Professional Development

New year, new you: how to be a better learner

Written by Eric Titner

The dawning of a new year is always a great time to take stock of your life and retool. As we look forward into the future, reflect on experiences and lessons learned from the previous year, and think about what we want out of life moving forward, we can take this opportunity to set new goals, welcome new challenges, and work towards enacting positive change.

Chief among the goals we often set for ourselves for the new year is to learn something new. Whether the idea is to advance in our careers, build a new personal skill, or dive into a new hobby or area of interest, many of us include learning as part of our plans to steer ourselves toward self-improvement.

That said, some of us are more successful than others at actually following through on the learning goals we set for ourselves. Sometimes, motivation and apathy are key driving factors that determine success; for others, life simply takes on other unanticipated challenges and priorities as the new year unfolds that force us to shelve our grand plans. However, there may be another key factor at play that can contribute significantly towards your learning success, or lack thereof—your learning skills. That’s right, the ability to learn itself is a skill, and if you’re under the impression that some people are just naturally wired to learn better than others and there’s nothing much you can do about it, then think again.

The truth is, there’s a growing body of research-based evidence that points to the fact that your ability to learn is not some innate and immutable trait you’re born with, but rather is a skill that can be strengthened or weakened depending on the amount of attention you give to it. Simply put, you can become a better learner if you devote the effort. If you’re looking to become a better learner this year, consider deploying the following strategies to help you achieve this laudable goal.

Discover your learning style

Long gone are the days when “one size fits all” was a suitable approach to learning. It’s now widely recognized that there are a variety of learning styles, and people do their best when given the opportunity to learn in their preferred style. The VARK model comprises the most commonly accepted styles:

  • Visual learners do best when given tools to discover new concepts through seeing.
  • Auditory learners do best when given tools to discover new concepts through hearing.
  • Reading/writing learners do best when given tools to discover new concepts through reading and writing.
  • Kinesthetic learners do best when given tools to learn new concepts by moving and doing.

Perhaps you already know which style suits you best. If not, it’s worth the time and effort to discover what type of learner you are—and once you do figure it out you can use that knowledge to incorporate helpful targeted aids whenever you try to learn something new.

Decrease distractions

Let’s face it, the world is chock full of things designed to grab your attention and distract you from staying on task, especially when you’re trying to learn something new. Simply put, distractions are the enemies of focus, which is an essential element of learning. Doing everything within your power to minimize distractions when you’re trying to learn something will help safeguard your attention and focus, allow you to stay on task, and ultimately help you learn more effectively. Everyone has different tolerances when it comes to confronting and resisting distractions—the key is to learn your own strengths and weaknesses and react accordingly, which means avoiding those things that always threaten to derail you from achieving your learning goals.

Learn from trial and error

You likely have some preconceived ideas regarding what conditions are most conducive for you to learn effectively—and you may be completely on point, but you also may have it wrong. We also tend to change over time, so things that work well for you at one point in your life might not hold true as time goes by. Trial and error is a great way to continually hone and refine your learning approach—everything from your chosen environment and the study tools and aids you deploy, to the time of day you embark upon your learning tasks, all which may significantly impact your results. Analyze your successes and setbacks, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a better learner.

As the new year unfolds, seize the opportunity to make some key improvements in your life. Use the strategies and advice presented here to help you become a better learner and achieve whatever goals you have on your horizon.

About the author

Eric Titner

Eric is a NYC-based editor and writer, with years of experience in career-focused content development across a wide range of industries.