Learning

by Melanie Greene

Common questions

  1. I hated learning at school; I’m just not good at it – what can I do?
  2. Surely I am too old to learn – leopards can’t change their spots?
  3. How do really successful people learn: do they consciously learn or are they just naturals?
  4. I know feedback is an essential part of learning, but I hate receiving it; how can I make sure the process is helpful?
  5. Are there simple techniques I can use to help me to learn?
  6. I’ve heard about a learning cycle and learning styles, what does this mean?
  7. Is it possible to learn from successes as well as failures?
  8. I find learning new things hard and often give up half way; how can I overcome this tendency?

 

1. I hated learning at school; I’m just not good at it – what can I do?

Many of us had bad experiences at school, and we can end up thinking either that learning is a difficult process or that we are not very clever and will always find it difficult to learn new things. However, learning in the workplace (and in life) is a whole different ball game. You might want to think about all the things you have learned since leaving school:

  • Driving
  • New computer programmes
  • Presentation and communication skills.

The list goes on. The ideas and techniques in this topic are going to help you to maximise your learning and to ensure that it is fun and as easy as possible.

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2. Surely I am too old to learn – leopards can’t change their spots?

Fortunately we are not leopards; we can change ourselves if we want to. Just think about all the retired people who take up new hobbies or the silver surfers who learned to use computers during retirement. Age is a state of mind; if we want or need to change, we can. In fact, some research shows that older people, because they bring more experience to a situation, can often be better learners.

However, it depends on what they are learning. When it comes to memorising, younger learners do have a head start, but by using particular memorising techniques, as outlined in this section you can improve you ability to memorise things. Also, much of today’s learning involves having to understand things rather than memorise them. This is where older learners have an advantage, because they have better developed thinking skills and a range of experiences to draw upon.

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3. How do really successful people learn: do they consciously learn or are they just naturals?

In order to be a success you do need to learn from all the different situations you find yourself in. Successful people are not necessarily luckier or more intelligent, but one thing they usually have in common is they do not give up. If they experience a failure, they learn from it and move on, taking their learning forward. The rest of us are often discouraged by mistakes and failures; we let them undermine our confidence and are therefore apt to give up.

There is the example of Edison. When developing the light bulb, he is said to have failed 99 times, trying with numerous materials until he succeeded. If he had given up after ten or 20 goes, and if he had not learned from all those failures, someone else would have been credited with the invention.

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4. I know feedback is an essential part of learning, but I hate receiving it; how can I make sure the process is helpful?

Feedback is essential if we are to know how we are progressing. This can be either feedback from others or from Coaching Yourself. Very few of us find it easy to take on board feedback from others – even when it is positive. There are several possible reasons for this, the chief of these being that we are often not used to getting it and it can be an uncomfortable process. Feedback can therefore trigger the flight-or-fight response, which we need to overcome before we can start to listen and take it on board.

However, there are ways of overcoming this and making the process easier. This section contains information on how to ask for constructive feedback and how to overcome the natural blocks that can occur when we receive it.

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5. Are there simple techniques I can use to help me to learn?

The answer is YES. It is also about choosing the right kinds of technique, depending on what you are learning. Sometimes, learning is difficult or tiresome or even seems impossible because we are going about it the wrong way.

You need to use different techniques if you are learning facts and figures, compared with learning a practical or physical skill, or if you need to understand different concepts, ideas and theories.

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6. I’ve heard about a learning cycle and learning styles, what does this mean?

People have particular preferences as to how they like to learn and how they would approach learning something, if left to their own devices. Understanding your learning style preferences can assist you when you are learning. You can take action to ensure that you complete the learning cycle (do something, review what happened, draw some conclusions and then plan what to do next time) to maximise your learning in any situation.

The problem is that we often favour our particular learning styles and miss out parts of the cycle. Or we attend training courses or use other methods of learning (for example: e-learning, mentoring and so on) which might not suit our learning styles.

Learning can end up being difficult either if it does not match our learning preferences or if we do not adapt out learning styles to suit the learning environment.

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7. Is it possible to learn from successes as well as failures?

When I’ve done something, such as giving a presentation, I tend to only focus on what went wrong, I beat myself up and don’t learn much from the process – can I change this? Yes, in fact if you want to repeat successes or keep on improving your performance it is important to learn from your success. Sometimes, we bask in the glory and forget to reflect on how it came about. It is the same when it comes to learning from our failures. We can spend time beating ourselves up, feeling ashamed, guilty, stupid or running away from the situation and we don’t actually learn how to avoid them in the future.

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8. I find learning new things hard and often give up half way; how can I overcome this tendency?

Understanding the process of learning, and what happens within you as you learn, will help you to understand why we find it difficult at certain stages and why people sometimes give up at those stages. However, with an appreciation of how to help yourself to learn at each stage, you can make the process easier, which will assist you in persevering and winning through.

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