In-demand skills come and go, but this one will stay for life.

The only constant is change. Your degree will only carry you so far. Your current skill in a certain field will only be relevant for so long. After all, many jobs that exist now were unheard of a decade ago.

The only way to survive and get ahead in this ever-changing world is to sharpen the skill of learning.

In a world that is constantly changing, there is no subject or set of subjects that will serve you for the foreseeable future, let alone for the rest of your life. The most important skill to acquire now is learning how to learn. — John Naisbitt

It’s no coincidence that the Learning How to Learn class from Coursera is the world’s most popular online course, with students from over 200 countries learning the mental framework to overcome any difficult topic. Personally, it’s also no coincidence that I was able to consistently pick up new skills and accelerate my career through monthly learning challenges.

If it’s essential to be a lifelong learner, then it makes sense to invest time in strengthening this meta-skill. As Abraham Lincoln once said: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.” The more you understand how to study effectively, the better you’ll be able to apply these concepts, the more equipped you’ll be to acquire skills. Win-win-win.

Here are 3 things you can do to study smarter:

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1. Make a connection between the new and old.

Our brains are made of neurons which transmit information between each other across synapses. When you learn something new, your brain literally makes a connection between the neurons.

The more synapses made, the more interconnected your knowledge and deepen your understanding becomes. Thus, it’s helpful to generate metaphors or link an abstract concept to something concrete that you already know.

For example, making the analogy that your mind is like a library. Within a library, there are existing categories like History or Psychology to file books away under. Similarly, with new incoming information, your mind also files those away according to current labels. Thus, it’s much easier to understand something if a) you have already had an existing category for it, and b) you have examples within the category to help you integrate the information.

Knowledge is strengthened through use and meaning. Which brings us to chunking:

Chunking is the act of grouping concepts into compact packages of information that are easier for the mind to access.

Because short-term memory can only hold about four things at any given time, if you group the different pieces of information together into one larger whole, you can use just one of the four available slots. For example, if you’ve ever needed to memorize colors of the rainbow, chances are that you used the acronym “ROY G BIV”, or if you played music, you used “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” to read treble notes.

When you make a connection with something you already know, you learn and remember it better.

2. Do it yourself.

The best way to learn something is through experience because it bridges the gap between knowledge and skills.

There’s a difference between passive and active learning. Just because you highlight or underline something, doesn’t mean that you’ve learned it — and personally, the worst way to learn that is during an exam (I’m speaking from experience☺).

Also applicable to the working world, if you watched video tutorials or read guides, it only means that you are aware of the instructions on how to do it, and not necessarily the ability to carry it out. Pure regurgitation or recognition is easy but recalling it or teaching it to someone is not. If you’ve ever gotten into a situation where everything went well during studying, but when the crucial time came you realized that you didn’t actually know the material, this my friend, is the illusion of competence.

The roadblocks and obstacles we run into when we’re learning something new is what helps us store it in long-term memory. This is why companies emphasize working experience, and why side projects are helpful if you’re trying to really learn something well.

The trick is to just start. Sometimes all those open tabs to do more research are just forms of procrastination. Your brain likes pleasant things, so when it encounters something that it thinks will be difficult, it tries to switch your attention to easier things, like watching Netflix. However, researchers have discovered that not long after people actually start working on a task, the perceived discomfort soon disappeared. It’s like when you get to the gym, you realize it’s not too bad after all, and when you’re all sweaty after your workout, it feels great and you’re happy that you went.

The more you practice something, the better you’ll get, and the more enjoyable it becomes. And then you’re off to the races towards mastery! To make sure you constantly progress, you can use deliberate practice, in which you intentionally focus on weak parts of your performance and use measurement and feedback to systematically improve.

It’s only through experience that you can improve and learn what to improve.

3. Rest to get stronger.

Learning is like a mental workout for your brain. Just like a muscle, the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. And just like a physical workout, when you give it time to rest and recuperate, you get stronger.

When you sleep, the brain actually uses that time to clear out harmful toxins from the day, updates the cells, and integrates new information. So when you only get a couple of hours of sleep, it’s similar to only 50% of the new files getting downloaded into your brain storage system. Additionally, studies have shown that it’s actually best to sleep right after you learn something new so that the information is super fresh for the brain to consolidate into memory.

When we’re resting, we enter the diffused thinking mode, in which your brain relaxes and your thoughts are free to wander. This is also the mode that allows your thinking to get stronger, specifically your creative thinking. When you take a break from focused mode, it creates space and freedom for your subconscious to marinate on it. This is why people often make unexpected connections and breakthroughs in the shower or while taking a walk.

Another reason why it’s important to take breaks between learning is that according to the spacing effect, learning is more effective when studying is spread out over time, rather than all in one session.

