15 Tips for Reducing Your Learning Curve
In 1879, German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus created 2,300 three-letter nonsense words for an experiment.
Each word he listed was in a consonant-vowel-consonant pattern (e.g., sif, ral, kat), avoiding common words that might be easier to remember. Ebbinghaus then recorded how often and to what degree he was able to recall them after specific time intervals.
One of his conclusions was that when you increase the amount of material to be learned, the amount of time it takes to learn it usually increases dramatically.
Pretty common sense stuff, right?
But what made his findings historically notable was that he was the first to use the term "learning curve."
Today, of course, it's a very familiar phrase. And it's especially relevant to people who actively pursue a life in which they "never stop learning."
The length of your learning curve plays a key role in determining how fast you'll be successful when you embark on a new enterprise or career. For aspiring writers, if you're learning a new skill (how to write a white paper or autoresponder email, for example), shortening up your learning curve means you'll be able to generate income from that skill faster.
To speed up your learning curve, I've put together 15 tips that will help you soak up knowledge about a new service or topic faster:
- Define your objective ― What you want to accomplish has to be tangible, measurable, and as specific as possible. For example, let's say you've just purchased Jay White's Autoresponder Apprentice program. Your goal should not be simply to go through Jay's program. A better goal would be for you to be able to write an email or autoresponder series that follows Jay's email writing model by the time you complete the program.
Talk to someone who is doing what you want to do ― One of the biggest timesavers (and confidence boosters) when setting out to learn something new is to talk to someone who has already mastered what you want to do.
Using the autoresponder example, find a copywriter who has already taken Jay's program. You could start off by talking to your copywriter friends or posting a message on the Wealthy Web Writer Forum. Let them know you would like to ask them a few questions.
Ask them how long it took them? Do they have any tips to offer that may help you learn the material faster? What has the skill meant to their career? And any other questions you have about the process.
Give yourself a deadline ― Not giving yourself a deadline could add weeks, even months, to your learning curve. If you don't have a firm deadline, you really don't have any urgency or incentive to complete something and we sometimes take a "I'll get to it when I get to it" attitude.
Your deadline should be both aggressive and realistic. If it isn't, you could easily become victim to what's commonly known as Parkinson's Law. First defined in 1958 by C. Northcote Parkinson, the law says …
“Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”
Meaning you work just hard enough so that you meet your deadline. If your deadline is too far out in the future, you tend to dilly-dally the time away doing just enough to ensure you meet your commitment. If you're a freelance writer, it can seriously put a dent in the number of billable hours you are able to invoice each week. So make your deadline a little more aggressive than you may normally be comfortable with and make sure you stick to it.
- Break down what you want to achieve into tasks ― Once you’ve established your deadline, map out what you plan to achieve on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Figure out how much time you're going to devote to each task per day. For example, on Monday your task might be to read the first chapter of the program. Reserve a block of time to read the first chapter. If it takes less time or more time than you anticipated, you can always adjust your schedule moving forward.
- Measure your progress ― Keep an accurate journal of the progress you make. This will keep you on track to meet the learning timetable you've set for yourself. Follow this schedule religiously. Don't turn on the television or go to bed at night until you have completed each day's task.
- Reward yourself ― In order to motivate yourself, add in a reward for yourself at key achievement milestones. For instance, if the program you're learning is broken down into nine chapters, after completing the third, sixth, and ninth chapters, treat yourself to something special. It doesn't have to be big. It could be something like going out to dinner at your favorite restaurant or going to the theatre to see a movie.
Make yourself accountable for your results by telling key and supportive people in your life what you're trying to accomplish ― The mayor of the city of Toronto, Rob Ford, recently announced he was going on a diet. And while announcing it might be somewhat of a political strategy to help soften his image, I thought it was a great way for Ford to give himself incentive to stick to his guns. Ford tipped the scales at about 330 lbs. (149.7 kg) when he started his diet, and while he's had a few weeks of mixed results, he's lost 19 lbs. (8.6 kg) so far.
So don't be shy about telling people what you're going to accomplish and by when. It will give you added motivation to meet all your deadlines along the way.
- Take notes ― When you're reading or listening to a program, take detailed notes. Taking notes will help you both learn and retain the information. Then, type up your notes. This will help raise your retention level, because the action involved engages your brain in a different way. Then from time to time, review your notes.
- Allocate specific time to it ― If you get up an hour earlier in the morning or spend an extra hour at night devoted to the task you want to learn, you can't help but learn faster. You might also want to block off time on the weekend. In his book Write More, Sell More, Master Copywriter Bob Bly recommends working Saturday morning. You can get a good solid four or five hours of work in and still have the rest of the weekend to look forward to.
- Make sure you're mentally and physically ready ― You tend to learn easier and more effortlessly if you feel good. So get plenty of rest, stick to or start an exercise regiment, and either limit or eliminate altogether your alcohol consumption (especially during weekdays). You'll be less likely to put off the tasks you have planned for today until tomorrow. Plus, you'll get more out of the material you've set out to conquer.
- Find someone who will give you honest feedback ― Using a peer review process is one of the quickest ways to learn copywriting. This is where four or five professional copywriters take a look at the same piece of copy and then make suggestions on how to improve it. Their feedback can really accelerate the learning process, because you get to see the logic behind the process of how good copy is written. I credit the peer review process for playing a major role in my understanding of how to write competent and effective copy, faster.
- Study the material more than once ― Often, when people take a course or read a book, they only go through it once. Yet, to really master the information, you need to go through it multiple times. You'll find you always learn something new and come away with a better understanding of your subject matter. Plus, make a note to go through the material again six or twelve months down the road or as need be.
- Don't try to learn it all in one session ― Another thing Ebbinghaus concluded from his studies was that learning is more effective when it is spread out over time rather than jammed into a grueling study session. (Picture a college student pulling an all-nighter.) This insight has been confirmed by other researchers since his discovery. So instead of reading a new program or "how-to" book over the weekend, you might want to pace yourself and set up scheduled study times over a number of days or weeks. Chances are, you'll wind up reducing your learning curve by taking a more measured approach.
- Teach it to someone else ― A good way to test exactly how well you understand something is to try and teach it to someone else. There are two benefits to this. You will have to study more in order to put together the course material to teach it to someone else. And by actually teaching it to someone, you'll find you better understand and retain what you learn longer.
- Find a coach or mentor ― If you're eager to learn ASAP, or everything else you try isn't working, you might want to invest in a coach to help you. Being actively involved with a coach and having to adhere to their deadlines will force you to take action. If you're interested in hiring a coach, check out the article Find Your Ideal Copywriting Coach in Five Easy Steps by Rebecca Matter.
There's another reason for wanting to speed up your learning curve … by actually setting out to learn something and getting right to it, you'll feel better about yourself.
So the next time you set out to conquer a new skill or endeavour, keep some or all of these 15 tips in mind and you'll find you have a better comprehension of your subject matter sooner.
Which means you'll generate income from your newfound skill faster.
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