Establishing a Habit of Learning

In 5 Steps

Establishing a Habit of Learning

5 Ideas for Supporting Employee Learning

to Empower Your Learners

5 Ideas for Supporting Employee Learning

6 Ways to Learn When Your Interests Are Always Changing

6 Ways to Learn When Your Interests Are Always Changing

Degreed recently hosted a “BrainWeave®” discussion – on “Leveraging the New Learning Ecosystem” – at the Talent Management Exchange conference in Austin, Texas. A group of 25 L&D, talent management and leadership development executives joined us to talk about the opportunities and challenges they see in innovative, new learning solutions. Here are three things they all agreed on:

1. The new learning ecosystem is exciting, but it’s still too complicated.

Learning solutions are more diverse than ever before. There are now at least 690 LMS vendors and more than 1,200 providers of learning content – everything from live and online courses to videos, MOOCs, bootcamps, articles, books, podcasts, webinars, conferences, online communities, games and apps.

All those choices are great for learners, but they are a challenge for L&D and talent leaders. Everyone we spoke to recognizes that workers (including themselves) are embracing new learning options. Only a handful are actually putting them to work, though. Most are still trying to make sense of all these new tools.


2. Change is essential, but it’s also hard. Really hard.

Everyone agreed that learning has to be more effective, more efficient and more closely linked to job performance and career paths. But with persistently tight budgets and small staffs with limited bandwidth, nearly all of them find it difficult to try new things.

Those who have tried agreed that innovative methods and technologies don’t make L&D better, faster or cheaper all by themselves. That requires L&D professionals to think and work differently, too. Unfortunately, most said their teams don’t yet have the familiarity, capabilities or mindsets to really leverage the new ecosystem.

3. To change L&D people, you have to change the L&D people. Literally.

No one we spoke to at TME has it all figured out, but several are beginning to make good progress. In those organizations, changing the way learning and talent management operates is happening through both small, incremental evolutions and bigger, more revolutionary ideas.

Many, for example, are experimenting with novel approaches, like user-generated content, video and curation. Others are updating existing skills and hiring for new expertise — for example, experience design and web and mobile development. A few have created entirely new roles, such as marketing, product and community managers.




Tweet your thoughts and questions to @degreed, and log this article on your degreed profile!

Advancing in a career is an endless process of moves and countermoves. We often seek out our purpose in life through our careers and then use our career towards defining ourselves as people. One of the first questions that someone may ask upon meeting you is, “What do you do for a living?” You, then, proceed to introducing your profession, company, and possibly even provide the responsibilities that are required of you in that role.

For those of us who have been in a specific industry for many years, it may become routine to have an automatic reply when it comes to describing exactly what we do for a living. Although there are many people who are content with where they are in their career, there are many young, aspiring professionals who have not yet reached that stage. Even those who are seasoned professionals may still want more out of their career. After all, contentment never allots for growth.


Often times, we reach a career plateau when we are just not exactly where we want to be at a certain point of our lives. It is difficult to stay motivated and not get discouraged during these times. Understanding that hard work, consistency, and persistence are key elements to growth is essential towards taking that next leap into a new job or different field. It is important to keep a positive mental attitude when seeking to advance in your career. Keep in mind that it IS a process. Use these seven techniques to stay motivated when you have reached a career plateau :


1.) Put 100% into what you are currently doing, even if you don’t like doing it
Just because you aren’t fully enjoying what you are currently doing doesn’t mean you should produce less quality work. It is important to be cognizant of your professional image and still retain the integrity of what you do. The amount of effort you put into something is a reflection of yourself. Don’t let your work suffer because you are unmotivated.


2.) Seek outside opportunities for learning
Knowledge is power. There are an endless amount of resources at our disposal for us to gain further education such as books, e-books, informational seminars, and online courses and MOOCS. You can find tons of learning content on any subject in Degreed. It is never too late to learn. Enhancing your knowledge and skills is a great resume builder and it makes you a more appealing candidate.


3.) Do the research
Learn more about what you are seeking to accomplish within your career. Find out the necessary requirements for your ideal role and what you have to do in order to fulfill those requirements. Research background information on the internal processes for whichever field you are interested in and research the kind of company that you would like to work for.