Basically what I’m trying to say is that there’s scientific evidence that cramming is ineffective.

While it was passable to cram for exams and forget everything the day after, the real world doesn’t test on word-for-word answers, but rather application and skill. Thus, you actually want to learn and incorporate the information into your knowledge toolkit rather than restudying it every time. Enter spaced repetition.

Because we operate on a learning forgetting curve, in which we forget about 50% of what we learned within an hour of learning it (thanks for the tip Ebbinghaus), research has shown that spaced repetition, or repeating things after a couple of days, is the best way to reinforce learning. The language flashcard app Anki does a great job of using an algorithm to bring up words on days that you’re most likely to forget them so that your memory is constantly refreshed. Experiential projects also help keep new concepts on top of mind, by you directly working with what you’re trying to learn.

Education Corner

Thus, make sure to let your brain rest between learning sessions to become more creative and effective at learning.


Learning is hard. But we can make it easier by tying new information to something we already know, getting hands-on experience and making the best use of resting periods to turn fleeting concepts to long-term skillsets.

When we learn to learn more effectively, it opens up countless doors and a world of possibilities. If we don’t know something, we can find out about it. If we don’t have a skill, we can acquire it.

“When we are confident in our ability to learn, we can plunge into the life we imagined, like a child at play.”

Which one of the tips from above will you start incorporating to get better at learning? Tell us in the comments and start learning at Degreed.


This post was authored by a Degreed power user, Yunzhe Zhou, who founded One Month Projects to coach driven professionals in acquiring a meaningful skill in 30 days. We thank Yunzhe for her insights!

For most of us, the arrival of Artificial Intelligence (AI) seems sudden, out of the blue.

Just a few years ago, your friends weren’t automatically tagged in images you posted on social media.  You couldn’t talk to Siri or Alexa.  And pedestrians weren’t getting struck by self-driving cars.  The speed with which AI has begun to transform our digital and physical worlds has been breathtaking.

Like most disruptive forces, we’re not yet sure what to make of AI.  Does it herald the end of human drudgery or the beginning of human obsolescence?  Will AI create more jobs than it destroys over the next 10-20 years?  Is Elon Musk right that the uncontrolled advance of AI represents an existential threat to humanity?

Before we assign sinister or benevolent traits to AI, we should take a moment to dig a little deeper and perhaps uncover AI’s true value.

AI has the equivalent of a large ‘family tree’, with many branches.  There’s been a great deal of investment in some technically very sophisticated branches, such as machine learning.  But when it comes to human learning, I’d argue that there’s a less-appreciated branch of AI with tremendous, immediate potential to improve the way people learn.  It’s called Natural Language Generation, or NLG for short.  Simply put, NLG is computers writing stuff.  It’s the branch of AI that automatically turns data into written language that humans can read, understand, and even enjoy.

Since the printing press was invented, we’ve found ever-better, ever-cheaper ways to get the written word to large numbers of people.  But there have always been two major limitations.  First, humans have always written everything, and writing takes a lot of time.  Second, the words published are uniformly the same, even though the individuals reading those words are uniquely different.  For centuries, it’s been this:  A person spends a lot of time crafting a single set of words, then a great variety of individuals – who may differ wildly from one another – reads those words, and the writer hopes it resonates with each individual.

But thanks to NLG, we can now dramatically speed up the writing process – as in, writing hundreds of pages per second – and we can now vary the words written in each case.  NLG allows us to tailor written language depending upon certain variables, so that not every person reads the exact same thing.  This means the more we know about someone, the more we can tailor written content so that it’s hyper-personalized and relevant to that particular individual.

My company, CredSpark, is an interactive assessment platform enabling learning companies, marketers and media firms to ask questions of their learners and readers, in order to generate insights and catalyze action.  CredSpark is a proud partner of Degreed, and we’re also among the first companies use to NLG in a new way:  To generate personalized recommendations to individuals based upon what they’ve told us about their knowledge and interests.

Our initial work with NLG personalization has been around professional conferences: how to make a large trade show ‘feel small’ by asking an attendee a few questions and then generating a written recommendation of the sessions, exhibitors, and products most relevant to that person.  The response among attendees has been extremely positive.

But we’re equally excited by the possibilities around personalized recommendations for professional learning.  Imagine you’ve arrived at a website with a long list of learning resources: articles, videos, webinars, etc.  Instead of having to spend lots of time filtering and scrolling, what if you could simply answer a few questions and have a ‘short list’ of the most relevant resources tailored exactly to your knowledge and needs?  Even better, what if it wasn’t a list, but a narrative, providing you with context around why these particular resources are relevant to you, thereby giving those recommendations real meaning?  That’s what NLG + assessment can deliver.

