How to Take a More Mindful Approach to Learning

Before you read any further, indulge me for a moment. Tuck your phone away (unless you happen to be reading this on your phone). If you’re reading this on your computer, close the other 10 tabs you have open. Shut down your email. Now, take a few deep breaths. Are you with me?

Ok. Remember this feeling. Let’s begin.

At Degreed, we often talk about how learning happens all the time. I certainly believe that to be true. Given our infinite access to information these days, there is no shortage of opportunities to be learning something at any moment of the day. However, with the daily grind of our jobs, family activities, and continuous digital connection, it can be tough to pinpoint those exact moments in our lives where true learning happens.

Linda Stone refers to a behavior called continuous partial attention. Perhaps you steal a few minutes in your day to peruse Facebook where you come across a Nifty video on how to remove permanent marker from your skin. Or maybe you’re in Flipboard and you come across This Cheat Sheet Full of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube Shortcut Keys. Our lives are full of these serendipitous nuggets of learning.

The problem is, when we rely solely upon serendipity, we lose focus of our true personal learning objectives. Not that serendipity is bad, but relying upon it as your only method of learning can serve as a hindrance to retention.

These constant distractions and competing priorities in our lives have powered a movement around mindfulness in the workplace. The benefits of mindfulness, as it relates to productivity, are well documented. It’s time that we pause and consider the benefits of being a mindful learner.

Taking time to learn is often thought of as an indulgence. Instead, consider learning as a necessity in order to acquire knowledge to complete a task, solve a problem, or generate new ideas. To gain these benefits requires a more mindful approach to the time we invest to learn.

When I refer to being a mindful learner, I’m referring to creating the conditions by which our mind can focus on the present learning opportunity. Mindful learning is about creating conditions by which your mind can focus on deep learning and comprehension.

Here are 4 ways you can begin creating optimal conditions to learn:

  1. Setup your physical space. Figure out where you learn best. Ideally, some place where you can remove yourself from as many distractions as possible. Turn off your phone or anything else that might steal your attention. If you are going to be using your mobile device as your learning tool, consider turning off  notifications. If you’re going to read a book, set it out so that it’s staring at you when you’re ready.
  2. Plan your learning time. Schedule it on your calendar and honor the time. Don’t ignore it, don’t let someone else schedule over top of it. Remember, this time is an investment in you. Invest a little time in yourself now, in order to grow later. If you think you can’t commit 30 minutes or an hour, start with 10 minutes. Split this time between spending 5 minutes reading on a subject that interests you or watching a video. Use the other 5 minutes to capture what you learned. Speaking of capturing what you learned…
  3. Reflect on your experience. This part is important. Jot your learnings down in a notebook or write post about it on Twitter or LinkedIn. If you’re using a Kindle, use the Notes function to highlight and capture your thoughts. Do something that will cause you to take a moment to reflect on the time you just invested to learn.
  4. Take a cue from Google’s “20% Time.” If you’re a in a leadership position at your company, you have the ability to set the tone for what behaviors take place. Google is well known for giving their employees time to work on side projects they believe could benefit Google. This, in part, is successful because they actively promote the effort, give people the time, and have given people the permission to do it. You should do the same for allocating time and space for people to learn. Perhaps consider a “Study Hall” campaign where the entire company blocks a day to learn. Encourage people who are interested in similar topics to Meetup and share their learnings.

So, now that you’ve spent  a few minutes learning about how to be a more mindful learner, what are your takeaways? While you’re thinking of it, jot them down. Tell someone else about what you learned. If you took the steps I recommended at the start, congratulations! Remember how it felt to give yourself permission to focus. Remember to give yourself that same permission the next time you invest the time to be a more mindful learner.

 

 

Written by Steve Nguyen