4.) Learn from other professionals who are models of success
They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery. We want to get to those positions which we deem as successful. We examine the lifestyle and routine of those who are models of success in order to understand how they’ve reached that point which we someday hope to reach. Find you favorite career idol and see if they’ve published advice for productivity, progression, and creating successful careers. Even better, get a mentor in your ideal position that can be available to help share their knowledge and expertise.


5.) Network with other professionals in that field
Building your professional network is one of your strongest allies in regards to landing your dream job or breaking into a new industry. Having connections is one of the most common ways people use to advance in a career. According to a report by ABC News, 80% of jobs are obtained through networking . As you trail further down your career path, you may notice that your network of professional connections begins to overlap into other areas. One connection can lead to a life-changing opportunity (this is where tip #4 can really come into play). Try attending events like conferences, or interacting on twitter with other professionals.


6.) Set goals for yourself
Create a timeline for how and when you want to get things accomplished. Use this timeline as a way to keep yourself on track and measure your progress. Sometimes, it’s better to have a physical list of goals to have as a visual. When we read and study this list, it is stored in our mind and we are able to mentally rehearse this information. In fact, you’re 42% more likely to accomplish a goal just by writing it down.  It is important to have a clear direction on where we are going so that we can prepare for what may be in store. Here’s the science on setting better goals.


7.) Never give up
Through all the moments of trials and tribulations, it is difficult to stay positive and not give up. Give yourself time to make progress, and don’t get too discouraged even when things are not going as you had hoped. Remember, you are more than just your job title. One day, you will look back and learn from those times of hardship and you will thank yourself for pushing forward and moving toward goals. Opportunities will come as long as you continue to actively work towards receiving them.


You can find Lindsey on Twitter and LinkedIn

Not speaking up in a meeting, how I styled my hair in high school, failing to accomplish goals- these are regrets. The list can be long and vary on emotional pain levels depending on how deep we want to dig. We are humans, and being human means having experiences which can result in regret. Like fears, we all have them and my bet is it would take you less than 10 seconds to think of a few things that you regret.

While watching Kathryn Schulz’s ted talk “Don’t regret regret” she shared a statistic that rattled me, and I had to dig a little deeper to find out what was going on with what research has shown to be our number one regret in life: Our Education .

The Study

Many studies have been done on regret, yielding similar results about what we regret the most about our lives.  Neal J. Roese and Amy Summerville completed a meta-analysis of 11 different regret ranking studies to do the first integrative summary on what American’s regret most. They then set out to determine why we regret certain domains of life more than others. What’s the link?

Here’s what they found:

When we look at our lives and experiences, these are the things that we regret the most- in descending order

1. Education

2. Career

3. Romance

4. Parenting

5. The Self

6. Leisure

Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 1.18.19 PM

For Americans, education and career make up a whopping 54% of our regrets . More than half of our regrets are a result of our career or our education. What makes us regret these things more intensely?

According to the study, the Opportunity Principle. Areas where we perceive the most opportunity to better our lives create the most regret .  Even the definition regret itself speaks to loss of opportunity

Regret: “feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over (something that has happened or been done, especially a loss or missed opportunity).”

The Opportunity

Today, education can be obtained throughout life and in many different means. With so much open access to information in the form of social media (especially YouTube), new areas of study, online schools, countless articles, and MOOCs all providing opportunities to learn and near instant access to some form of learning. You can always learn something, at any given time. This means we are living in a world where you have the constant opportunity to progress your knowledge. Furthermore, as the study states, education opens many doors for desired life outcomes;

“Education is widely recognized to be a gateway to numerous other valued consequences, from higher income to more challenging career to wider diversity of social contacts. Education is therefore a means to achieving several important ends, and any of these ends gone awry might have been avoided with more education.”

Take Action.

More than at any other time in history, we have access to education- which can lead to our desired life outcomes. Analyze your regrets. What’s on the list? What’s a goal that, if left unaccomplished, will result in regret? Write it down.

Get a game plan. The best use of our precious commodity of time is to prevent future regrets in their tracks- that means progression both in education and career. It won’t be comfortable to take action, but that’s where the magic happens. Lucille Ball once said “I’d rather regret the things I have done than regret the things I haven’t” so take a chance on learning something new and getting out of your comfort zone, before you regret it.