We think this is the true power of AI in learning:  The ability to deliver individually-tailored learning guides containing only the most relevant resources, wrapped in a narrative that conveys meaning and value to the learner.  People learn best when highly engaged, and there’s no better way to engage learners than with learning plans which reflect their unique identity and needs.  Further, such personalization can support learning among people with varying levels of prior familiarity, and who learn at different paces.

It’s our hope that Natural Language Generation, combined with interactive assessment, will be widely adopted to scale the delivery of personalized learning journeys, thereby making each learner the hero in the narrative of her own advancement.

In the midst of the learning transformation happening today, we are seeing a new approach to bringing together technology, access to content and people, and dynamic user experiences that are shaped by human dynamics.  These learning ecosystems are supporting the need to be continually learning, filtering in the overwhelm of access to massive amounts of content, and bringing together connections amongst networks that enable learners to share, mentor and develop lifelong skills.

These learning ecosystems of today’s hyper-connected and networked world incorporate the best of all aspects that the latest technologies and support resources can deliver. They also strive to be simple to access, completely intuitive for the end user and personalized.  Although the concept may seem easy to explain, in reality, it certainly isn’t simple to determine the right foundation with the perfect mix of technologies and support resources needed to make it deliver on all expectations.

Building sustaining learning ecosystems requires a shift in mindsets.  It is critical to have an experimental mindset in creating a learning ecosystem in order to ensure it is future proof.  Also having a learner-driven, growth mindset in establishing the foundation based on the principles of human dynamics solidifies that it is grounded and strong enough to withstand the tumultuous changes yet to come. If it is built based on the learner needs, the human dynamics drive the design, then it becomes more than just the latest fad in a grouping of the hottest technologies but rather it becomes a foundational ecosystem that can evolve with the changing systems that operate it and drive the adoption and engagement anticipated.

As Degreed states in it’s Buyer’s Guide to the Near Future of Learning Technology, “Change is fast and increasingly unpredictable, making it a challenge for individuals and organizations to keep pace with the skills required to solve today’s problems.  It’s no longer enough to simply be competent on the job.  Everyone needs to keep on learning – indefinitely .”

What impacts the success and fortitude of learning ecosystems is the foundation it arises from.  Human dynamics, the study of how people work as a whole system – mentally, physically, and emotionally can spur that foundational story behind what fuels an ecosystem.  It becomes the energy source for the “why” and the architecture in building an ideal and sustaining learning ecosystem.  When built from an innovative, adaptable and connected foundation rooted in human dynamics, a learning ecosystem can evolve and withstand the unpredictability of the shifts that rock foundations.

Not sure what to put in your ecosystem? Stop by Degreed booth 3325 at the HR Technology conference. If you’re not at HR Tech, check out the Degreed website to create your own lifelong learning transcript.

Alan Walton is a data scientist at Degreed, but he didn’t start at Degreed with that job title.

Alan got a degree in math, with a minor in logic, and then landed his first job as a developer. Data science is currently one of the hottest jobs in America, but the term “data science” has only recently emerged. It was not a career that Alan had even heard of when he was in school. Like most millennials, Alan tried a few different jobs. His first job out of college was working for a startup where he wore a lot of hats. He worked on integrations, technical support, implementation, and technical writing. Alan started at Degreed as a developer, then worked as a product manager, and now a data scientist.

Alan’s career agility is enabled by his passion for learning. While in college, Alan’s quest for knowledge led him to learn speed reading. But, when walking through the university library one day, a quick calculation led him to realize that even when speed reading, it would still take him 200 years to read every book in the library. He knew he needed an alternative way to focus his learning.

Before Alan started working at Degreed, he stumbled upon Degreed online and became one of its first beta users in 2013. Alan has now accumulated nearly 40,000 points on his Degreed profile, which might make him the highest point earner in the entire Degreed platform. To give you some perspective, I have 12,000 points on my Degreed profile, which is more than most people on Degreed.

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When Alan first became interested in the data science role, he leveraged Degreed to make the transition. He created personal pathways in Degreed with resources from within the Degreed library, online resources, books, videos, and podcasts. He built pathways for data science in general with additional lessons focusing on sub-topics specific to the projects he was working on and the technical tools for his job.

Alan is a member of the data science group on Degreed, follows other data scientists, and follows the data scientist role so the popular articles, videos, and books his data science coworkers are reading plus the resources the organization recommends for this role show up in his Degreed learning feed, which he routinely takes advantage of.

Takeaways

Will Alan be a data scientist for the rest of his career? I doubt it. He says he’s really interested in AI. If you’re interested in gaining the same level of career agility as Alan, Degreed has the development tools to help.

