Our world has witnessed the explosive growth of technology and information access over the last several years. Depending on the field, things you might have learned in the previous few years could already be outdated. We’ve even reached the point where education doesn’t fully equip the majority of graduates with the skills they need to do a lot of jobs.
Out of necessity, many adults nowadays have realized that the only way to thrive amid the rapid pace of change is to be a continuous learner. Taking control of your lifelong learning journey sounds difficult. But when you observe how security dog handlers get canines to execute complex tasks, and realize that simple behavioral hacks are the secret, you know you can do this too.
Behavioral hacks provide a wealth of useful techniques for self-improvement. Here are some ways you can apply them to become a better learner.
When you recall the lessons you had in school, did you have any choice about how the course material was handled? For all but a few lucky members of our youngest generations, the answer’s probably no. Only recently have teachers begun to apply the principles of gamification in learning. And one of them is that students love autonomy.
Having control over your learning keeps you engaged. You’re not being spoon-fed, and you can go at your own pace, in the direction you choose. Don’t limit yourself to a specific course; try others. You don’t need to read a book chapter by chapter. You can supplement your learning through YouTube videos, or ask questions on specific forums dedicated to the subject.
Challenge and growth
Another essential learning tip you can glean from gaming is the element of challenge and growth. Nobody likes games that are too easy. Many people go out of their way to play with handicaps and increase the challenge level.
At the same time, games always have a built-in mechanism for recognizing progress. Gaining stats or levels, acquiring tokens or items, getting a fancy title, or exclusive customization options; these are all effective rewards for players’ efforts.
This hack is excellent when applied to learning. You can deliberately set a challenge for yourself after reading or watching enough tutorials. It helps you get out of your head and try to learn by doing. Instead of a binary reward system (success or fail), reward yourself for effort and progress, not just results.
Make it social
You can learn on your own, but your efforts will be far more effective if you involve others. Thinking back to the classroom setting, your peers were more than just background noise. They served as a point of comparison, a sounding board, and a knowledge pool. All of those interactions among students help to enrich the learning experience.
When your school days are over, you have sole ownership of your learning, but the smart move is to find learning buddies continually. Seek out people who share your interest in a particular skill, and you can gain valuable mentorship from them. You can also participate in online communities and join discussions for similar benefits.
The social component also helps build accountability and reinforce rewards. Share your commitment to making progress in learning, and you’ll strive harder to meet those goals. Once you get there, the positive feedback and approval you get will provide further encouragement.
Pace and space
We learn and acquire skills over time. Although you might be in a hurry to achieve mastery, you can’t force your brain to work at full speed all the time. Doing so can hinder your ability to retain knowledge. You might have to revisit forgotten lessons periodically.
Spacing your learning has been proven to benefit knowledge retention. You can apply this together with other tactics. For example, if you want to learn how to draw, watch a tutorial on a specific aspect, such as perspective. Then challenge yourself to draw in correct perspective. Afterward, don’t proceed to the next lesson; space your learning by repeating the task. Make a series of perspective drawings over the next few days, and then you can reward yourself and move on.
Create a habit
In the long run, consistency is the only way to improve a skill. If you rely on quick fixes, you can make brief spurts of progress. But if you want to sustain this and master what you’re learning, you need to make practice a habit.
Behavior can be hacked to form the right habits as well. If you tie your practice to small, well-matched actions, you’ll make it easier to be consistent regardless of motivation or energy. In turn, this will allow you to cement your learning and get on track to mastery of any skill.