It’s an irrefutable fact that continuous learning is important, but many adults are discouraged to learn a new skill by the idea that “an old dog can’t learn new tricks”. Certainly, science agrees that children can learn faster than adults, but adult learners have one clear advantage: we can take charge of our own learning. And according to Malcolm Knowles’ five principles of adult learning, that’s when we learn best.
Knowles’ principles assert that adult learners learn best when they are ready to learn. This means that only you have control of your learning. Only you can motivate yourself to learn.
“But how?” you ask. With so many responsibilities and adult things to worry about, it’s often difficult to find time for learning, much less enough motivation to finish even a self-paced online course. So here are some tips:
1. Learn the WHY
According to Knowles, adult learners learn best when “they understand why something is important to know or do”. So if you are being told by your boss that you need to attend an advanced Excel training course, he or she is not just saying you need the certificate to boost your credentials — it’s most probably because you need to learn how to use VLOOKUP or some other formulas to improve your team’s process. Knowing why you’re learning something will help you appreciate it more because you know you’re not just wasting your time.
2. Learn by doing
Following the “why” concept, Knowles also said that adult learners learn best when they know how they can actually use their knowledge and skills in real life.
So if you’ve decided to learn a new skill, don’t be afraid to apply what you learn. A culinary student learns knife skills by actually using the knife. A surgeon improves his skills by actually performing surgeries. A student of French language learns how to speak French by actually speaking it. You get the idea.
Start a personal project and experiment. If you’re learning web development, try creating a personal website or a fan site for your favorite anime. If you’re taking a baking class, try making your own cupcakes at home. Embrace the concept of trial-and-error. The initial results maybe often be far from perfect; you will make many mistakes and fail—a lot. But trial-and-error is an important part of the experience. Going through the process of trying, failing, and trying again will help us know what works and what doesn’t and develop a self-correcting behavior that pushes us to innovate and find ways to do it better.
3. Learn like a child
Science is telling us that children learn better than adults do, so hey, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!
The way we see it, kids learn better because (1) they try many things, (2) they ask a lot of questions, (3) they like to explore, (4) they don’t limit their imaginations, and (5) they enjoy learning.
What’s stopping us adults from doing the same? Not everyone can be Mark Zuckerberg, but learning how to use the internet or even web development at age 40 is not impossible. And just because you’re asking questions about something doesn’t mean you’re stupid — it means you’re smart enough to know the importance of knowing it.