When the pandemic uprooted millions of employees worldwide, many struggled to adjust as they were forced to shield themselves from COVID and the economic repercussions.
Employment Levels Dropped
As employment levels dropped and some saw their hours and wages slashed, the need to acquire or learn new skills suddenly became the mainstream niche among the millions stranded at home. In addition, youngsters in the lower school grades were no longer in school, sending parents searching for alternatives to learning and arranging for Zoom upgrades.
As many businesses halted operations for most of the early months of the pandemic — many others quickly pivoted, innovated, and did a deeper dive into work. Sadly — for many businesses, there was a mass exodus and layoffs. Employers and employees alike had few choices but to leverage new knowledge to help advance their careers and increase productivity. The upside? Out of necessity, our world became boundaryless — and that’s a good thing.
In addition, managers looked for ways to keep remote teams inspired and engaged during a time when work-from-home was considered something entirely new for millions of employees.
What have we learned from the 1.7 million hours of learning?
In April 2020, at the height of the pandemic, LinkedIn reported that people watched more than 1.7 million hours of learning content. The unheard-of number was three times higher than the recorded 560,000 hours of learning content streamed in January 2020, just before the pandemic hit American shores.
With thousands of online or e-learning courses, adults across most regions of the world suddenly found a new interest in a mirage of topics that helped them advance their careers or leverage the opportunity to secure new skills before re-entering the workforce.
Cost-effective e-learning — hopefully, forever
The flexibility, accessibility, and cost-effectiveness of e-learning are now a lasting trend that is outliving the pandemic. Although some but not all employees may have access to tools and resources provided by formal high educational institutions, online learning courses are being seen as an excellent alternative that encourages and educates employees as they progress in their careers.
With lockdowns now a thing of the past and more employees slowly but surely returning to the office, how can one learn new skills with a busy and packed schedule?
As some employees juggle both family matters and professional careers, here’s a look at 13 ways to improve the learning process to get the most out of online learning.
1. Set realistic goals
The first step to learning new skills or undertaking an online course is setting realistic goals. Most importantly, your goals can be driven by the type of skills or courses you want to learn.
For instance, if you’re looking to learn to code, whether Java or Python, consider how long it will take you to complete a course.
Be realistic for the win-win
If you notice that a course will require you to spend at least seven to ten hours per week, be realistic regarding the amount of time you can set aside to complete the requirements.
Additionally, when setting goals, be mindful of what you want to learn. If you’re looking to learn as much as possible, whether it’s IT or digital marketing, see how much you can fit in your daily schedule to get through all your work.
2. Start simple
Being new to something takes time to master, and while it’s true that “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” the same goes for learning an entirely new skill.
Complete the beginner’s course, first
If you’ve never encountered this line of work, or have some basic knowledge, start with a beginner’s course before jumping headfirst into complex work.
Not only will starting from scratch save you a lot of energy and time, but you’ll be able to build a roadmap towards achieving the end goal – honing your newly learned skills.
3. Use the 80/20 rule
Known as the 80/20 rule or the Pareto Principle, it allows you to identify 20% of the work that will help you to achieve 80% of the results.
Some simple examples of where the Pareto Principle can be seen in real life are:
- 20% of a tree carries 80% of the fruit or,
- 20% of students contributed to 80% of the final exam mark.
For this instance, where you’re finding the time to learn a new skill, you will slowly realize that 20% of the work can be found over and over in practice. Once you have grasped 20% of the work or theoretical aspects, you can apply the rest of the 80%.
You can also see it as applying 20% of your time, each day accumulating over a more extended period which can help deliver roughly 80% of the final results.
In a recent Forbes article, experts found that the Pareto Principle can be used to stand out in the crowd, especially in sectors or industries that have recently become heavily saturated.
4. Find potential barriers
For many adults who are jumping back into studying, whether part-time or full-time, some barriers may stand in the way of achieving a particular educational milestone.
Decide how you will fix the barrier
For instance, for some employees, a barrier may be that their daily commute to and from the office consumes a lot of their time, which could be spent on their studies. Another potential obstacle could be undertaking too much study work in a short amount of time, which can lead to burnout or losing track of your goals.
Whatever the barriers, whether physical, mental or perhaps even financial, identify where these might come from and how you can overcome them before taking up too much online learning work.
5. Break up your studies
A new skill can take years, if not decades, to master, and for someone moving towards a new direction in their career, you want to be the best you can be at a specific skill.
What a lot of employees tend to do, is break up their studies or skills into categories or sections which they can complete over time.
Another benefit of breaking up your studies is that it allows you to maximize your time more efficiently; this can be applied to both employees working remote or in-office.
Complete your work in smaller chunks of time
This means they can focus on smaller work portions instead of having to overcome significant obstacles all at once. Then, little by little, as knowledge and new skills start to build up, you’ll be able to see the bigger picture come to life.
6. Use your new skill on the daily
Most of us had to learn how to ride a bicycle or drive a car at some part of our lives, and the same rule applies when it comes to learning new skills.
Over time, you might notice how your newly adapted skills allow you to complete specific tasks or manage new projects. This is an excellent opportunity to apply it in your daily life.
“There is more than one way to skin a cat.” This means finding what works for you.
The best way to explain this is when learning a new language. Let’s say you’re learning French or even Turkish; as you go about your day, see how many objects you can name in your newly discovered language. Sitting in traffic, read the number plates out loud, or see how far you can count. Going grocery shopping, write all the ingredients you need in French.
There are many ways in which you can acquire a new skill by simply applying it to your everyday life. And yes, even if it’s something more hands-on, there are ways you can practice without it having to take up a lot of your time at home or in the office.
7. Use the time you have available
Time is a valuable asset in a society where everything is fast-paced and needs to get done right now at this very second.