Everyone in L&D is obsessed with innovation and leveraging new approaches to learning to get better results. In July’s Webinar we teamed up with Comcast’s Eric VanDerSluis to give you some ideas on how to get started reinventing learning content for the next-generation learners.

There is a lot of research out there on putting learners first. When you boil it down, it points to these three important changes going on in people’s learning habits.

1. From instructor-led to self-directed

The most important shift is from L&D-driven, instructor-led training to self-directed development. Degreed’s own research (which we’ve talked about before) says that the typical worker spends 4x to 5x more time learning on their own than from the training their employers provide.

What those people say works best are social learning (both from their teams and their networks), search and reading. Less than 20% of them think courses are essential for learning what they need to do their jobs or build their careers. That goes for courses they find on their own as well as the ones L&D teams build and buy for them (check out Jane Hart’s research here).


2. From uniform to fragmented

When learners do choose their own learning, another big shift happens: They go from uniform, one-size-fits-all solutions (like LMSs, classes and courses) to a more fragmented, diverse mix. People may end up taking fewer classes and courses. But they replace or augment them with all those other things — like projects, search, articles, videos and conversations with other people.

Think about your own habits. You probably learn a little bit every day just from reading and working through problems with your colleagues. Occasionally, you go to an event (like this one) or watch a video. Every once in a while, you take a class or do a course online.

L&D organizations have to do more than just build, buy and deliver courses. You also need to invest in the content and systems and capabilities to leverage that whole ecosystem.

3. From sometimes to every day

The reason you need to invest your L&D resources differently now is that learning is not an occasional event anymore. People are still learning, they’re just doing it differently.

More than 70%, for example, told us they have learned something for their job from an article, a video or some other informal resource — like Google, Twitter, Quora or Flipboard — in the last 24 hours. People are increasingly empowered by apps like those to learn whatever they need whenever and wherever they want. As a result, the amount of stuff that people read has actually tripled since the 1980s.

You cannot fight that. And more enlightened, forward thinking employers aren’t trying to anymore. Instead, they are beginning to reinvent how they design and deliver learning experiences to empower and channel these new habits. You should, too.


The big takeaway here is simple: Workplace learning needs to adapt. And sooner would be better. Because even though learners have already moved on, 70% of L&D is still instructor-led.

From evolution to a revolution

Most people in L&D seem to be understanding the need to adapt. The consultants and analysts and pundits do, and so does the industry media; CLO just published an article called “Learning Needs a Revolution”.

Everyone is finally talking about how L&D needs to innovate. That’s good. The trouble is, not enough organizations are actually doing it for real.

Innovations and Technology

Most people equate innovation with technology. Learning professionals have more technology at their disposal now than ever before. Pair that tech with the dozens of new kinds of solutions available for creating, curating, delivering and tracking all kinds of learning, and that’s a stacked toolkit.

It’s exciting to see so many people and organizations experimenting with, and adopting, these new tools.

Innovation takes more than shiny new toys

There’s some shiny new toy every year, though. 2015 is the year of micro-learning and gamification. 2014 was MOOCs and big data analytics. Before that, it was social learning and mobile. Next year, it’ll probably be wearables and xAPI.

Unfortunately, few of these new tools seem to make it past that experimental phase to become a core part of L&D. Mobile is a prime example. Even though 64% of the workforce uses smartphones now, barely a third of employers have any mobile learning program yet, only 19% of LMS shoppers say mobile is a primary consideration and only a tiny fraction of content is accessible on mobile devices.

That’s because technology and content are just tools. They don’t solve problems by themselves. That takes people.

Innovation demands new ways of thinking, working and managing

Yes, new technology and content are essential to making learning work better, faster and cheaper. But they are useless without new ways of learning require new ways of thinking, working and managing L&D, too.

1. Learning leaders need to manage innovation differently. Figuring out how to get the most out of new methods calls for new attitudes and approaches: Embracing diversity over efficiency, moving faster, making smaller bets, and accepting failure.

2. To spread those new approaches, you’ll probably need some new operating practices, too. Recruit for new kinds of skills. Try new team structures. Build more flexible, agile processes. Adjust your metrics and incentives.

