Five Steps to Learn New Technology Faster
I frequently mention how technology is changing rapidly, and it is necessary to place yourself in a place to acquire skills as fast as technology transitions. As technology changes, an individual must update their knowledge and skills to remain competitive in the workforce. That is easier said than done. In this post, I am going to explain how to acquire new skills at a pace that allows you to remain relevant. The center of this discussion is around learning software, but the principles apply to many areas of learning.
There are two fundamental challenges to overcome when it comes to learning new technology.
The Learning Curve
The Learning Curve is more like the hero’s journey. Curve suggests that there is something smooth about it. There is nothing smooth about the learning curve and the less experience you have at the start coupled with the complexity of the application, you can be in for a Frodo Baggins journey.
The Forgetting Curve
Learning is challenging; remembering what you’ve learned is more challenging. Transferring knowledge from short-term memory to long-term memory is something most people understand. The not so simple task of remembering someone’s name after an introduction is something most of us struggle with. Therefore, we have to address the natural tendency to forget information over time.
1: Understand the world view of the software.
For what audience is the product made? Is it the professional, the hobbyist, the beginner? Is the software designed to do anything you can imagine, or is it designed for quick results? You will acquire this on the website, but I highly recommend you read the Quick Start guide; every software application has one, and it is the best place to discover the possibilities of the application. The quick start guide is the best tutorial because it is the one place where you should find the most up-to-date documentation.
The next step is, find a recent quick start video on YouTube. If you search the phrase, “learn Adobe Premiere in 30 minutes,” you will get a long list of videos. These videos will not teach you Adobe Premiere but will provide you with a starting point. It will allow you to complete a modest project without investing lots of time. In a short period, you can decide if the software will accommodate your needs.
2. Take advantage of the Ecosystem.
There is this adult learning theory called Andragogy. One of the principles of Andragogy is, adults bring experience with them to the learning table. Experience is a benefit or a hindrance, but I view it as a benefit. When it comes to learning new software, it helps if the new software is by a company with which you are familiar. Software companies tend to use features across their applications, and that lowers the learning curve. Software and hardware companies know, it is easier to maintain a relationship once a user is in their ecosystem.
3. Perform the task you usually perform.
If you are new to a process (video editing, e.g.), how do you know where to start? You start with the most used features. Most videos start with a fade in from black, the transition between different video cuts, probably have some text at some point, then fade to black. Do that. If you are new to Project Management software, probably one of the most used features in that type of application is setting up a schedule. That is where you start.
If you have experience in a similar application, then attempt to complete the same project in the new application. Find the difference, then make the mental connections.
4. Find a Purpose.
Motivation is part of the learning process. It is especially true with adults. If you lack a strong reason to learn the information, you will not follow through. When it comes to our jobs, motivation is easy, learn or lose your job, learn, or become irrelevant.
Many students who come through my robotics programming class have one goal, learn how to program the robot. What I attempt is to show them that it is not just a robot. There is an entire automation process to consider. My hope is by giving them a larger world view of the robot, and they use the additional training material to increase their capabilities.
For the hobbyist, the love of doing it is enough; we create for the sake of it. For the career-minded, seek out a bigger purpose than just keeping your job. By doing that, you will have more fuel to push your learning to the next level.
5. Deliberate Practice
Malcolm Gladwell brought the concept of deliberate practice into the mainstream when he wrote about it in his book, Outliers. He made the 10,000 Hour Rule popular that states it takes 10,000 hours to master something. I never frame deliberate practice by the number of hours. I view it as a process of focusing on specific features for a specified time. Deliberate practice is where you have to get systemic with your thinking. I will use Photoshop as the application to learn, and the best way to learn Photoshop is to recreate an image from an experience designer.
Start with a goal. It is where you turn to SMART goals.
S: Specific. Almost every Photoshop project uses masks and blend modes. The image may need other features, but the focus is on mask and blending.
M: measurable. How closely do your masks and blends match the original? Measure your skills against a standard.
A: Achievable: Never start with a project that you know your skills are inadequate. Google, “Photoshop tutorials for beginners.” You can do that search for any software application.
R: Relevant: If your goal is to learn to composite photographs, don’t start with a 3D project. Select a relevant project to your purpose.
T: Time-bound. Whenever I create a doodle, I put a time on when I stop. Some of my projects require two hours, and some require a week. Time may not always be necessary, but it is good to track time because it becomes a part of your measurement. Comparing the amount of time it took to complete a project the first time against the time it took to finish a similar project.
Deliberate practice is best with feedback. Having someone to critique your work and make recommendations speeds up the learning process. If you don’t have anyone, then learn to critique your work against the original. How closely do your results match the original, and can you assess where you can improve?
Stretch & Challenge
Move the goal post. After you have learned to mask a basketball out of a photo, try masking the background photo of a woman with flowing hair. Now that you learned how to screen and multiply blend modes, can you apply a gradient to those blend modes? Continually put yourself in a situation where you struggle. However, that struggle has to fall within your SMART goals.
What you want to know is how much of what you practiced transferred to your long-term memory. Part of the learning process is remembering. To determine how much you remember, place time between the use of the application or feature. Spacing is a fundamental principle of learning. Revisit past projects to discover how much of the process transferred to long term memory.
There is more theory behind each of these areas, but this is a basic outline of how to rapidly acquire new skills. I use this same approach as a robotic programming instructor. Students are often surprised by the amount of material they can learn in just four days of instruction. Learning models exist to provide guidelines and structure. You can acquire any skill