  • Enroll in a pathway on the topic, create your own pathway, or clone an existing pathway and customize it for your needs.
  • Follow experts in the role you are interested in.
  • Join a group.
  • Follow the role, which will automatically link you to learning, pathways, groups, and experts.
  • Interested in learning more about data science? Follow Alan on Degreed or enroll in the Data Science pathway in Degreed.

Already a Degreed client and interested in initiating a targeted development plan at your organization based on roles and skills? For more information, contact your client experience partner at Degreed.

If you’re just getting started, check out get.degreed.com.

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Habits are routine, subconscious behaviors – actions you do not necessarily need to put a lot of thought into. Many of our daily actions are a combination of habits, both good and bad. Creating positive habits is important, according to Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit.” He reports about 40% to 45% of what we do every day feels like a decision but is actually habit. That’s nearly ½ of all our actions!

At the organizational level, habits and culture are closely related. How do people behave, work, grow, interact, and learn when they have the environment or flexibility to make decisions on their own. More than a numbers game, workplace and organizational habits contribute to the bottom line. “A huge amount of whether a company succeeds or fails is based not on sort of the big strategy decisions that people make, but on the habits that emerge within the organization,” added Duhigg.

If you think about your own organization’s practices, much of what we do as employees is the result of history – “that’s the way we’ve always done it” – also known as organizational habits. But what if you had the power to change the status quo?

Ryan Seamons, a Product Manager at Degreed, recently spoke on the value of habits during a presentation at Puget Sound. Here are 6 recommendations he made for things you can do to jump start new habits.

  1.     Start small

Dream big, but start small when picking new habits. If the goal itself is too lofty at the beginning, it easily becomes hard or too time consuming to achieve. A couple examples of starting small include doing two pushups, flossing one tooth, reading to the bottom of the page. These small actions can seem inconsequential, but set the foundation to keep growing the habit bigger and bigger.

  1.     Change your environment

Start fresh. If you want to read more, move the book onto your pillow instead of your nightstand. If you want to take walk at lunch, ask a friend to go with you to hold you accountable and mark the time off on your calendar.

  1.     Reflect

Take the time to evaluate where you currently stand. Ask yourself things like: what do I want to achieve, what has gone well in the past, and what hasn’t, what reward would be the most powerful? It also helps to document your reflections. Set 15 minutes of time apart on your calendar specifically for thinking and write down your thoughts in a dedicated document.

  1.     Find “domino” habits

Find habits you currently do that can propel your new habit in the right direction. A good example is working out. Typically, when someone makes the decision to go to the gym, that sets up the desire to also eat healthy. Try identifying well-established habits to which you could anchor your new habit.

  1.     Reward

Pick a small but meaningful incentive to reward yourself with when you complete the action.

  1.     Remind

Create a trigger, a queue that brings your desired habit to mind. Like ‘domino’ habits, a trigger can help you start the action needed to develop a habit.

Employees have a way they naturally respond to problems and allocate time during their work day. Being more aware of current habits and setting aside time to make an impact on your organization is a key to positively changing culture.

What are you curious about right now? What frame of reference are you currently using to interpret the world?

To understand what I’m asking, think about what you would notice in an outdoor plaza on a busy summer day.

Would you notice the art installments? What about the strip of grass that is dead because everyone cuts across it? Would you notice the names and logos of the stores or the types of businesses that are operating?

What about the people? Would you notice the homeless person on the corner? The books that people are reading? Or would your focus be trained on the clothes that people are wearing?

At any given moment, the things you are curious about frame the way you see everything.If you’re starting a business, you would probably notice the businesses. If you are an aspiring artist, you would notice the art. If you love to skateboard, you would notice which rails don’t have knots on them.

For the lifelong learner, every day presents itself with an infinite amount of opportunities. Way too many, in fact, to focus on more than even a few at at time. This presents somewhat of a quandary.

Though a common mantra for success is “Don’t quit,” that may not always be the best advice. For years I felt bad about quitting, even if I hated something. I thought quitting was the easy way out, and that if I quit, I wasn’t pushing myself hard enough. I once spent two years too long in a job that I hated, and I became quite apathetic to progression in general because of that. It took awhile to get back on my feet, but from that, I learned that quitting is often necessary for progression.

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Rotating Curiosity

My curiosities and interests are constantly changing. The things I train my focus on today are not the same things that I trained my focus on a year ago. I like to call this phenomenon, rotating curiosity.

My curiosities rotate every six months or so, which makes things difficult as I make education and career decisions. One minute I feel like I’ve found my dream major or job, then six months later it no longer holds my interest. At that point I try to wring out every last drop of curiosity I have left, because I feel like something is wrong with me. How do I go from all-in to all-out in such a short time?

Though rotating curiosity has caused me some struggle in life, I wouldn’t change a thing. I have learned so many different things because of it. Honestly, I think it’s in everyone’s best interest to have at least a mild case of rotating curiosity. In fact, the winningest player on Jeopardy! encourages it.

