Rapid Skills Acquisition – Can Employees Learn Faster?

No one becomes a master overnight in anything. But when considering the context of workplace learning, do we really have to become masters? In most cases, the answer is no. When we introduce new skills and competency frameworks in the workplace, the bar is not that high. As long as the employee builds adequate knowledge to do the job better, the learning departments is happy. So, let’s look at rapid skills acquisition – the art of becoming competent in the least amount of time. Here are some fundamental factors that are important in rapid skills development. Additionally, we’ll outline ideas on how you can use a multichannel learning strategy to support your employees in the learning process.

If you want to read about rapid skills acquisition in more detail, we highly recommend you to look up Josh Kaufman and his book ‘The First 20 Hours’, from which this article also borrows from.  Here’s his shorter TEDx talk.

1. Setting the scope and aligning expectations

Skills are often very complex. Rather than being a large unity that you learn at once, they are more often comprised of small sub-skills that you can pick up gradually. Thus, it’s important to narrow down on the very specific (often sub-) skills that you want to learn. If your scope is too broad or lacks focus, you’re spreading your time over too many topics. However, rapid skills acquisition and learning do remain a very personal effort. Thus, we should look into the ways of personalised learning rather than trying to define skill-sets and competencies as an organisation.

In addition, it’s also beneficial to have access to experts to help in benchmarking the skill development path. An expert can help the novice to set expectations: how much could and should they learn in a given time frame? What constitutes competency on the topic? What’s the required level for working proficiency? Thanks to the digitalisation, expert access is easy. If you have experts within your own organisation, you could connect them to learners e.g. via social learning tools. If they are outside, you could curate a pool of experts and provide access to their material.

2. Building a resource library and diving in deep

For rapid skills acquisition – like any kind of learning – you need a baseline of knowledge and theoretical frameworks. Hence, you should compile a small library of learning resources that support your individual scope and goals. Consuming expert and high level material from early on can help in identifying the right learning paths to follow. Also, it will likely help to reduce a lot of the mistakes related to “learning the wrong thing”.

In the context of organisations, you could provide your employees with learning platforms that use artificial intelligence to curate content. Based on his preferences, experience etc. the learner would get an automatically curated library of content. If your learning platform can’t do that, you could (besides contacting us of course!) build something similar manually. Vetting and curating content helps your learners to identify the proper resources, reducing their downtime and increasing efficiency.

3. Practice and spaced repetition is key in rapid skills acquisition

In terms of learning new skills, practice goes far beyond passive learning in efficacy. Think about languages for example. You are very unlikely to learn a language without speaking it. However, you can develop very fast through immersion, where you’re exposed to the language and practice on a daily basis – with little to no “passive” learning! Likewise, when developing skills in corporates, what we really should do is to practice. Ironically, that’s where a lot of the L&D fails on the impact side too. When there’s not enough practice, employees don’t apply the newly learnt on the job due to uncertainty of themselves. For practice, there are a lot of potential tools like learning simulations, immersions, virtual- and augmented reality etc. But the best practice of course happens on a real job.

When you’ve settled with the modes of practice, you’ll arrive at another important thing. Practicing spaced repetition is instrumental for rapid skills acquisition. So, instead of trying to get perfect all in one go, you and your employees should spread out the effort. This lets the brain process the new information and form new neural links – and the effect is incredible.

Indeed, employees can learn faster. They just need the right environment for it. And when it comes to practice, a solid 20 hours will get you quite far, just like Josh Kaufman demonstrates.

Would you like your employees to learn faster? If so, are you providing them the right kind of environment to succeed in doing so? We can help you, whether that’s in digital platforms, content curation or learning strategy. Just contact us.

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