The Secret to Success with New Skills

A big part of my life these days is devoted to teaching. I’ve developed and am teaching multiple online and hybrid courses in social media at Algonquin College, along with my digital video and web media courses in the full time Interactive Multimedia Developer program. My company has also just embarked on a new project that will see us running the social media training for a corporate training firm in town (more on that soon!). On top of that, we’re doing a good chunk of one on one coaching and consulting, helping our clients use video and social tools more effectively to communicate and tell their stories.

Suffice it to say, I teach a lot. I do believe it is what I’m meant to do. I get such a rush out of showing people new things…and not just the tools themselves. I love it when people have those “lightbulb” moments – that split second when they go from hearing what I’m saying to truly understanding how it all works together. That moment when they can really see how it all fits, and how they can put into practice what they have learned.

Many times, I can send people off armed with their new found knowledge and skills, and they fare quite well. But I think the fundamental flaw with some traditional education practices (lectures, tests, essays, etc.) is that once people have a grasp of the new skill, they don’t have ample time to actually work with it and truly master it. Often, especially with corporate training or continuing education, the courses are short (a couple of days in a row, or once a week for only a few weeks), so I only really have time to provide the information, offer a bit a practice time, and send people on their way. The skills are learned, but not applied enough to achieve mastery. They might come away with a good grasp of the basics, some new information, and a few new skills. But where the training model falls short is, most people don’t come away with the complete confidence they need to execute.

I’m a firm believer that anyone has the ability to learn new skills, no matter what their age or educational background. But learning a new skill and being successful with it are two different things. So how do you achieve success with the new things you learn? Here are a few ideas.

Use it or lose it.
I once had a student who was extremely diligent in class. She took thorough notes on everything, recorded all the lectures, and her assignments were always complete, well presented and on time. All around, the model of a good student. But towards the end of the course, she mentioned that she felt as if she still didn’t really “know” this stuff. She’d listened to all the talk about social media tools and strategies, but still didn’t feel like she really “got” it. I asked her how things were going with her Twitter presence (since that’s what we’d been talking about in class that day). She said “Well, I haven’t set up an account yet.”

The only way…I repeat…the ONLY way to really learn something new is to try it. You can read all the books in the world, subscribe to all the Top Ten Tips lists, listen to all the professors ramble on…but until you actually sit down and DO it yourself? It is just words. If you’re trying to learn how to grow vegetables, you won’t really know how to grow them until the tomatoes are red ripe on the vine. If you’re trying to figure out Twitter (or blogging, or Facebook, or goat farming) then you won’t really know how it works until you’ve actually tried things out, and applied the knowledge you’ve gained.

Everything I’ve learned about social media since 2006 I’ve learned two ways – from paying attention to smart teachers, but most importantly, from logging hours and hours in front of the computer, trying stuff out. So put that money you’re throwing into all that training to good use – apply what you’ve learned. Start now.

Keep the learning tap on.
Training courses are great for giving you a jumping off point. The goal is to present you with some new ideas, concepts, build up new skill sets, and do some practical application of the things you’ve learned. But nobody takes a course expecting to come away being a complete expert in every aspect of something (or at least, people shouldn’t expect that!).

Learning should never, ever stop. Completing a course and getting a certificate or a good grade (or just the satisfaction of a job well done) is a great feeling. But good teachers motivate you to keep going, beyond what you’ve learned in the class. They send you out into the big bad world armed not only with knew knowledge, but with a set of tools that you can implement right away to facilitate further learning. Keep it front and centre of your mind that although you’ve completed course xyz, there’s still plenty to learn. There’s plenty you haven’t discovered yet. And that’s totally okay.

Enjoy the ride.
The concept of lifelong learning is one that I’ve always been particularly fond of. To me, it’s not just being open at any point in your life to the process of education, but it’s about embracing and enjoying learning new things. To me, the best part of being a teacher is the fact that I get to learn all the time. Not only do I need to learn new things continuously so I can pass them on to my students, but I’m continuously learning from my students as well. I am honoured to have the opportunity to hear others’ perspectives on the things we cover in class. Their insights open my eyes to new ways of looking at the things I’m sharing with them.

Learning is one of the most fun things we can do. It’s not something to fear. Yes, it can be overwhelming sometimes. But the secret to mastery and overcoming that overwhelming feeling is in the practice, and the enjoyment of the entire learning process.

Now, what are you ready to learn next? Let’s talk.


photo credit: Chuck “Caveman” Coker

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