During one of my many phases of curiosity back in 2013, I decided I was going to learn more about the human condition and talk to a stranger every day for a year (if I were in a plaza then, my focus would have been trained on the homeless person). I used an app called Lift (now coach.me) to log my daily interactions and to help establish the habit.

While I was using the app, a girl named Karen Cheng was also using it to help her learn to dance. She made a pretty rad video about it. Fast forward a few years, I came across another Karen Cheng video that reminded me of her original dance video. I wanted to interview her about how she she taught herself to dance to see if I could glean some insights for a blog post about self-taught learning. However, after I talked with her for a few minutes, it became very apparent that Karen also lives with rotating curiosity. Karen is no longer as interested in dance. She now runs a consulting company where she creates viral videos. Her client list is pretty impressive.

So here are the six most vital things I learned in my interview with Karen about self-taught learning, curiosity, finding success and knowing when to quit.

 

Feed your hunger

It was a long time before Karen actually jumped in and decided to learn to dance. She says, “I wanted to learn how to dance for a long time, but I just didn’t think I would ever be able to get that good. But I always had a nagging feeling.”

Karen refers to this nagging feeling on her website as a hunger. “If I didn’t have this raw hunger, there’s no way I would’ve had the discipline to practice every day.” Once Karen finally decided to feed that hunger, it grew into an obsession so strong that dancing became her life. Her doubts could no longer control her.

 

If you don’t love it, quit

Since Karen is no longer obsessed with dance, I was curious what her thoughts were on pushing through something once the newness of learning has worn off. Her response was straightforward and powerful, “Here’s what I do: I just quit, and I learn something else. It’s worn off for dancing, and now I’m doing video editing.”

It makes sense. Why waste time pursuing something if you don’t enjoy it anymore? Lots of professional athletes use that logic to decide when they retire. There are so many other things out there you could be learning that bring you more joy.

When I pushed further and asked how long Karen thought she would be curious about video editing, her response was, “Everything is temporary. I think it will hold my interest for awhile. It’s like 20 arts combined into one. Getting better at editing, and copywriting, and camera and lighting and marketing . . . It will take me longer to get tired of this than others.”

Karen also shed some light on career possibilities for those of us who suffer from rotating curiosity. “Every job, after 6–9 months, I get tired of it. So am I doomed? For my life? Getting jobs every year? That’s not feasible. Then I started my own business consulting, and I run my own agency now. What’s great about it is that I don’t have a job that I show up to everyday. I have clients that change day by day and month by month. It’s always new projects. And I can change the nature of what I’m offering. I have finally—after many years—figured out a way to find a career that works for this novelty seeking personality type.”

 

Track your progress

Karen tracked her progress extensively. As she learned to dance, she recorded herself on video so she could watch the video over and over to identify where she still needed to improve. She also kept an intense dance journal so she knew how long she had practiced and what she still needed to work on.

Though Karen no longer tracks her dancing, she still keeps track of everything she does. “I have a lot of spreadsheets. I like to see progress. By tracking it, you can understand how you’re progressing. I track how much time I’m putting into projects.”

he even tracks things like her sugar consumption. “I was hopelessly addicted to sugar, and I didn’t want to give it up because I want to still enjoy my life. But I wanted to have less of it. And I don’t do well with hard rules like, ‘you can only have X on Y days.’”

So Karen began tracking her sugar consumption, “I had to take a picture of every dessert that I ate, and I put it in a Photo 365 calendar. . . . What gets measured gets improved.” If she saw that she had eaten seven desserts in seven days, she knew to slow it down on the eighth day. And after three months, she kicked her habit!

“That has been really effective. So effective that now I feel like I’m no longer addicted to sugar. I’ve actually just recently stopped using the calendar. I don’t need it anymore. But it was such a useful tool for the three months when I was using it.”

 

Coach yourself

When Karen was learning to dance, she learned to effectively coach herself. That got me curious about how she was able to be an effective coach. It seems like a difficult challenge. For example, I have no idea how to dance, and I couldn’t tell you what I need to do to get better. I just don’t have that understanding of the mechanics of dance. I don’t have the skills to coach myself on those things.

I asked Karen about that. At first, Karen wasn’t the best coach. She just learned to imitate dancers from videos on YouTube. She began looking at every part of the body individually, comparing small pieces of her dances to people like Michael Jackson.

Then she began to notice how physiological differences in male and female dancers made certain moves look better or worse. Eventually, she took a ballet class because she wanted to create her own style, a more elegant style of popping and robot dancing. That is a decision that took her two years to realize. Coaching yourself takes time, but if you’re dedicated, it will pay off.