Remember: You cannot create a new culture with the same old ways.



3. L&D teams will also need to build some new capabilities. Explore new tools and technologies. Start experimenting with new methods. Figure out how to segment audiences and solutions. Learn to crowdsource and curate content. Do what learning people do best: Learn!


L&D professionals have more tools in their toolkits now than ever before, but new technology and content are only part of the solution. If you want different results, you have to do something different.


Comcast’s Chief Learning Officer, Martha Soehren, put that very elegantly.


For the full recording of July’s webinar and Eric’s story of how Comcast reinvented learning click here. For more on how Degreed can help you reinvent learning content to check us out here.


I can excuse everything but boredom. Boring people don’t have to stay that way. -Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr embodied her words to the max. Hedy started her career as an actress in Vienna, Austria in the 1930’s. She later moved to Hollywood and subsequently became the epitome of glamor on the big screen. Her good looks earned her the moniker “the most beautiful woman in the world.”


Inventive State of Mind

Though she was the standard of beauty at the time, Lamarr wasn’t content. She was a curious person and took an interest in—of all things—torpedo control systems. Her first husband, Friedrich Mandl, was a regular Tony Stark. He worked in weapons manufacturing and often brought Lamarr to his meetings where she absorbed a lot of the information and garnered a wealth of technical knowledge.

True to her words, Lamarr didn’t seem to let herself be bored. Hedy installed a drafting table in her house where she channeled her inner Edison. Two projects she was known to have worked on were an improved stoplight and a water-soluble tablet that would turn water into a carbonated soft drink. *Side note: I don’t know about you, but that tablet sounds pretty awesome. Buy a $.50 water at the movie theatre. Drop in the tablet. BAM! No more sneaking in 20oz bottles of Mtn Dew.

Anyway, Lamarr’s curiosity and desire to learn would lead to a pretty significant invention.

Secret Communication System

The inventive gears really started turning when Lamarr became friends with composer/musician, George Antheil, in 1941. The two made a rather peculiar scientific duo. They hit it off immediately. Their curiosities and ideas flowed seamlessly together and they secured a patent for what they coined a “Secret Communication System.”

Initially Lamarr and Anthiel wanted to the system to be able to protect radio-controlled torpedoes in WWII. The system would change the frequencies guiding the torpedo thus making it impossible for the enemy to jam the trajectory. However, Anthiel and Lamarr’s invention was never used in WWII because the technology to implement it was lacking at the time.

It would be twenty years before Lamarr’s idea was really put to good use. The first most notable use of the Secret Communication System was during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Ships in the naval blockade used the technology to communicate without being compromised.
Thanks, Hedy

The idea behind the Secret Communication System—frequency hopping—is the grandfather to what we call spread spectrum today. Spread spectrum is what is used to allow secure cellular communication.

Lamarr’s idea was so groundbreaking that more patents have piggy backed off of the idea. Many of today’s technologies including GPS and Bluetooth are possible because of frequency hopping. So next time you get in your car and connect Pandora to your Bluetooth audio, you can thank Hedy Lamarr for that.


You just learned about history, technology, and inventions. Track that learning on Degreed. Tweet Braden your thoughts on this article and other interesting inventions you know of.

Define a Rebel?

The word rebel often has a negative connotation. It might bring to memory those years when you were a “rebellious” teenager. “Sorry, mom. My tongue is already pierced. Nothing you can do about it now.” What about the bigger picture; rebelling against evil or oppression? Many of the most influential people in history were considered rebels: they stood strong in the face of their enemies. Aung San Suu Kyi is one of those people.


original photo via

Fighting for Burma

I happened upon Suu Kyi’s story while reading through a list written by TIME titled, 16 of history’s most rebellious women. Suu Kyi spent 15 years under house arrest in Burma after she spoke up against the brutal killings of protestors by dictator U Ne Win. Aung started a nonviolent movement for democracy and human rights.  She became a source of hope for the Burmese people as she led efforts to establish peace.

Suu Kyi had a very fortunate upbringing. She spent most of her adult life outside of Burma where she graduated from Oxford University and married and had children. However, when her mother fell ill in 1988, she returned to Burma to care for her.

