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How to Learn at Work: 5 Effective Strategies

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    In today’s modern age, industry trends change faster than a news cycle. You have to be on top of things every single day, or you risk falling behind. Whether you’re a small business owner, employee at a corporate store, office worker, or educator, it’s vital that you be flexible enough to learn at work.

    No matter what kind of learning you’re doing, what’s most important is that you understand the process of learning itself.

    When I was working at my last office job, I found myself constantly overwhelmed by the number of tasks that needed doing. The software was constantly updating, we always had new forms to process, and every day there seemed to be a problem I didn’t know how to solve.

    That’s why I invested some vital time and energy into streamlining the learning process. What I’ve learned can help you learn at work with astonishing efficiency.

    "Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is."

    How to Learn at Work

    The system to learn at work is simple: set goals, use your available resources, make time for learning, and then apply what you know. As you apply your newfound knowledge, you’ll discover new learning opportunities.

    Learn At Work

    1. Find a mentor

    2. Set clear learning goals

    3. Block out time in your calendar

    4. Enroll in a new training / get a new certification

    5. Take a mission abroad within your company

    #1 Find a Mentor

    One of the most helpful things you can do to learn at work is to find a mentor. But to do that, you need to understand what a mentor is.

    A mentor is not just a person you look up to in the workplace. They’re someone who knows more than you, has more experience than you, and is willing to teach you what you need to know.

    At the same time, you don’t always want to ask someone point-blank to be your mentor the first time you meet. Look for someone receptive to you. Give yourself a little time to get to know them, and for them to get to know you. That way, you establish a feeling of mutual respect before you ask for their help.

    Make sure to be respectful of a prospective mentor and their time. When you communicate, do so in your mentor’s preferred style. For example, if they prefer to chat over the company software system rather than over coffee in the break room, be amenable to that.

    A mentor is someone who can act as a guide when you get stuck. They’ll walk you through the ins and outs of your industry, including the complicated situations you’ve never been taught to handle.

    Whoever you ask to mentor you would ideally be someone that you feel comfortable around. In a best-case scenario, their teaching style will be compatible with your learning style. It’s helpful if you feel comfortable asking questions and making mistakes around them, since some parts of learning are just repeating a mistake until you get it right.

    #2 Set Clear Learning Goals

    For me, one essential component when I want to learn at work is to set clear learning goals. If I don’t have a clear goal in mind, then I can’t make a plan for how to proceed. Setting goals means that I have to sit down and answer these questions:

    • What do I need to know?
    • What resources are there to help me learn?
    • How fast do I need to know it?
    • How can I measure my progress to tell how I’m doing?

    If I know exactly what I’m trying to achieve, then I can make a more clear plan to get there. For example, I once wanted to learn how to process complicated customer returns at my retail job.

    That meant learning complicated functions with the sales software. Without a goal, I wouldn’t know where to begin. But since I knew what I was trying to learn, I could find the exact section of the software training manual that walked through these processes. Plus I could ask my manager to watch the more experienced employees process complex returns.

    I’ve found that physically writing down my goals helps. It’s especially helpful if I can create a checklist of the steps involved in reaching those goals. Are there multiple questions I need to answer or methods I need to learn? I put them all on paper and cross them off as I go.

    #3 Block Out Time in Your Calendar

    Here’s one of the most difficult aspects when you want to learn at work: block out time in your calendar.

    This one is tough because plenty of people don’t have a lot of time free at work. It may feel like you’re always scheduled to be doing something else. And when you do have free time, you might not want to spend it doing the practice or reading or training that’s required.

    But the reality is: It does take hard work to learn at work, no matter what industry you’re in or how old you are. When you pick up new skills, you’re cementing them in your brain. That means a lot of thinking, repetition, processing, and practicing. You won’t become an expert in five minutes. People need room to grow.

    So make time for your studies. One thing to keep in mind is that repetition is more helpful than anything else. So is note taking. You can learn a thing once, but if you don’t repeat it, there’s a good chance the knowledge won’t stick in your brain. Give yourself set times each week to review what you’ve learned and practice.

    Multiple studies have shown that repetition and regular study time helps knowledge to be stored in the subconscious brain, rather than the conscious mind. That means that you don’t have to think about the action as thoroughly, so you have more mental space for other tasks.

    #4 Enroll in a New Training / Get a New Certification

    Many workplaces have ongoing opportunities to learn. Rather than settling into your job and refusing to expand your horizons, you can see what else is out there. If there are opportunities to enroll in a new training or get a new certification, you can seek them out.

    One of the benefits to doing new training programs is that you become a more versatile employee. It gives you more room for upward movement, increases the value of your work, and sets you apart from the crowd. In fact, many bosses report that they’re more likely to promote employees who take initiative.

    And for those who like to keep their minds occupied, new training courses mean that you’ll never be bored.

    Some businesses will pay part or all of your tuition cost if you go to school to get a certification in your industry. Your workplace may even have its own certified classes that end with a credit you can add to your resume.

    Classes and formal training opportunities don’t stop existing the second you’re done with college. They may just take on slightly more flexible formats. Look around and see what learning opportunities you have to expand your horizons.

    #5 Take a Mission Abroad Within Your Company

    Many companies have international programs. Regardless of your industry, there’s a chance that your employer has opportunities to travel. The most enriching learning experiences often come from traveling abroad, but even travel within the country is an exciting way to open yourself to new growth.

    One of the biggest benefits I found working abroad was that I was able to pick up new languages. I’m certainly not as fluent as a native speaker, but now I can hold basic conversations in German, Spanish, and Italian: something I never expected to be able to do.

    Working abroad can be a little intimidating, especially if you don’t know the language. It’s an entirely new adventure. But that’s what makes it fun! There’s no easier way to change your perspective than by having a totally new experience.

    At the same time, there are ways to ease the nervousness. One is by going on a mission with other company employees, rather than a solo excursion. That way, you know you’ll always have access to people who speak your language, know why you’re there, and can help with any problems you run into.

    When you’re in another country, every single aspect of your life is a learning experience. You’re not tied to training manuals or software systems. For people who like to be challenged and try new things, it’s glorious.

    In Conclusion

    Some people make the mistake of letting themselves stagnate. If they don’t keep their minds occupied and flexible, they quickly find themselves getting lost amid the changes in their workplace.

    But you don’t have to be that person.

    As long as you make enough time for yourself and reach out for help when you need it, there isn’t any reason that you wouldn’t be able to learn new skills.

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