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How to develop an effective learning process

3 designers and their ideas on learning

The way that people learn has been and continues to change drastically. If you want to learn how to code there are a wide range of online coding bootcamps available. If you’re a junior designer there are endless tutorials and resources online. You can learn a huge variety of subjects such as marketing, photography, and writing on communities like Skillshare and Lynda.com.

The resources available to people looking to learn new skills are infinite - that’s a good thing right? It can also be overwhelming and sometimes distracting. How do you know where to start? How can you be sure the information you’re getting is quality? Time is an all too precious resource and no one wants to waste theirs. So, we asked three professionals who have honed the skill of learning, to weigh in on how to develop an effective learning process.

Verne Ho, Director of Design at Shopify in Toronto:

There is certainly an abundance of resources available today to help us learn pretty much anything we want. And so we do, because we also live in an age where it's widely encouraged. But the problem is that, while it’s easier than ever to learn something new, it’s still just as hard to be great.

We’ve all heard about the 10,000-hour rule, but just simply spending time doing something doesn’t necessarily make you an expert. To put things in perspective, 10,000 hours is roughly 4.8 years based on an average 40 hour work week. Certainly we all know people who have worked longer than that. And yet, not many can be called experts. Something’s clearly missing.

The answer lies in being deliberate about the way we practice. Being deliberate means not only putting in the time to do the work (there are no shortcuts here), but to actively focus on improvement every step of the way.

We need to ask why every chance we get. Why did something work well? Or why did it blow up in our faces? The more we know about why things happen, the more empowered we are to affect change.

Turn those whys into truths. We need to define personal principles for ourselves. Become opinionated about what makes great work. We need to be critical about these truths and edit and add to them over the course of our careers. It’s from our personal set of truths that our work finds distinction.

In other words, as Ryan Hamrick once so elegantly put it: "Practicing something for 10,000 hours — or for any amount of time — is only worth a damn if you’re spending the entirety of that practice time completely focused on improvement."

@verneho | verneho.com

Chantal Jandard, Designer at Mule Design in San Francisco:

The first step to learning is noticing. Noticing shows you where your gaps are and guides you.

For instance, these days I'm drawing cats in the styles of designers I admire. Though a simple project on the outside, it's been a deeply analytical exercise: Why does the illustrator use that technique over another? Why those line widths? Why that effect? By studying each body of work and going through the motions myself, I've explored new ways of thinking, created digital teachers for myself and built a diverse library of solutions to draw from in future works. It's made my weaknesses more apparent and given me clear next-steps to continue growing. Notice it, examine it, do it.

Another thing, for the exceptionally curious: prioritization and focus are your friends. Back in the day, I wanted to learn all the things, and tried to do so at once: Learning a new coding language? Write the variables in Indonesian! Learning how to sing? Sing only Spanish songs! While this 'efficiency' made me feel oh so clever, it was a complete flop: I was slow, fatigued, overloaded and only absorbed at a superficial level. (I'm still horribly tone deaf and know only a handful of Indonesian. Oops.) Make decisions and focus: you'll learn much better this way.

@chantastique | chantastique.net

Ben Morris, VP of Engineering at Boltmade in Waterloo:

I’ve always found that the easiest way to learn something is to just get in and do it. To totally immerse yourself and to set up opportunities to be passively exposed to the domain throughout your day.

When approaching something totally new go wide first and just explore. Find the edges, learn the vocabulary, and hopefully find some things to be excited by. There’s so much information available to us now it’s hard to know what to trust, so it’s helpful to develop a foundation first.

For example, when I was approaching how to cook better I subscribed to a lot of different food related subreddits and read their top of all time posts, followed a ton of people posting about the topic on Twitter, Instagram & YouTube and ordered some cook books to have out around the house.

Setting up passive opportunities to be exposed to the topic is one of the most beneficial things you can do. It helps build & maintain excitement without it feeling like work. It turns checking Twitter while standing in line waiting for your coffee into something semi-productive.

@bnmrrs | bnmrrs.com


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