During her stay, the militant government killed thousands of students, monks and other civilians who were on the verge of a massive uprising. In response, Suu Kyi rebelled against the corrupt government rules and established a new democratic party, the National League for Democracy. The NLD ran against the militants and won by a landslide, but Suu Kyi was never put into office. The militants refused it. Instead, they put her under house arrest.

Freedom or Death

While under house arrest, the militant government offered Suu Kyi the chance to go free. The catch? She had to leave Burma. I found it fascinating how eerily similar Suu Kyi’s story is to Socrates’.

Socrates is considered to be one of the fathers of Philosophy. However, in 399 B.C., he was imprisoned and sentenced to death because the government took issue with his philosophies. During his imprisonment, he was given the opportunity to go free. The catch? He had to quit philosophy. Socrates refused. To him, life without philosophy was meaningless. He believed death was superior to living a meaningless existence.


Like Socrates, Suu Kyi opted not to go free. She would rather suffer through a prolonged and unfair prison sentence than go free and give up the fight for the people of Burma.

Suu Kyi was released in 2010. However, while she was imprisoned, the militant government drafted a constitution that basically forbids her from ever becoming president. As you might expect, that hasn’t deterred her at all. She is still fighting for change today.


“I think by now I have made it fairly clear that I am not very happy with the word ‘hope.’ I don’t believe in people just hoping. We work for what we want.”

–Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

The Catch

I had an interesting thought come to mind as I pondered the story of Suu Kyi. Does our freedom have a catch? It’s not likely any of us will ever find ourselves in the situation Socrates and Suu Kyi were in. However, we are offered freedom from our struggles—with a catch—every day. Let me explain.

Your Fight

How often do you waste your free time mindlessly swiping through Tinder or taking the latest Buzzfeed quiz? Admittedly, I’m as guilty of this as the next millennial no matter how much I hate to say it. I value my future, and I have plenty of productive things that I believe in that I could be doing with my time, but I repeatedly take the road of least resistance—freedom from struggle if you will—and waste away my time. I can take my freedom and be comfortable, or I can forgo that comfort and put in the hard work necessary to bring more meaning into my life (check out Viktor Frankl’s thoughts on that).

If you don’t want to live in a comfortable state of complacency, you have to rebel against it.




Anything that takes time and energy away from your goals is the enemy. If you remember back to my opening paragraph, many of the most influential people from history rebelled against an enemy. If it worked for them, it will work for you. Rebel against wasting time or doing what’s easy.

Find whatever it is that is stopping you from becoming who you want to become and rebel against that. Try devoting a little more of your time online to learning from quality posts and videos as opposed to liking all the cat GIFs on Tumblr. Or if you’re really brave, take a social media sabbatical until you finish that book that’s been sitting on your nightstand. I promise you won’t regret it.

Let me know how it goes. I’m interested in what you have to say. Leave a comment on this post, shoot me a tweet @bradensthompson, or start tracking your progress on


Isaac Simpson is a Salesforce Build an App scholarship winner for the month of April. Isaac answered some of our most burning questions for our Scholarship Winner Spotlight-

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice I have ever received was “it never hurts to try.” Even if you might not succeed, you should at the least try. Because, if you don’t try, you will never be successful. Many people never accomplish anything because they are afraid of failing. You are guaranteed to fail if you never try. So, if you have a goal that you want to accomplish, try regardless of how low your chances of success are because you might succeed.

Speaking of trying, what’s one goal you want to accomplish in the next year?

One of my goals that I want to accomplish next year is to maintain my 4.0 GPA. I want to keep a high GPA for several reasons. The main reason being the fact that I have to work hard at bettering myself to ace all of my classes, and I will have to study enough so that I thoroughly know the subjects of my classes. Furthermore, it is always feels rewarding to succeed.

How will this scholarship help you accomplish your goals?

College is expensive and so it takes a lot of time and hard work just to pay for my classes. I am very grateful for this scholarship because it will help me to earn my Bachelor’s degree by allowing me to spend more of my time focusing on my education, rather than on how I will pay for it.

What’s one thing you can teach others?

If you want to be successful, start working!

What would you like to become an expert in?

I would love to become an expert in Software Engineering.

