Having worked in HR at a large banking corporation and in strategic HR consulting, I’ve seen the effects of learning and development on career mobility — and what leads people to let it fall by the wayside. Over time, working with users as well as learning experts, I’ve found that four crucial habits can make a tremendous difference.
Focus on emerging skills. With so many learning options available these days, people are often tempted to simply go to Google, type in some general search terms, and start one of the first courses that pops up. That’s a waste of time.
In this era, micro-learning — engaging with online learning tools when and where it’s convenient — is becoming a much larger part of the training and development scene. This has its benefits, including freedom, convenience, and digestible content.
But there’s also a downside. These asynchronous experiences are often solitary. And without at least some real-time interaction, whether in person or online, many students lose motivation. Researchers have found that “the sense of isolation” for some online learners “may make the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful online learning environment.” They call for more synchronous experiences. Others have also identified interaction and collaboration as critical factors in fruitful learning.
In my work, I’ve consistently seen that when online students sign up for a live course, in which they interact with a professor and one another at a set time at least once a week, they stick with it longer and learn more. Often, these kinds of programs offer materials you can work on individually. But the camaraderie can serve as a huge motivator, as can the desire not to fall behind the group.
When a live course isn’t available, I encourage learners to find a “synchronous cohort” — a friend or acquaintance with similar learning goals. Make a pact to do online learning together weekly. You can learn a lot from hearing each other’s questions and explaining things to each other as you come to understand them, since the act of teaching can improve content understanding, recall, and application.
Implement learning immediately.
Research shows that performing the tasks you’ve learned is crucial, because “enactment enhances memory by serving as an elaborative encoding strategy.”
This is part of the problem many engineers face when looking for jobs straight out of college: They’ve been stuck in “theory land,” with little experience putting what they’ve learned into practice. You can run into the same issue with online learning. For example, I could spend weeks watching videos on how to set up a distributed computing system. But if I don’t go to Amazon Web Services and deploy it — soon — I’ll forget much of what I learned.
这是许多工程师在大学毕业时面临的一个问题:他们被困在“理论领域”，没有什么机会把他们所学到的东西付诸实践。在网上学习中你会遇到同样的问题。例如，我可以花上几个星期的时间观看关于如何建立一个分布式计算系统的视频。但是如果我不去Amazon Web Services尽快实践，我将会忘记我所学到的大部分知识。
So whatever field you’re studying, find opportunities to use your new skills. Depending on the skill, you might participate in a collaborative project at work, for instance, or set up your own project on a small scale at home.
Set a golden benchmark.
Just like runners in a marathon, online learners need to have a clear goal in order to stay focused. A return on investment (in terms of time and money spent) is hard to gauge in the near term. But those who persevere generally have their eye on a larger prize — a new job, a promotion, or the chance to lead a project. I encourage people to determine a specific career objective and keep it front of mind as they learn.
Of course, that benchmark will change as you develop. Learning is a career-long process. After you achieve one big goal, set your sights on the next one. That’s how you make learning a part of your normal routine.