 

Learn from the best

Karen did everything she could think of to learn how to dance. She went to classes, talked to teachers she really liked, asked for private lessons, watched YouTube videos and practiced everywhere. When I asked her what her favorite way to learn something new is, she said, “I usually find the best person that I can find and ask them to teach me. . . . The fastest way to get good at anything is to find someone who’s really really good at it and learn from them” (Check out how Degreed’s Ryan Baylis is putting this philosophy to work).

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Don’t get caught up in career ladders

The last thing I asked Karen was, “What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from your experiences? I’ll let her take it from here.

“The most valuable lesson that I’ve learned is not to worry about career ladders. There’s an old-school analogy that we buy into, which is that you pick a major and then you go on that ladder, and you climb that career ladder, and you try to get up as high as possible. That is what makes the idea of switching careers so daunting. You look at the next ladder over and think about starting at the bottom of that ladder. I have changed careers four times now.”

“What I’ve discovered is that you don’t start from the bottom at all. Instead of thinking of it as a career ladder, think of it as a jetpack of skills. You go around and you collect a bunch of skills, and put them in your jetpack. As you learn more skills your jetpack gets stronger, and when you change careers you bring to it a lot of skills that you learned from your previous one. Like I’m in film now and I had a previous career as a designer, that definitely comes in handy. I previously had a career as a project manager, that really helps with coordinating film crews. I previously had a career as a CEO of a tech startup, now I know a lot of tech startups that are my clients. Each of my past careers help in a very significant way with my current one. In a way, if I’d have gone to film school, I wouldn’t have all these advantages.”

We’re overwhelmed, we’re tired, we’re spread thin as U.S. employees. None of this is news to you. There is an absurd amount of distraction yet the need to expand our skill sets and grow professionally has never been more important as both the workforce and skills gap grow. And it’s not a small shortage of skills. A McKinsey Global Institute report predicts a potential global shortage of 38 to 40 million high-skilled workers in 2020.

With the new changes happening in the world, including the rise of digital and the way organizations are redesigning themselves to keep up, there comes the addition of L&D and HR responsibilities. This means our roles are more expansive and important than they’ve ever been!

Learning is not just providing training and education anymore. In many ways, we are also responsible for employee engagement, for change management, for culture, for employee longevity. You may also lead the career models and internal career mobility of people in your company.

This is a daunting reality- like we weren’t busy before! But there is  an easy win. The first place to start? Ourselves.

At Degreed’s Lens event in New York, Josh Bersin of Bersin by Deloitte Consulting boldly stated, “Today, if you want to be world-class in L&D, you have to have people with a whole range of skills.” We have to build our own skills in L&D, train people and redevelop ourselves to meet the needs of today’s workforce. This means understanding topics like curation, taxonomies, information architecture, design thinking and content management.

Here are 3 recommendations Degreed has to help you and your staff embrace and shifts in L&D:

1)             Help your team or your people make time to add to their personal skill sets. This adds value for the new or expanding roles in L&D.

2)             Embrace things like curation and design thinking so you can better succeed in getting people access to the information they need to do their jobs.

3)             Embrace tools (yes, like Degreed) that allow you manage your learning and career, and continually improve.

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The importance of staying relevant, of up-skilling ourselves is probably best summed up in this quote from AT&T Chairman, Randall Stephenson. “There is a need to retool yourself, and you should not expect to stop. People who do not spend five to 10 hours a week in online learning will obsolete themselves with the technology.”

 

Over the weekend the hashtag #FirstSevenJobs started trending as well known celebrities and experts tweeted out their first seven jobs. The posts showed us a few things; first, every path is different, and no background looks the same. Second, developing expertise usually takes years of work before any ‘big break’ appears.

#FirstSevenJobs is yet another reminder that there is no single path to expertise. We’ve talked about this before, but it’s pretty comforting to see how the path to accomplishment really shook out for a few people we admire. It’s important to recognize that these stories aren’t just anomalies in the world of success and accomplishment, so we’re providing a few more famous examples as proof.

 

1. Stan Lee: Creator of the Marvel universe
obituary writer
press release writer
sandwich delivery boy
office boy for a trouser manufacture
usher at Rivoli Theater
newspaper salesman
assistant at Timely Comics (which would evolve into Marvel Comics by the 1960’s)

2. Martha Stewart
babysitter
model
stockbroker
caterer
cookbook author
newspaper columnist

3. Harland Sanders
horse carriage painter
farmhand
conductor for the streetcar company
teamster in the Army
blacksmith’s helper
ash pan cleaner for the Northern Alabama Railroad
fireman (steam engine stoker)
laborer for Norfold Western Railway
lawyer
laborer for Pennsylvania Railroad
life insurance salesman
ferry boat company owner
Secretary for the Chamber of Commerce in Columbus
started an acetylene lamp company
tire salesman
service station manager
Kentucky colonel
motel and restaurant Owner
assistant cafeteria manager
Kentucky Colonel
franchiser

