Written on October 18, 2016
I remember when I was back in university, the head lecturer of a business module told us the main objective of his classes is to learn how to learn. At that time, I thought most business classes were quite fluffy. So after hearing this, I wasn’t sure if the lecturer was being serious.
Throughout my education, I learnt many things but I never thought about the process of learning. I didn’t have to since most things were structured very nicely for students. I’d attend the classes, do the homework, and study for the exams. That’s how I learnt.
When I started work, I realised things are very different. If I don’t actively seek things to learn, there’s a chance I might not learn new things at all.
Importance of learning (fast)
I graduated with an accounting and finance degree and my first (and current) job is on marketing and community. Most, or maybe even all, of the things I learnt in the university are not quite directly applicable to my job. So I knew I have to pick up the relevant skills as I go along. I have to learn of my own accord.
I think it’s not only about learning, but also the speed of learning. Being able to learn fast is advantageous. The faster I’m able to learn something, the faster I’ll become good at it and the faster I can produce results. This is something I’m still working on.
Take my triathlon hobby as an (anti) example. I’m taking probably too long to learn how to prevent an injury. Over the last few years, I suffered from multiple injuries that have hindered my training progress and made me miss several races. Smarter athletes are quick to learn from their injuries and become good at recognising early symptoms and avoiding injuries. Staying injury-free allows them to keep up with their training and race better. Being able to learn fast helps them race fast.
Learning on the job
After graduating, I see two main opportunities for learning. The first is learning on the job.
As a junior, most of the things I’m working on are very new to me. Whenever I’m given a new assignment, I’m usually not very certain what to do immediately. That is actually very exciting because it means there’s a great potential to learn new things. I’d read up on the relevant topics, think of how I’d approach the project, execute my plans, ask for feedback and iterate. I like to think it is through working on such not-too-familiar projects that I’d learn the most and become better.
Having a mentor at work can be very beneficial for speeding up the learning process (and I’m grateful to have one). While it’s great to try things out myself, see how things turn out, and learn through the process, it might not be the most efficient way of learning. For example, I’m trying to improve my writing and my team lead has written countless blog posts before. It has been helpful to get his advice on my drafts and learn how to improve them.
Most of us will spend a huge percentage of our lives working. I believe it is where we’d learn most of the things we’d eventually know if we actively seek to learn on the job.
Learning outside work
The second opportunity is learning outside work — making the effort to learn during my free time.
I found that it’s best when I learn things that compliment what I do in my role. When the skill is required regularly in my role, I’m able to practice it frequently. It feels effective as I get to practice the skill while getting my work done. Furthermore, when I get better at the skill, I become better at my job. At the moment, I’m focusing on learning to write better but there are many other skills that are complimentary to my role as a marketer such as data analysis, user psychology and more.
I can also see the benefits of picking up a skill, which isn’t as required in my role right now but might be useful in the future. However, it might harder to find opportunities to practise on a regular basis. Without regular practice, I find it more challenging to master a skill quickly and I’d likely lose it over time.
Overall, I would lean towards learning and practising skills I can immediately apply in my role than those I might use in the future.
“If a man empties his purse into his head no one can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” —Benjamin Franklin
While writing this post, I started to wonder about how I have been learning since I graduated from university. My hunch is that I have been trying to wing it and it is probably not great. I’m keen to explore more on that since there are many years of learning ahead!
What are your thoughts about learning? When and how do you usually learn? I’d love to hear from you.