4 steps to learning a new skill as an adult

Here are four simple steps to learning a new skill as an adult. It is never too late to learn a new skill so follow these steps to make learning easier and more effective.

There are many different theories behind the way humans learn, some of which include:

  • Behaviorism 
  • Cognitivism 
  • Social Learning Theory 
  • Constructivism 
  • Multiple Intelligences
  • Brain-Based Learning 
  • Connectivism 

Andragogy is the method of learning for adults. Adults find it more difficult to pick up new skills compared to children who are able to retain a variety of new information and skills. It requires more independence, personal interest, and motivation.

By following these four short steps, you can make learning a new skill easier and more effective as an adult.

Step 1: Figure out the best way you learn 

Shown below are the different methods of learning. You could thrive off of one or several of these methods so make sure to think carefully. Think of the way you study information the most productively and apply it to your learning:

  • Visual
  • Kinesthetic
  • Auditory
  • Stress
  • Ease
  • Scribble
  • Trust
  • Teach
  • Copy

You may have been a visual learner but now find that you don’t retain information as well as when you teach it to someone else. This might mean you have outgrown your previous method of learning and should utilize a new one. 

Don’t feel like you have to choose one and always stick to that method when learning a new skill.

educational posters
Figure out what type of learner you are and apply it to learning a new skill.

Step 2: Use the interleaving effect

Can you learn several new skills at the same time? Yes, but it’s hard. Learning a mix of skills at the same time may prove slightly difficult for adults. Don’t expect the best results if you are trying to learn how to code at the same time as learning Spanish.

Adults need a break after learning a new skill otherwise they suffer from a phenomenon called retrograde interference. This is when you forget a skill or a task you previously learned because you started acquiring a new skill.

What you can do is learn several related skills at the same time and this is called the interleaving effect. 

Not only will it ultimately help you broaden your understanding, but it will also keep you motivated to continue learning. 

If learning how to code, for example, don’t only use CSS, but HTML and JavaScript too.

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Step 3: Test yourself

Test yourself as if you were being graded – after 3 days, we only retain 60% of what we’ve learned when not tested. 

One of the best forms of retaining information is spaced repetition learning. This is a system of learning that uses scheduled, repeated reviews of the information being memorized. 

Research has shown that university students who were tested on the material studied had a greater long-term recall of what they learned than students who were not tested. 

Different ways to test yourself when learning a new skill:

  • Flashcards
  • Peer-review
  • Use learning materials that have at least one element of review or testing
  • Teaching the same skill to someone else 
  • Rewrite the information in your own words or recite it aloud

But don’t forget to: 

  • Take breaks and have mental resets (go on a walk, do something relaxing)
  • Be in an optimal environment (quiet surrounding, learning stations)

Step 4: Build positive habits

Positive and consistent habits are important but more importantly, take care of the negative ones.

Strong negative habits can take over your potential gains from good habit formation. This can bar you from learning a new skill successfully. Make time to practice or study your skill so it becomes a positive habit.

Here is an example showing the results of reading just 10 minutes per day vs not reading at all:


The Habit Loop and Learning 

The Four Rules of Habits describe how to design an environment that has the correct cues to make you crave good habits, take action, and reward yourself for doing the right thing to keep the loop running. Read more about the science of the habit loop here.

When learning a new skill, allocate a specific time weekly to practice it and reward yourself when you test yourself and get a good result. 

This will eventually turn into a positive habit. 

Key points from this guide to learning a new skill

The most important feature of learning is patience. 

You are not going to pick up a skill in one day, but you will eventually learn it over a period of time with practice. Forming a positive habit will make you consistently strive to learn and improve your knowledge. 

Make sure to use the interleaving effect to broaden your understanding and keep yourself motivated while using spaced-repetition learning to ensure the information is stored in your long-term memory!

Want to learn a new skill to help with your career and business? Click here.

Ayisha Jose

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