4. Jan Koum: Founder of WhatsApp
cleaner at a grocery store
self taught engineer
security tester at Ernst & Young
infrastructure engineer
advertising system inspector at Yahoo
advertising platform team at Yahoo
WhatsApp founder

5. Julia Child
copywriter
local publication writer
advertister
typist for US information Agency in Washington DC
research assistant in the Secret Intelligence Division
researcher (developing shark repellent)
handled highly classified information for the OSS (Office of Strategic Services)
Chief of the OSS Registry
Cooking student

#FirstSevenJobs teaches us to be willing to work to get where we want to go, that it’s normal to forge a unique path to expertise, and it’s never too late to learn. What were your #FirstSevenJobs? Share them with us on Twitter @degreed and check out The Degreed Manifesto video below, which shows expertise in action:

Ancora Imparo

These two words are often credited to Michelangelo, the great artist and architect whose work is still considered to be some of the finest in the world. Roughly translated, ancora imparo means ‘and yet I learn’ or ‘still I am learning.’ What’s impressive about these words is that they came from Michelangelo when he was well into his 80s. He lived true to that mantra throughout his life.

Though he began painting the Sistine Chapel in his 30s, it wasn’t until Michelangelo was in his 70s that he began working on the dome at St. Peter’s Basilica. Thus, proving that the human capacity for excellence doesn’t have to run dry with age.

As a human being only two years away from entering my 30s, I find it hard to stay hopeful as what seems like a constant barrage of stories about the young and successful fill my news feeds. As magazines and websites pump out their various “30 under 30” or “to watch” lists, it’s hard not to feel depleted, like I missed my chance for greatness. Side note: Respect where respect is deserved: S/O to Degreed’s own Kat Archibald for being named as one of Utah Business’ 30 Women to Watch this year!

So if you miss the marks set by the world—if you’re not a super successful mogul by 40—does life just flatline from there?

I know I’m being dramatic here. Obviously life doesn’t flatline at 40. But when you feel like you still have so far to go, it’s hard not to feel that way. Especially if you’re going through a time of failure or stagnation. But never fear, it’s never too late to learn and Malcolm Gladwell is here to help:

LifelongLearning2

In his article, Late Bloomers, Gladwell unrolls the idea that there are two kinds of geniuses: prodigies, who bloom fast and bright; and late bloomers, who have to struggle through years of experience and failure before they achieve greatness.

For example, Picasso was a prodigy. He had innate talent from an early age and knew exactly what he wanted when he started a painting. On the other hand, the artist Cézanne, who started painting at about the same age Picasso did, was flat out horrible. People even told him so. But over the years, he began to improve. He had to experiment and put in much more time than Picasso did, but he eventually arrived at greatness. In a sense, he had to let his efforts and experience age like a fine wine.

History (and the present) is full of stories like Cézanne’s and Michelangelo’s. Stories of people who made great strides later in life. Stories the prove that those who continue to learn and progress will always have a bright future. That’s the hope we all need to have if we’re ever going to do our best work and make it through our failures. I’m here to tell you that hope is real. But you don’t have to take my word for it!

 

Diana Nyad

Diana Nyad, who was breaking records in open water swimming left and right in her 20s and 30s, didn’t accomplish her most coveted goal until she was 64 years old. As she stumbled out of the ocean and into the record books after a grueling 53-hour ocean swim, she managed to force these words out of her swollen mouth:

LifelongLearning3

 

Harland Sanders

Sanders seems to be the most common name that pops up as a late-bloomer success story. Most know him better as Colonel Sanders. He had a slew of failures, including a failed restaurant, before he sold his first Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. He was 65 years old.

Grandma Moses

Anna Mary Robertson Moses, nicknamed Grandma Moses, was an embroidery artist for many years. But at the age of 78, after arthritis made it difficult for her to continue embroidering, she began painting instead. She was entirely self-taught, using whatever she found around the house to paint her early paintings. It wasn’t until age 90 that she was discovered and began exhibiting her work internationally.

Nola Ochs

When Nola Ochs became the world’s oldest college graduate at the young age of 95, you would have thought she was done. Nope. Nola WENT BACK to school and completed a master’s degree at the age of 98!

Harry Bernstein

Bernstein, who lived through incredible difficulty during his first 25 years of life, struggled as a writer for years. It wasn’t until he was 96 that his writing took off on the heels of his memoir. But that’s not all! He kept going and published two more volumes to his memoir in the following years.

Stan Lee

The comic world would be a very different place if it weren’t for the comics written by Stan Lee. But it wasn’t until Lee was almost 39 that he had his first hit with “The Fantastic Four.” And in the years after that, he created all that is the Marvel Universe. As it stands, movie adaptations of Marvel’s comics have grossed $8.3 billion.