Use whatever time you have available to learn, including those hours spent on the train or bus going to work in the mornings. If you can add a few extra minutes to your lunch break, see how you can utilize it more efficiently. As we all know, time is money, so look where you’re spending yours.
Don’t rush, but be realistic with what time you have.
A lot of the time, when learning a course or reading through study notes, we tend to rush through it as quickly as possible. But if you break it up into sections and dedicate at least 20 to 40 minutes of your time to each, over a week or month, you’ll be able to get through as much work as possible.
8. Plan ahead
If you’re someone who enjoys planning your week or month out ahead, see where you can fit in enough time or days in your schedule to dedicate yourself to your online courses.
Break time into manageable chunks.
If you notice that a course or chapter requires at least ten to 15 hours per month, break it up into sections and plan accordingly.
Depending on the type of student or employee you are, you can either follow a strict regimen of lesson planning or take it as each module or section gets completed.
Add your schedule to your Calendar for the best results.
The trick is to set aside enough space in your schedule to get through the work efficiently yet diligently. If your new skills will be used to land a specific job or as a way to change career paths, you want to see how much you can fit in at once. The quicker you get to work through as much work as possible, the easier it will be for you to start using it in practice.
9. Choose quality over quantity
As we mentioned, a lot of the time, we tend to rush things off so that we can get them done quicker. And while this might work for some things, it’s not always the same for the times when undertaking a new challenge.
Don’t think of it as “I have to complete ten courses this year” or “If I read five books every month, I’ll learn much quicker.”
How do you plan to remember?
It’s not about who can complete the most courses or read the most books, but who can remember and recall all the facts and knowledge they have encountered over the last couple of months.
Choose the quality of work over the quantity you are looking to consume.
Then, as you become more comfortable with a particular topic, or concept, you can slowly but surely start applying it either in your daily life or at work, whatever works best.
10. Practice makes perfect
What does it help you plan to learn all these new courses and read through an endless amount of material but never practice or utilize the new skills you’ve learned?
Practice makes perfect, and there’s no better way to put it.
There’s no need to go out into the real world and immediately apply what you have learned. If you’re a risk taker like that, then definitely see how well you can get it done. For those of us who want to play it a bit safer, practice your new skills as you progress. As you encounter new concepts, terms, or ways to improve, you can apply them throughout your daily exercises.
11. Learn to deal with mistakes
A lot of the time, and we’re all somewhat guilty, we tend to think we shouldn’t make any mistakes when learning or undergoing some form of training. But unfortunately, this is where many of us tend to get it wrong.
Learning, for the most part, comes from making mistakes, whether it’s big or something minor.
When making mistakes, you expose yourself to many different ways you can do something. This is a valuable real-world skill.
If your code doesn’t work the first or second time, with expanded learning — you realize you need to change up a few things. If you notice that your online ads don’t perform as you’d expected — see where you may have missed some steps or protocols.
There’s a lot that one can learn from simple errors. No one is perfect — and those minor mistakes really help us learn a lot quicker and sometimes more efficiently than sitting in front of books or reading from your computer screen.
Watch for the “ah-ha” moments.
However, when reading from books or on the computer — we can pay special attention to areas where we might not have experience and watch for those “ah-ha” moments that say we have hit on the solution we have been seeking to a problem.
12. Be serious about your studies
Yes, at first, it might seem like a simple online course you can complete in one week and add the certification to your resume. And while this is true in some cases, it shouldn’t be something you should be doing.
Know what your end goal is.
If you’re willing to monetize your new skills, it’s time to start taking it a bit more seriously. Thousands of employees are simply doing courses to add it to their resume in the hopes of an employer spotting their elaborate list of qualifications.
On the other hand, if you’re not going to take learning a new skill more seriously, you’re never going to get it done, perhaps even lose interest in the field completely.
Be more serious about the skills you’re willing to acquire; in due time, it will become part of your routine and perhaps even your career.
13. Learn how to mitigate distractions
There’s no denying it, but distractions are everywhere these days. Unfortunately, in the digital world, where we’re constantly connected to the outside, distractions can be found in the most minor places.
Nix the distractions.
From that instant notification on your phone to an email popping up at the bottom of your computer screen — distractions can be a leading cause as to why you never seem to get through all of your course material.
Whether your distraction is digital or human, find ways to minimize distractions when dedicating yourself to your studies. The most valuable piece of information is to find a dedicated space or home office you can ultimately maximize for better productivity.
Hey, parent — you have a tough job here — but you can do it!
If you’re a parent, see when is the best possible time for you to sit and study. Is your best time when the kids are running around the house entertaining themselves? Or do you do better when they are in bed and don’t require your attention?
For more sociable employees, take a bit of a break from your phone by switching it on “Do Not Disturb” mode or turning it off completely. Close all open tabs on your computer, and make sure your notification settings are turned off during study hours.
Whatever your distractions, you will need to find ways to help you minimize them and maximize your time to adapt and master the skill you have chosen.
The Bottom Line
As an adult, it’s become harder to learn new skills, whether it’s family or work responsibilities keeping us from it or simply not having enough energy to physically apply yourself to the work. Whatever it is, there are several ways in which you can overcome barriers that keep you from leveraging the possibilities of e-learning.
If you set goals, plan, and apply yourself, you can advance your career, change your job, or perhaps dabble in an entirely new field.
The digital landscape has made it incredibly easy to access an endless amount of information, and whatever skill you’re looking to learn, there’s no doubt a way you can master it within a few months.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Sam Lion; Pexels; Thank you!
Carma Khatib is a passionate innovator and product manager with significant experience driving digital products from conception to launch. My mission is to find and create solutions to real-world problems that ultimately impact a company's triple bottom line: People, Planet, and Profit.