Congratulations to Isaac for winning the scholarship. Chances are you could use some extra cash to learn too? Apply for the Salesforce Build an App Scholarship– like Isaac said, ‘it never hurts to try’.

Casey Collins of Monroe, Ohio is the featured winner of the Salesforce Build an App Scholarship for the month of May. We asked Casey to tell us a little more about himself and his goals for this winner’s spotlight.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“The best advice I’ve ever received is to always do more than what is expected of you. Whether it’s at work, school or any other area. Going the extra mile is a small way you can pay forward any kindness you’ve been shown in your life to others.”

What’s one goal you want to accomplish in the next year?

“In the next year, a goal I want to accomplish is to to reduce my mile time. This scholarship will help me achieve my goals through giving me the opportunity to continue my education at Miami University of Ohio.”

What’s one thing you can teach others?

“I can teach others the power of the 3 p’s – pleasant attitude, patience, and perseverance!”

What would you like to become an expert in?

“I’d love to become an expert in public speaking. My goal is to work in an environment where I’d be able to present often, and I’d love to do so in an effective and captivating way.”


Congratulations for Casey on the scholarship. Chances are you could use some extra cash to learn too! Check out our scholarship opportunities and apply here.

Information overload is a real problem for many Internet users. Daily sifting through websites, emails, news feeds and social media can be overwhelming, especially when a lot of time is wasted filtering out the junk. So whenever we decide to search online for a particular thing, we’d like to be able to cut the extraneous noise and exert as much control as possible. Unfortunately, most people are unaware of the skills needed to perform powerful online searches, and thus rely on results that often barely skim the surface of available resources.

If you want to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your search skills, here’s a quick and easy guide on how to find just about anything online.


Master Google’s Advanced Search Features

If you’re not sure how to use Google search operators to produce targeted search results, you should pause for a moment and download this handy Power Searching With Google reference guide. Follow the tips and you’ll dramatically reduce the number of irrelevant sources you review, and increase your chances of finding quality data. One of my favorite techniques lets you limit your search to a specific type of file. For instance, if you use the format:


the search will return only PDFs. So let’s say you’re trying to find financial information about a company. Using this search operator can significantly narrow and improve your search, since many financial documents, such as tax returns, are often stored online as PDFs.

Google also offers powerful filtering options that allow you to further customize your searches. Another option is the Advanced Search interface, which has a lot of these features built in. And if you truly want to become a Google search Jedi, take Google’s Advanced Power Searching class for free online.


Know Where to Get Free Data

There will be times when the information you’re looking for can’t be uncovered through a Google search. In fact, the majority of data on the Web is stored in databases that can only be accessed through customized search interfaces or specific queries. Some of this data is locked behind pay walls or sites that require registration and login, but a lot of it is open and free to use. Here are some tips and resources to help you find this kind of data.

  • Delve into all of the free government datasets that are available online. You might be surprised by the vast array of public data that has been collected at the Federal, State and Local level. Gov and Census.Gov are good places to start if you’re new to this and want an idea of the kind of information that’s available. The Sunlight Foundation is another good source for free government data and research tools.
  • Peruse huge public data sets from groups like Freebase, Socrata, Data Hub, Knoema and Amazon Web Services. In addition to the information you find there, you’ll be exposed to other networks of datasets, and eventually gain a feel for where to find particular types of info when you need it. Buzzfile is another good site to check out. It provides comprehensive business information and allows you to build lists.
  • Start thinking of social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn as massive databases that can be mined for info unique to their respective platforms. There’s a lot of data from these sites that might be missing from your usual Google search results. For Facebook search tips, check out this tutorial. For advanced LinkedIn search tips, read this.
  • Sign up for newsletters that provide updates when new data and resources become available. A couple of my favorite providers of this info are ResearchBuzz and beSpacific.
  • Bookmark lists of free data for future use. Here are a few to get you started:


Deep Web Research and Discovery Resources

30 Datasets and Public Information

Comprehensive List of Open Data Portals from Around the World

Legal Resources

19 Sources for Consumer Research Data

122 Data Sources


See What the Academics Are Up To

Nowadays it’s fairly common to find summaries of scholarly articles on blogs and news sites. Nevertheless, most academic research remains hidden from general web searches. If you truly want to dig deep with your online search, you’ll need to know how to tap into these sources.

