At a public event in New York City, Sara Blakely, founder of the billion-dollar hosiery and apparel company, the Spanx, talked about a different dinner table experience while growing up. “My dad used to ask my brother and me at the dinner table what we had failed at that week,” she told the audience. “I can remember coming home from school and saying, ‘Dad, I tried out for this and I was horrible!’ and he would high-five me and say, ‘Way to go!’ If I didn’t have something that I had failed at, he would actually be disappointed.” This dinner time tradition taught her to look at failure differently. “Failure for me became about not trying at all and hence not learning, instead of the outcome.”
Learning, I believe, works the same way. Whether it’s a new language or skill you are trying to pick up or a concept you are trying to grasp, consistency and regularity is key. When it comes to online education, growing and sustaining the habit of learning something daily is crucial to personal growth and progress. While there is no prescriptive formula, this piece is my attempt at cracking the code of building the habit of learning daily.
Set realistic and attainable goals and a timeline to attain them
Envision your goal. If it’s an online program you signed up for, picture in detail how completing the program would change you on a personal level, the new knowledge it would bring, or the opportunities it might open up for you. Write the vision down and set a tentative timeline to achieve it. Then break the vision down into smaller, more realistic goals, and slot your timeline into chunks such as weeks, days, or hours in which you can attain those targets. Keep in mind that you will not attain them the way you think you will at the beginning and the course of your learning therefore might change with time.
Keep it simple
We often tend to overestimate what we can achieve within a given time. Designing a simple plan will therefore be a more effective approach to learning daily. For example, instead of trying to finish an entire module in a day, try to finish reading one supplementary article or one video tutorial, and try to get deeper insight of the content. Take your learning in small bites. Focus on one thing at a time, get it right and then move on to the next part.
Embed learning in your daily routine and act on your plan
Picturing your goal and hatching a plan to attain it is only half the battle. The other half needs you to actually follow through and get to the learning stage. Allot a certain number of hours in your day to spend on your online courses. Whether it’s a lecture video or an article you need to read, make sure you learn something new every day.
Invest time to practice and brush up on previously learned material
A significant advantage of online learning is that you can access and review any material at any given time. It is important to review the material you have learned at an earlier point in the course as you progress to the later parts. This gives a stronger sense of what you have learned and allows you to assimilate and apply everything you have learned so far. It thus gives you a stronger footing in accepting what lies ahead in the course path.
Share your learning with others
Sharing your daily goals with others in detail and talking about what you have done to achieve them, creates a sense of accountability and commitment toward achieving them. Most learners would agree that learning alone is difficult. Collaborative learning is far more productive than learning alone because it’s fun and allows you to create and maintain the momentum.
Reflection and continuous redesign
Having mapped out every learning phase in your plan allows you to reassess and rethink any learning approach at any point during the course, lest it did not prove to be as productive as you hoped. For example, if you notice that you have broken your pattern of learning and missed a number of days in a row, then break it down into something smaller and more manageable. This keeps you from feeling discouraged and giving it up all together. Your plan will help you pick up from right where you left off.
It may be safe to say that when it comes to online learning, most of us have signed up for a course with a lot of exuberance and enthusiasm, but very few have been able to keep that up and complete the course. It is only human nature to set big goals for ourselves and consequently bite more than we can chew. The idea is not to learn and know big things overnight, but to learn and slowly excel at small things every day.