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Learning How to Learn: What Business Leaders Need to Know

February 9, 2014, 12:00 AM
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The world is changing at a rapidly accelerating pace. What you learn today can quickly become outdated. HOW to learn, though, is a skill that lasts a lifetime. When you think about it—it makes sense for us to be taught how to learn before we are taught any specific subject matter. But rarely, if ever, does that happen. 

Just why is it so important? Your grandfathers may well have had one job their entire lives. Your parents probably had two or three jobs. Today’s school-leavers face the prospect of three or four career changes during the course of their lifetime. Careers—not jobs. And some of those careers may not even exist right now.

That’s how much the digital age is revolutionizing our world. 

And consider this: At one end of the business spectrum one-third of Fortune 500 companies vanish every 15 years. At the opposite end nine out of 10 start-ups fail within three years. A failure to learn, a failure to adapt, is probably a major contributing factor. 

No matter how well educated you are in a traditional sense; you have to be prepared to continue learning if you want to be part of a business that thrives, not dies. You can’t enter the workforce believing that because you’ve obtained a master’s degree you are set for life. What you learned at college or university might not be all that relevant just a few years down the road.

But if you learn how to learn you’ll find that acquiring new knowledge and new abilities will be so much easier. Learning really should be a lifelong adventure. And learning how to learn needs to take priority over what we learn—especially when you can’t predict with any certainty what skills will be needed and what we have learned can become so quickly outdated.

Too many schools today have still not stepped into the 21st century. Teachers still lecture. Students still listen and dutifully take notes. But many of us don’t absorb information that way. What this means is that you have to find the way to learn that suits you best.

Some of us are visual learners. We learn through seeing. We like to see pictures or diagrams. We like demonstrations or watching videos.

Some of us are auditory. We learn through hearing. We like to listen to audiotapes, lectures, debates, discussions, verbal instructions.

Some of us are kinesthetic. We learn through physical activities and through direct involvement. We like to be “hands-on,” moving, touching, experiencing.  

All of us, to some degree, utilize all three types—but most people display a preference for one over the other two.

What does this all mean? Identify your learning preference and make use of it. Convert your source of information to your preferred way of acquiring information and you’ll find that learning becomes easier, and fun.

I like a six step process that I came across and the acronym M-A-S-T-E-R as a way to master any topic. In brief:

M. Motivating your Mind. You need to be motivated to learn. Frankly, if you don’t have the right attitude—if you don’t want to learn—you won’t be able to learn. 

A. Acquiring the information. As discussed above, you need to acquire and absorb the information in the way that best fits your sensory learning preferences.

S. Searching out the meaning. All too often we memorize facts so they can be regurgitated to pass a test. You must make sure you truly understand the subject matter.

T. Triggering the memory. There are numerous memory strategies that can be applied (and numerous full-length books on the subject) to help you “lock it down.” Learning the meaning of the acronym MASTER is one of them!

E. Exhibiting what you know. Find a study buddy to whom you present the information. It’s a great way of testing yourself and proving to yourself that you have permanently acquired the knowledge. 

R. Reflecting on how you’ve learned. Reflect on the learning experience. Not what you learned, but how you learned it. Then you’ll evolve an approach that’s perfect for you.

If you follow these steps you take charge. You become a self-managed learner. Most people use only a fraction of their brain’s capacity because they have not been taught how to use what they already have. 

Traditional school didn’t necessarily do it for me. Only, because I was restless and hungry for the real world. I made a life-impacting decision to be able to drop out at the age of 16 to pursue my business dream of starting my first start-up. In my case, I learned all about business by doing it, and by of course making a ton of mistakes. I am not fan of sharing my story this way because I don’t want to influence people by saying the academic path is wrong. It just depends on how you – and on the way you absorb information.

But that’s what learning is all about. As Charles Darwin says it best, “it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

--Gurbaksh Chahal is CEO of RadiumOne, an enterprise advertising platform based in San Francisco.

 

 

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