The first place you should visit is Google Scholar. This freely accessible search engine allows you to search for physical or digital copies of scholarly books, articles, court opinions, dissertations, and more. If you find a particular scholar who’s an expert in what you’re researching, you can explore all of their related research. You can also track a particular topic and receive email alerts when there are new developments in the field. Google Scholar offers several other search tools, so there are plenty of options for customization.

If you’ve identified a professor as an expert on your research topic, you can also look up their University faculty profile for more info. Sometimes professors will post PDFs of their published articles that are otherwise stored behind pay walls in the journals where they originally appeared.


Ask for Help

Let’s say you’ve identified a professor or some other expert on a topic for which you can’t find much data. What’s stopping you from emailing the person with your questions? Or picking up a phone and calling? I’ve done this multiple times, and it’s resulted in the exchange of datasets, articles, tips and interesting discussions. If you’re ever stuck, or would like to go deeper in your research, it’s worth trying. Local and university librarians are another great source for info, and they’re usually willing to help as much as they can. In particular I’ve had success contacting librarians on twitter.

You can also try the new personal research service Wonder. Just type in a question and a team of experienced researchers will send you 5-7 links and a summary answering your question. I’ve been a user for two months and am impressed with the customized research I receive.


Experiment with free research tools

Developers are constantly coming up with clever tools to help users find information online. Keep a lookout and try the tools you find most interesting. Here are a few I’ve been experimenting with lately:

Proper Channel – Web application that allows people to collaborate on finding the most efficient way to navigate bureaucracy. Provides access to thousands of instructional flowcharts.

Atlas – New platform for discovering and sharing interactive charts. Powered by Quartz. One great feature is that users can download the data behind the charts. – Tool that lets anyone, regardless of technical ability, to extract structured data from any website using extractors, crawlers and connectors.

Quandl – Platform that hosts data from hundreds of publishers on a single website, and provides tools that make it easy for users to get data in their preferred format. Their mission is pretty lofty: “to make all the numerical data in the world available” on their website.

Degreed – Online community of learners with platform that allows you to track, organize, share and validate everything you learn. Degreed also provides the Web’s most comprehensive list of free places to learn, so no matter what you’re searching for, you’re almost certain to find a way to learn more about your topic.


You can find Jedd McFatter on Twitter. Click the links below to tell us what tools you use to find the best content on the web!

You just learned about research and technology- get credit for it on Degreed.


Failed Side Projects

Tell me if this story sounds familiar to you: After four years at a grueling consulting job, Josh decided he was ready to go to business school. In order to gain access to a top 10 business school as he was hoping to do, Josh believed he would need to score a 680 on the GMAT. Though he only scored a 630 on his initial practice GMAT, Josh believed he could improve that score by 50 points or more if he would put in two hours of studying every day after work for three months.

Josh started with the momentum of a boulder rolling down hill. He immediately drove down to Barnes and Noble, bought three $30 GMAT prep books, and studied like a madman for the next three days. However, on the fourth day, Josh had a particularly hard day of work. He cracked open his books, but checked his texts a little intermittently. The next day he checked his texts almost as much as he looked at his textbooks. A month later, studying for the GMAT was little more than a distant memory.

I have seen this pattern repeat itself with a number of side projects: New business ventures that are supposed to be someone’s big break fail to even get a business license. A corporate analyst who is going to learn to code so he can strike out and create his own app barely gets past “Hello, world.” A friend who decides to learn Spanish fails to so much as learn the finer points of “hola.” If you have ever been in one of these situations, welcome to the club. I’ve been a part of at least five, and most people I know have dabbled in at least one.


Why LeBron Doesn’t Run Marathons

Here’s the good news: You are not an inherent failure. Rather, you have designed your life so as to create the perfect storm of bad circumstances for side project productivity, leading to near certain failure. You have scheduled your day to make it nearly impossible to focus on your passion project. Congratulations!

