Four useful ways to become a more productive learner
Today we consume five times more information every day than we did in 1986, an incredible amount that’s equivalent to 174 newspapers…a day. That probably includes a lot of Facebook or Instagram posts, but it’s not only social media. The corporate e-learning space has grown by nine times over the last 16 years, such that almost 80 percent of U.S. companies offer online training for their employees, making more information accessible to them than ever before.
One would think that this would translate into increased knowledge. Yet, unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case. Scores of average adults on tests of general civic knowledge — the type of information you’d assume people would pick up from scanning through all this information — has remained almost constant for the last 80 years according to Newsweek. On the corporate side, the Association for Talent Development states that working professionals apply only about 15 percent of what they learn in many corporate training and development programs in many cases.
We’re consuming more information but not learning more. In short, we have become less productive learners. But by applying an intentional approach to consuming information and best practices of how we learn, we can reverse this trend toward unproductive learning.
As a speaker and trainer, I am constantly sharing information with students and audiences which also places me in constant learning mode. There are times booked in my calendar each week dedicated to learning new information through online courses, books etc. I also travel often to attend workshops and conferences around the world so that I remain on the cutting edge in my field. So, when I came across this article by Harvard Business Review it immediately caught my attention and found it quite useful. Here are four powerful ways to become a more productive learner.
- Focus the majority of your information consumption on a single topic for several months. Rather than letting the headline tides pull you along, pick a topic and focus your reading and viewing on that topic. In addition to the obvious benefit of making it possible for new information to build on previously consumed information, there is another important benefit, which is anchored in how our brains work. In a recent interview neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley shared from his book, The Distracted Mind, that “the highest level of performance in this domain of working memory is dictated by how well you filter all the irrelevant information. If you process information around you that is irrelevant to your goals, it will create interference.” Spreading your consumption habits too thin has real consequences.
- Put what you’re learning into frameworks. Frameworks act as the internal architecture for our brains, creating “rooms” for the information we receive. The value of frameworks to learning date back to psychologist Jean Piaget, who first used the term schemas in the 1920s to describe the process of categorizing information into consistent patterns. Schemas — or frameworks — help us retain new information by associating it in a structured, repeatable way with what we already know. We know this intuitively. It’s easier to find your computer if you put it in your home office than if you put it in a “roomless” warehouse. To make this concrete, after reading this article, you could start building a framework of how to become a more productive learner. You might start with these four strategies. As you read more about the topic, you would then populate the framework you’ve created, making tweaks to your existing understanding and relating new information to what you already know.
- Regularly synthesize what you have learned. To synthesize means to “to put parts together to form a whole, with emphasis on creating a new meaning or structure.” When you synthesize the information you’ve consumed, you can’t help but get a lot out of it. Synthesizing is challenging because it involves making sense of the new information in light of everything you already know. It differs from summarizing in that synthesizing involves bringing your opinion to bear about what is important while summarizing is merely a brief regurgitation of the information. An easy way to practice this skill is to ask yourself: “What are my key takeaways from this article?”
- Cycle between information feasting and information fasting. It’s important that you have seasons when you limit your consumption of information, so you can focus on reviewing, considering, and applying what you’ve already consumed. Remember that new information can interfere with previously acquired information. For example, the language learning app Duolingo has found that successful language learners spend more time reviewing older material than those who drop out. How do you know when to fast and when to feast? Duolingo recommends reviewing older material when you’re on the verge of forgetting what you’ve learned. Try to synthesize what you’ve learned about the topic of interest; if you can’t, go review it.
Don’t become victim to the millions of blogs, YouTube videos, Facebook posts, and even books demanding our attention but giving us little. Decide to become a productive learner and reap the benefits of increased productivity and performance.
Take action. If you are a lifelong and constant learner, think about and list the skills you want/need to develop or sharpen in your professional or personal life. Is it time management skills? Leadership? Public speaking? Successful selling? Better communication? Business writing? Conflict resolution? Microsoft Office? Something else? Aim for 3-6 skills that you know if focused on will have a big impact on your success. Then, email your list of skills to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and as a free gift, I will respond with a free resource (a checklist, guide, tip sheet, etc) and access to my own “improve” library! Also, to inquire about training, consulting, speaking or mentorship email me.
- Bahamian Icon winner and a Nassau Guardian “Top 40 under 40”, Keshelle Davis helps companies improve their productivity and performance. She is the CEO of The Training Authority, an internationally recognized speaker, and an author. Formerly she served as executive director of the Chamber Institute – the education arm of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation (BCCEC), and has impacted thousands through her mission is to educate, empower and inspire. Contact Keshelle at email@example.com.