A well-developed set of skills is handy for anyone navigating the modern‑day job market, and the more varied the skillset, the greater the opportunities. Although it’s always sensible to keep honing the skills you already have, learning new ones is certainly worth your while, too!
But what are “skills”?
You can best define a skill as a certain task or activity that you’ve mastered in pretty much every respect. But it’s important to realize that a skill involves far more than merely putting theory into practice.
Of course, skills rely on theory, but they also have a practical aspect that requires repetition and experience. Examples include presenting, drawing, designing, teaching, analyzing, editing, programming, or selling.
Have a read of our article, What are skills? Explanations & examples
Learning new skills
We took a closer look at honing existing skills and how to do this in a previous article, but it can never do any harm to expand your current repertoire. But what’s the best way to tackle this?
1. Learn by doing
By nature, we’re fully equipped as humans to absorb knowledge and information. Although school lays a foundation with basic knowledge for our later working life, we learn the most once we’re out in the big wide world applying theory in practice.
The best advice is often to simply get stuck in and learn by doing.
So, if you want to boost your web page and blog articles’ Google ranking, just start writing and test what works and what doesn’t, instead of learning every single SEO tip and trick by heart.
2. Imitate the experts and practice
Imitation is often the best way for many people to learn new information. This is how young children learn. What’s more, the basis of innovation is generally knowledge that has been passed on from generation to generation or copied and tweaked from our predecessors.
Who are the big names in your field? Then think how you could use their methods in your own work. For example, if you want to become a good writer, then read, read, read! Ultimately, you’ll be able to apply your knowledge and experience in your own unique way and use these skills even more effectively.
3. Seek the help of a mentor
Probably the fastest way to learn new skills is to seek the help of a mentor. They have a wealth of knowledge and can give you many valuable insights.
A mentor may be an experienced colleague, an external expert working in your field, or even a friend or family member who’s particularly adept at what you’re looking to achieve.
4. Stay curious
Curiosity is the fuel that sustains our ability to learn. Learning new skills depends entirely on a willingness to actively seek knowledge and put this into practice. Examples include reading newsletters or journals from accredited sources or attending relevant courses and events.
Remain critical and open-minded, though. You’ll get the most out of your newly acquired skills by tapping into all the theoretical and practical information sources available to you and remaining critical about what you see and hear.
Below, we’ll be looking in more detail at how to teach yourself a certain skill. So, how do you do this? And what are the steps involved?
Step 1: Set a goal
Setting a goal is an important first step when learning something new. And it really doesn’t matter if you want to learn how to drive a car, make a paper airplane, or become an IT whiz kid.
What exactly do you want to achieve and how high do you want to set the bar? There’s a difference, when learning a new language, between simply making yourself understood or conducting an intensive, two-hour conversation with a native speaker in fluent French, Spanish, or Chinese.
Setting a goal is also easier if you work out early on what you want to use your new skill for. It’s also important that your goals be realistic and feasible.
Step 2: Take bite-sized chunks
Oftentimes, learning a new skill can be an intimidating prospect – like a mountain peak looming above the horizon. You’ll soon start doubting whether you’ll ever be able to climb it. To make matters less daunting, it helps to divide learning a skill into smaller steps, just as you would when climbing an actual mountain – stage by stage.
Doing so forces you to think more analytically, prevents you from becoming overwhelmed, and allows you to oversee what’s involved at each stage.
Step 3: Take one step at a time
Once you’ve split your task into bite-sized chunks, it’s vital that you get stuck into them. How? The best way is one by one, and start small. Despite all you read online and offline, don’t buy into the fallacy that humans are multitaskers.
Step 4: Repeat
Once you’ve completed each step and started to grasp the new skill, it’s time to practice, practice, practice. It takes hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of blood, sweat, and tears to truly master a skill. Repetition is the mother of learning.
Michael Jordan – perhaps the best basketball player ever and one of the greatest athletes of all time – wasn’t a star during his school years. Hours and hours of strength training and practicing shots from every angle – plus a fair degree of natural talent and athletic ability – went into creating the world-famous phenomenon he ultimately became.
This action plan is the basis for learning any new skill. To conclude, we’ve listed a few tips to help you get the results you’re looking for.
Tip 1: Aim for 80:20
Use the 80:20 principle – 20% of your effort leads to 80% of your result.
Above all, it’s vital you focus on the most essential elements of learning the skill, i.e. the foundation upon which you can continue building. For example, a cook needs to focus on all the techniques used to prepare a wide range of meals.
But even when learning a discrete skill, the 80:20 rule also applies – don’t waste your time perfecting supersonic knife-cutting speeds, 80% maximum speed is more than enough! With lots of practice, you’ll eventually reach 100%.
Tip 2: Keep track of your progress
Many organizations still operate by punishing mistakes – a particularly misguided approach where it concerns learning new skills. Instant perfection across the board is utopian and rarely if ever attainable in practice. What’s more, this needn’t be a problem because you can learn just as much from your mistakes as you do from your successes.
Keeping a record of everything that goes well, or not so well, will help you retain it in long-term memory. But what’s the benefit of doing this? You’ll be able to reactivate memories, routines, and solutions to keep your existing skills well-honed and re-use old information to learn new skills.
Learning in a variety of settings is also a good technique for giving new skills a permanent place in your brain, as is “spaced repetition”, i.e. practicing at set times, for example immediately after instruction and a day, a week, or a month later. Find out more about these techniques.
Tip 3: Get plenty of rest
When learning new skills, it’s wise not to overdo things – taking a break and doing something else allows you to return to learning refreshed and more effective.
The saying “after a good night’s sleep” holds a lot of truth. Your brain processes the day’s inputs and experiences most effectively while sleeping. So, if you’re facing a particular problem, try tackling it the next day after a good night’s sleep. Power naps are also a great way to recharge your batteries and give your creativity a boost.
Tip 4: Make skills visible on the work floor
Make skills as visible as possible on the work floor. Only then do you know whether your organization is missing any key skill sets and can your employees identify new skills to learn to advance their careers.
One of the best ways to do this is creating and maintaining skills matrices. Skills matrices provide a snapshot of your staff’s skills in a schematic layout.
You can also depict proficiency levels in one of several ways, for example as a score, a description (poor/average/good/excellent), or a pie chart with colored quadrants.
Organizations’ initial impulses are often to use spreadsheets to create their skills matrices but this isn’t always the best solution. Fortunately, there are special-purpose solutions available such as AG5’s skills management software.
Tip 5: Listen carefully to feedback
To put newly acquired skills into practice as effectively as possible, it’s important to get feedback at regular intervals throughout the learning process. Good feedback provides opportunities to reflect, which is an essential part of the experience.
Take time every day to contemplate the progress you’ve made. What went well? What do I need to improve? Only through self-reflection can you measure and track your progress.
Keep on learning!
By acquiring new skills, you can increase your relevancy as a professional for a wider range of companies. So, take full advantage of the tips and recommendations in this article for learning new skills and get stuck in!