Website design, web development project management, graphic design, CRM – and while I’m at it, I might even add cooking and photography. These are things I’m now comfortable doing and can confidently say that I can help others learn. Of course I’m not saying that I’m an expert in any of those, or that I would call myself a professional designer or photographer. But having sufficient knowledge of these things (and some related skills) have definitely helped make things easier for me. I haven’t been formally trained in any of these, but I just learned them myself, by the best way I think these things can be learned: learning by doing.
We often say and think that we are “busy” with our work or with our responsibilities. And maybe that makes us feel we don’t have the time to learn new things, because learning takes time. I’m sure that’s true for most things, but if I’ve learned anything from many years of learning by doing, it’s that investing time into building skills will often pay off in the long run, because being able to get some things done on your own will save not only money but time. And the best thing about learning by doing is that the “doing” is a part of your continuous “learning”, so the more you do, the more you learn, and the more you learn, the better you become.
So here are some tips on how to make learning by doing an easier and more practical part of your routines and work habits.
1. Read Widely and Wisely
Sometimes, the best way to be introduced to a new topic is to pick up a book. Do your search and comparison shopping, and pick out the one that you think can be considered an authoritative voice on the topic you’re interested in. But don’t let yourself be limited by the number of stars you see on Amazon reviews, or what you see on the book cover and the table of contents. Be open to being surprised, because when you learn something unexpectedly it will be more likely to “stick” in your mind.
2. Don’t Be Afraid To Ask
Like most things in life, our approaches to learning something new can and should be simplified. You could spend hours Googling, looking for the best YouTube how-to videos, and reading many blog posts with tips on how to do things. Or, you can find someone who knows how to do what you want to do, and ask them for pointers. You need to learn to ask the right question in the right way, so that you get the answers you need without demanding too much. Just think: If someone asked me to help with this question, would I?
3. Stay Curious and Be Open Minded
Don't think that you're ever too busy to learn. There are so many benefits to developing new skills, even if they are not related to your profession. If you recognize the value of what you gain – new perspectives, new ideas, new opportunities – you will consider learning, and more specifically learning by doing, to be an important part of your professional development.
4. MAKE Time
Learning by doing is not a shortcut. It won’t just “happen” if you don’t put time and efforts to learn and to do. In my experience, making time is less about freeing up time and more about shifting priorities. I make time for learning by making sure that I can put the skills I learn to practical use (in other words, “doing” while “learning”). This way, I stay interested and motivated, because the time that I make for learning is an investment in something tangible.
5. Accept That It's a Process
You’re not going to be perfect the first time around. Or the second, or the third. It’s learning, not perfecting. But if you’re like me and are interested in improving skills that can help your professional development, I’m sure that you’ll also enjoy the process (however slow it may be) of learning, getting better, and learning more, and getting even better. Being able to see your own progress, I think, is the beauty of learning by doing, and the process will become much more enjoyable when you see it that way.
My own experience of learning by doing has been one of the main driving factors of the ideas that have led to TrainingAid, because I do believe that thinking differently about learning helps, and that taking time, even just a little bit at a time, to invest in building skills can go a long way.
What do you think? How do YOU make learning part of your work and life?