learning skill development

How to spend less time learning new skills

on
August 17, 2017

One of my favorite YouTube channels is a guy called Mike Boyd. Over the past year, he has learned a wide variety of different skills documenting the entire process from start to finish with a video. On his channel, he’s covered everything from riding a unicycle to learning to hack. I find his videos fascinating because it’s very rare that we ever see the actual process of learning something new for ourselves, and when we do it’s usually only when we’ve actually learned the skill for ourselves.

The media is dominated by finished products and success stories without us being able to see the years of work that went into them. Autobiographies can be interesting insights into this process but their video equivalents, autobiographical films, capture only a fraction of the detail and are obviously highly dramatized.

Where Mike lies, however, is at the intersection of vlogging and learning. Vlogging has become a gigantic force in the world of online media over the past five years with figures such as Casey Neistat attracting millions of viewers to see their daily lives played out on video. Mike’s method of applying the process of vlogging to document learning a new skill allows an understanding of how these seemingly unlearnable skills are actually mastered. He shows not just the highlights of how he is able to unicycle with ease, but the trips and falls that made learning the skill possible. They act not only as an aid for people in learning how to master that skill but also as inspiration demonstrating how it’s possible to go from zero knowledge to skilled. He’s also not afraid to post his failures, such as his attempt to learn to back-flip.

Mike recently posted a video included above in which he argued that the actual learning process is far shorter than we actually might think. He explained how when producing his videos the majority of the time he spends on a new skill is actually in the setting up and organization of learning rather than the actual practice itself. He argues that by working on reducing this organizational time it is possible to rapidly accelerate the learning process.

One way that many top performers do this is by systematizing the way that they learn. This is an important idea to consider when working to become a polymath because if you are able to accelerate the learning process then suddenly you are able to find the time to learn new skills even if you think you’re too busy. Practically speaking very few people are able to devote their whole time to learning new skills. That means you’ll need to be finding the time to learn a whole new skill discipline while doing a job or studying for a degree. As a result, learning needs to take the form of short regular sessions rather than long blocks of studying. This is an entirely different skill process than we learn in school so it’s no wonder that many people struggle with learning new skills after leaving education.

The benefit of building habits around learning is that over time the behavior becomes automatic so you spend less of your time preparing or procrastinating and more of it spent on focused deliberate practice. If you want to learn more about how to build habits around your learning I’d highly recommend Charles Duhigg’s bookThe Power of Habit.

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