Recent research has demonstrated that focus works similar to a muscle. If you use it too hard for too long then it gets exhausted and no longer functions properly. In one study, participants were asked to hold their hand in ice water for as long as they could. The catch was that some of the participants had previously been asked to sit through a tearjerker movie without showing emotion. Those who had to use their will-power to hold in their emotions were not able to hold their hand in ice water for as long, demonstrating focus fatigue.

Unless you work as a politician, you are generally expected to exert some mental energy and focus when you are at work. As the day goes on, your focus muscle gets more and more fatigued. When you arrive home from work, you are at a level of peak fatigue.

Trying to go home and start a new business or learn a new skill is the equivalent of LeBron James going home from a full day of basketball practice and deciding he’s going to train for a marathon. Maybe he could get away with it for a day or two based on sheer determination and motivation but eventually his body is going to say “No thanks, buddy. I’m going to sit this one out.”


Learning Vacations and “Vegged-Out Learning”

I am not telling you to despair of learning something new. In fact, quite the opposite! But it’s important to organize your learning in such a way that will allow you to avoid focus fatigue. There are two main tactics for accomplishing this: Dedicated learning times that I like to call “Learning Vacations” and focus-neutral learning sessions that we will refer to as “Vegged-Out Learning.”

I’ll give you an example of a learning vacation. At my current job, we are encouraged (i.e. required) to complete an online Market Research Certification course. For a couple months I tried to study for an hour or two here and there after work. I almost always lost focus and floundered. A more experienced co-worker who had completed the course years previously gave me good advice. “I tried studying after work for a while. It’s not efficient. Just take three Saturdays, study the whole day those three days and knock it out.” I took three Saturdays and set them apart as my learning vacation days. That’s all it took to complete the whole course.

If the idea of learning vacations is you set up time when you will have full focus energy, then the idea of vegged-out learning is to not use any energy at all. One very simple example: I learned to speak Spanish fluently eight years ago. Recently I noticed it was getting a little rusty, and decided I wanted to sharpen my Spanish skills. So I went into Netflix, changed my account settings to Spanish, and upped my Netflix usage a little.

There are now many programs and courses that use gamification to keep learning fun and therefore focus-neutral. The guy from the beginning who was studying for the GMAT, Josh? Eventually he decided that he actually liked the challenge of taking practice GMAT’s, it was just the subject learning that was unenjoyable. So he changed his studying method to be 90% taking practice tests. While not truly focus-neutral, this placed a much needed reduction on the amount of will-power he had to spend on studying. He ended up improving his score by exactly 50 points and getting into the business school of his choice.



Putting It All Together

If you would like to finally get to the finish line in learning a new skill, then a combination of learning vacations and vegged-out learning will probably be necessary. Both have their drawbacks: You cannot rely solely on learning vacations because you don’t have the time, and vegged-out learning is best for reinforcing previously learned skills and is not ideally suited for the initial take-off of learning about something you previously knew nothing about.

Here’s an example of how you could structure your life to take advantage of both these techniques to learn a new skill. For this example, we’ll assume that the skill you would like to learn is to speak French.

First, set up mini-learning vacations by buying beginning French textbooks or online courses and setting aside six hours on eight consecutive Saturdays to teach yourself the basics. Plan a two-week vacation to France to occur at the end of those eight weeks. Make sure it includes activities that will force you to speak French. Insist on ordering your baguette every morning in French. Plan to put yourself in situations where you will be able to make friends. Add those friends on Facebook and Instagram.

Once you have the basic French skills that you learned from your learning vacationing, reinforce and build on that with vegged-out learning. Of all the time you spend on social media (it’s a lot, don’t lie to me), shift 25% of it to French. Follow French celebrities, politicians, or athletes on Twitter. Connect with the friends you made in France on Facebook. Get lost in French YouTube videos, not language learning videos, but discover French music and comedians and whatever else it is you already like (French cat videos, maybe?).

By using eight weekends, a two week vacation, and a portion of the time that you already spend on the internet, you can learn a new language.

If you want to get over that hump and finally make progress on a new skill or project, it’s time to stop working so hard, and start working smart.

You can find Ben on Twitter.

All learning matters. Get credit for reading this article and track all your progress with learning vacations and vegged out learning on Degreed. Click the links below to share these tips on finally succeeding at side projects.

Page 14 of 19« First...101213141516...Last »