Momofuku Ando

Though you may not recognize his name, if you’ve spent any time as a penniless college student, you’re likely very familiar with his work. As a penniless 47-year-old man due to a bankruptcy, Ando invented what we now know as Cup Noodles and Top Ramen.

Vera Wang

Wang was a standout figure skater in college, placing fifth in two U.S. National Championships. She even spent 15 years in journalism at Vogue. But it wasn’t until she was 40 that she really hit her stride in the fashion industry, opening her first bridal boutique. Today Wang is “arguably the most prominent designer of bridal wear in America.”

We all have bright futures ahead if we just keep pushing ourselves to be better. If you don’t hit your stride now, don’t stress. You have plenty of time to get there, and it’s never too late to learn.

“…sometimes genius is anything but rarefied; sometimes it’s just the thing that emerges after twenty years of working at your kitchen table.”

– Malcolm Gladwell

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Admittedly, I’m somewhat of a newb to the world of podcasts. Though I have been a fan of audiobooks for years, I took my time getting into podcasts. Last year when everyone was listening to Serial while they ate their cereal, I was going strong on my serial habit of sleeping in and skipping my cereal.

Six months ago I finally caved and decided to give Serial a try. I finished season 1 in a week. It wasn’t hard for me to understand why it has shattered podcast records. And I only know that fact because of an interview I listened to last week with Ira Glass… on a podcast. I’m sincerely grateful for Sarah Koenig opening the door for me to a new avenue of learning. Once I was done with Serial, I couldn’t just stop. I began exploring other podcasts. Now I consume at least 4-6 hours of podcast content per week.

After I had worked my way through the most recent episodes of the podcasts I was familiar with, I got the the point where I had to start branching out and searching for new content. As I tried other podcasts out, I realized that liking one episode of a certain podcast didn’t always mean that I would enjoy all of the other episodes.

Originally, I just browsed for new stuff by scrolling through the top picks list on the iTunes Podcasts app. But that was time consuming. After trying out the search functionality on the app, I wished I could search a little better. I decided to look for other resources that I could use to further dial in my selections. Turns out there are some pretty good websites/apps out there to help you do just that. Here are a few of the best ones I’ve found.

 

Player.fm

PodcastFeeds1

 

First up is Player.fm. In terms of topic-based searches, I probably like this one the best. For example, just look how it breaks out the general topics into much more specific areas. Searching through those areas not only yields a list of the top podcasts relevant to the topic, but also the most recent episodes from any podcast that talks about the topic. You can run this app right on your phone (Android only) for free. As an iPhone user, I just enjoy using the search features on the website. My favorite part is the “play later” functionality, which allows you to save individual episodes instead of having to subscribe to the whole podcast and then remember where the episode was.

 

NPR Podcast Directory

PodcastFeeds2

 

The NPR directory only searches and references podcasts that are produced by NPR. This American Life, which is an NPR podcast, basically invented the system by which most podcasts produce content today. So it’s safe to say they know their stuff. NPR owns a pretty good share of the podcast market. You’d be hard pressed not to find something you enjoy from an NPR podcast. The site also has recommended picks and category search functions.

 

Learn Out Loud

PodcastFeeds3

This site might not have the most elegant design, but it still has a ton of functionality. You can search through all kinds of categories and topics to find content that is interesting and new. A lot of content is free, but you can also access their premium content for a fee. And they don’t stop at podcasts, how do you feel about free audiobooks?

 

Stitcher

PodcastFeeds4

If you’re a frequent podcast listener, you’ve probably heard of Stitcher. But for those who might not know, Stitcher is a solid way to find and curate podcast content. The name Stitcher refers to the app’s ability to “stitch” together multiple shows into a customized station playlist—kinda like Pandora for podcasts. You can also try pre-set stations that are curated by Stitcher’s editors. One of the things I like is how it tracks the movement of the top podcasts. Those insights into how a podcast is trending can help you find great content that you may have overlooked otherwise.

 

Audiosear.ch

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Audiosear.ch has some really awesome visual graphics that help you understand various metrics of current podcasts. For example, there is a frequency graph that shows you who the most mentioned people are in their podcast database. And if you are curious about how many podcasts Macauley Culkin is mentioned in, you can find that in their People Index. There is also a feature called PodLikeThat that suggests podcasts that are similar to your favorite podcasts and podcast episodes. For those who might want random podcast suggestions, there is also a Pod-A-Day email you can sign up for to get a new podcast in your inbox daily.

 

Hopefully at least one of these websites/apps will help you more easily find new podcast content that fits your taste! And don’t forget, you can track all your podcast listening on your Degreed profile!

 

 

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