  • Physical (kinesthetic): You prefer using your body, hands and sense of touch.
  • Logical (mathematical): You prefer using logic, reasoning and systems.
  • Social (interpersonal): You prefer to learn in groups or with other people.
  • Solitary (intrapersonal): You prefer to work alone and use self-study.

By now, most of us should have experimented with all of these styles, but it's surprising how few of us actually understand how we learn best.

If you want to discover your ideal learning style, it's important to start with a blank slate, instead of relying on how you learned in school. It's safe to assume that the way you are learning today may not be your ideal way of learning, but was solely developed from your years of using the methods pushed by traditional institutions.

For example, if you're an adult, there's exciting research that shows adults can be as good, if not better, than children at learning a language. This depends on the right learning method of adults, whether they use immersion versus memorization, and their ability to continue learning. One of the key explanations for this is that adults have more experience than children at understanding how we best learn something new, versus children who are only figuring it out.

Figure out how you learn best by recalling the moments when you retained the most information from a learning session, while experimenting and analyzing new styles of learning moving forward.

Learn By Doing

Think about how you learned how to ride a bicycle, swim at the pool, or shoot a basketball through a hoop.

You learned it by doing.

This means that if you want to stick with learning something new, your best bet is to immerse yourself in the activity.If you're learning a foreign language, speak it with other native speakers.If you're learning how to program, learn it by creating your own website.

As we shared in our post on how to remember more information, a study done by the National Training Laboratories Institute revealed that:

5% of what they learn when they’ve learned from a lecture (i.e. university/college lectures)

10% of what they learn when they’ve learned from reading (i.e. books, articles)

20% of what they learn from audio-visual (i.e. apps, videos)

30% of what they learn when they see a demonstration

50% of what they learn when engaged in a group discussion.

75% of what they learn when they practice what they learned.

90% of what they learn when they use immediately (or teach others)

Give yourself the best shot at learning faster and retaining more skill/information by completely immersing yourself in the activity, instead of relying on theory (i.e. books, videos, courses).

Next steps

When you learn something new, sticking with it is not easy. Hopefully now you have some strategies at your disposal that you can use whenever you're struggling to find motivation.

As for next steps, pick one thing that you've been wanting to learn. Then refer to the 3 steps we shared in this post. It's likely you'll need to apply these 3 steps by customizing it to your specific needs and situation.

  1. Develop a Growth Mindset
  2. Figure out how you learn best
  3. Learn by doing

Before you go, leave a quick comment here on what you're learning and share this post (click here to tweet) with someone that would get some value from reading it.

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