How to Trust the Process and Achieve Mastery

It’s what you discover along the way that counts, writes, Shelley Osborne.
With curated feeds now at our fingertips, we all do a lot of shallow consumption of information. Capitalizing on our desire for speed, a whole industry has sprung up around efficiency and accelerated learning to get the most out of every day.

However, faster isn’t all that efficient. Mastery learning enables you to develop true ability in a skill before moving on to other learning. It requires time, engagement and effort. You apply principles, make mistakes, get feedback and try again. It is the opposite of instant gratification.

This may sound daunting, but it is the only way to gain true expertise. The following are tips on how to best navigate this journey:

Love the learning
Most of us have a hard time with the idea of learning as a continuous process. As adults, after graduating from school, we often feel we should just have expertise going forward in our careers. This idea that we need to keep learning can feel like an attack on our professional identities. Continuous learning is a lifelong process we all need to participate in and enjoy.

Be intentional
While learning should happen over the long term, to keep moving forward it’s important to be intentional by defining specific goals. Use the SMART acronym (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) as a guide. In addition, focus on connecting your goals to realistic opportunities.

Once you define your terms, know that there have never been more tools available to help you achieve said goals.

To that end: A recent survey conducted by Thinkific, found that one in five Americans maintained they learned their top skills from online courses (18%), with only 14% claiming they retained key lessons in actual schools.

Put in the time
I’ve been asked to build one-hour corporate training sessions to “efficiently” teach a subject or skill, but attending a short seminar is different from deliberate practice to build expertise. Mastery learning is more complex.

However, knowing something will take effort (like training for a marathon), can help you feel more empowered to work through it. Focused engagement and practice will help you build learning muscles that will give you endurance to go even further in your journey.

Strive for complexity
To master a skill, it’s necessary to progress through several stages of learning.

Bloom’s Taxonomy model for how we learn illustrates these stages as a pyramid. It begins with the least complex tasks at the bottom: remembering and understanding. Mastery requires progressing up the pyramid to higher-level practice, including applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating.

A lot of learning fails to progress beyond remembering and understanding. This shallow approach can lead to the Dunning-Krueger effect. This is when someone thinks they know more than they actually do. A lack of self-awareness not only can stunt personal growth, it also can lead to bad decisions.

Cultivate agility
The ability to learn, adapt, change and relearn is essential for your career. Agile brains welcome new challenges, ask for feedback and look to innovate. You need to have a growth mindset, which involves trying new things.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What have I learned before?
  2. What am I learning now?
  3. What do I need to learn next?

This helps you consider what skills you have already mastered while acknowledging the ones you are currently developing.

Give your brain biceps
Learning causes physical changes to your mind. The more complex learning you do, the more connections are created to enable more “cross-talk” between different areas. Part of the concept of slowing down to learn more deeply is to give your head time to grow these neural pathways and embed knowledge.

Once these pathways are developed, you become more adept. Think about skills you take for granted, like driving or reading. Through practice your brain adapted and you mastered them. You can do it again.

As many as three in five Americans (60%) have considered teaching others their skill to make money since 65% said they don’t use their greatest skill at their current job.

Shelley Osborne is an ed tech and learning expert. She was recently the VP of learning at Udemy, where she led the learning strategy and upskilling of employees globally. She is the author of the McGraw Hill book ‘The Upskilling Imperative: Five Ways to Make Learning Core to the Way We Work.’

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