Keeping up with change: Continuous Learning is Key
“You do not need to rely on teachers. Your experiences as a learner will teach you all you need to know”
How will I ever keep up?
Even though change is a common phenomenon in any era, it is not hyperbole to say that the current generation is perhaps unique because of the lightning speed at which technological advances are taking place. The sheer pace of change is something never before witnessed in human history.
Many of my colleagues in the IT industry are worried about the impact of all these changes on their jobs and careers. They are naturally rattled by the plethora of technologies, tools, and new development paradigms hitting the market in a near continuous stream.
One thing is very clear – gone are the days of graduating from college or university with a particular set of skills, land a job, and presume that our learning days are well behind us, as we are set for life with what we already know!
Just about every other day we hear about a new tool, library or API that are touted to be the next best thing. Whether it is new generation of languages such as Go, or low-code platforms such as Mendix, or a new generation of test and build automation tools and frameworks – the list is endless.
The question is, how does one keep up with this breakneck pace of technology change? That’s a million-dollar question many of my friends and colleagues are struggling to answer. Obviously, one cannot keep on learning every new technology or tool that comes into the market, and it is not required also. Cramming our minds with unnecessary stuff will only lead to an information overload and burn us out.
In my view, what is important is Knowing how to learn in a structured manner, and here are some tips that can help you along the way:
# Set a goal
As a first step, set a clearly defined learning goal with a specific timeline. This should motivate one to make specific efforts and gradual progress towards achieving the goal. With a concrete goal, it would be relatively easier to come up with a plan of action to achieve one’s objectives.
# Break goals into granular objectives
Once your goal is set, break it down into granular steps and objectives. Deconstruct what is to be learned, start by doing some research into the skill that you want to master. Think analytically from the very outset, and find out as much information as possible in terms of components involved in acquiring the desired skill, no matter how small. Pin down as many granular objectives or sub-sets of skills as you can, so that you can pursue them systematically. Why? Because many complex skills – from playing a musical instrument to learning a language are just bundles of smaller sub-skills. By deconstructing the larger skillset into its component parts, you’ll not only be able to chip away at each one piece by piece, you’ll also be able to better understand how they all relate and come together.
# Focus on concepts
As elementary as it may sound, conceptual clarity is essential and should always come first. A strong grip on fundamental concepts underlying any technology will make it easier to learn the more advanced features.
# Use 20% – 80% principle wisely
Apply Pareto’s principle to your learning goals. i.e. focus 20% of your time on efforts or tasks that will yield 80% results or benefits. The key for applying this principle is figuring out which sub-skills are more important than others.
# Target one sub-skill at a time
Even after you’ve zero in on the 20% of skills that you wish to acquire, you might be tempted to try and learn all of them simultaneously. This will be akin to biting more than what we can chew! To many of us, it is a struggle to multitask even when it comes to things we already know how to do, so trying to multitask when acquiring new skills is not at all advisable.
# Stay motivated
The first few weeks or even days of learning a new skill is the hardest. Very often, we realize that it is relatively easier to start, but very difficult to complete, especially when it comes to a difficult task such as learning or acquiring a new skill. The key for this is to stay focused, motivated, and persevere.
The wrap: stay calm and confident
While it is easy to be overwhelmed by a flood of new technologies, I think we should adopt a Zen-like attitude toward the churn, stay calm and confident in our abilities to keep pace with change. While change is inevitable, a culture of continuous learning with help stay current and relevant.