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:


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.  [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”@degreed” suffix=””]It’s no longer enough to simply be competent on the job.  Everyone needs to keep on learning – indefinitely[/inlinetweet].”

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.


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.


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




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.

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.

Grow Your Skills_DegreedBlog

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.”


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.



First up is 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



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


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?




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.

PodcastFeeds5 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!




Do you know Harry Truman’s middle name? What about the number of the last manned Apollo mission? In the scheme of things, these facts may seem irrelevant, even useless to know. After all, how would knowing the name of the president’s dog make you better off? Well, that all depends on what your definition of ‘better off’ is.

I love this piece of the Degreed manifesto: “There is no single path to expertise. And our success in solving our unique problems depends not upon uniformity, but on our diversity, because our differences and uniqueness make us powerful. Everyone deserves recognition for their expertise, no matter how they got there.”

To some it may be trivial knowledge, but if you are an expert on something as unique as 18th century fashion, you deserve recognition. Who knows when that knowledge may solve a unique problem. In previous articles, I’ve focused mainly on learning that is isn’t super unique. For example, a lot of the focus of learning today is based on the most widely marketable skills like foreign languages, communication, or computer science. However, there is another kind of learning that doesn’t get the same love and attention. It’s a type of learning that admittedly isn’t as marketable as other skills, but can still be relevant.

This other kind of learning produces what can be described as “know-it-all knowledge.” Ken Jennings is the poster child for this kind of knowledge. If you are a fan of the TV game show, Jeopardy!, you know the name Ken Jennings. In 2004, Jennings won Jeopardy! a record 74 times in a row. That takes a ridiculous amount of dedication to know-it-all knowledge.

Don’t Forget

In a TED talk given by Jennings in 2013, he described his style of learning as being “curious about everything” or “universally interested in the world around [him].” It’s almost as if he sees random facts as unique LEGO pieces that he can use to build an imaginary LEGO kingdom of knowledge in his brain. Every new subject is an opportunity to add more pieces to his masterpiece.

To keep all that information accessible, Jennings uses his memory constantly. In fact, he’s the kind of guy who longs for the days when everyone knew phone numbers by memory instead of relying on phones to keep track of them. That’s because he understands that when we stop using our brains to remember things and instead outsource our memory to digital devices, parts of our brain can literally shrink. One of the parts that is most vulnerable to this is the hippocampus.

The main function of the hippocampus in the brain is memory and spatial awareness. Studies have been done that suggest the hippocampus actually shrinks in people who use GPS in their car instead of navigating by memory. One of those studies by the Wellcome Trust Center for Neuroimaging looked at brain scans of taxi drivers and bus drivers. The taxi drivers had more gray matter (that’s a good thing) in the hippocampus than the bus drivers. The difference was that bus drivers follow the same route, while taxi drivers are constantly challenged to know every corner of a city. Substituting brain power for digital crutches can be detrimental to your mental capacities. 

Super Computers

In 1997, a computer developed by IBM named Deep Blue beat a world champion chess player at chess. Not content to stop there, IBM searched for a new challenge that would push further the limits of computer vs. human. In 2004, Ken Jennings’ domination of Jeopardy! piqued the interest of IBM. For the next seven years IBM developed a question answering (QA) computer system aimed at beating Jennings at his own game. They named the computer Watson. In 2011, Watson faced off against Jennings and another elite Jeopardy! contender. Watson defeated them both.

After his defeat, Jennings had the following thought:

What happens when computers are better at knowing and remembering stuff than we are? 

In essence, what’s the point of putting the effort into learning if we have Google on our phones? In answer to that quandary, Jennings arrived at the conclusion that humans still have two advantages over “those who can just Google something.” The advantage of volume and the advantage of time. 

Advantage of Volume

The world is incredibly complex. As Jennings says in his talk, “…the scope of human information is now doubling every 18 months or so.” That is way too much information to have to continually look up. One example he gives to illustrate the importance of learning vs Googling is how we make informed decisions on who to vote for, which is a decision that requires correct judgement in relation to all kinds of different facts and information. As proof, a 2006 National Geographic Literacy Study said that roughly 63% of young adults who vote in presidential elections—a time when it’s obviously very important to understand foreign policy— couldn’t actually find Iraq on a map. In addition, 75% had no idea Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world.

In Jennings’ own words “If you can’t do that first step, are you really going to look up the other thousand facts you need to know to make an informed decision on foreign policy? At some point you will give up and just make a less-informed decision.”

Advantage of Time

In 2004, a ten-year-old girl by the name of Tilly Smith was on vacation with her family in Thailand. While they were out enjoying the beach, Smith noticed troubling patterns in the ocean and told her parents that they needed to get off the beach. Only a month prior to their vacation, Smith learned about tsunamis in her geography class. She recognized the signs and informed her family and the lifeguard who was then able to quickly get everyone off the beach.

The advantage of time won’t always be that dramatic. Most of the time it will be something simple like a social situation. Something where you meet someone new or you’re in a job interview and a topic comes up that where you can connect with the other person. Those are the situations where asking someone to wait while you Google facts about their hometown doesn’t really work.

In your pursuit of learning, don’t shy away from learning what you may feel are seemingly useless facts about the world around you. Gather up some know-it-all knowledge. Be curious about everything. And while you’re at it, try turning your GPS off every once in awhile. Your brain will thank you.

Establishing a habit of learning

Let’s talk about habits.

I was recently inspired by an article on the Babbel blog that had some quality suggestions on habit formation. It got me thinking about my own learning habits.

After reading the article, I sat myself down and while gently touching the tips of my fingers together, I asked myself, “Am I really doing everything I can to learn something new every day?”

I had to answer honestly. I would know if I was lying.

Medium story short, the answer was no. I can do more.

Now I know that habits are the center of many debates. Everyone has their own thoughts and opinions on how to break and create habits. With that in mind, I know that the process in this post will not work for everyone. As with everything on the Internet, take it with a grain of salt. However, it is my hope that this at least gets you to think more seriously about your daily learning habits and how to become better at adding to your knowledge base daily.


Identify an Action

Habits underlie almost everything we do on a daily basis. Yet we go throughout our daily routines all but unaware of how deep some of our habits are ingrained. The good news is that all of these habits, no matter how good or bad, can be used as tools to jump start new habits.

For the purposes of this post, let’s say you want to learn to be a better artist. First, you’ll need to identify an action that will help you accomplish that goal. Don’t make it too difficult. In fact, the simpler the better.

To be a better artist, you will need to have something to draw on, right? So let’s set our action as opening a sketchpad. That simple. You haven’t committed to drawing anything, just to open your pad.


Find an Anchor

Now this is where you are going to have to become a little more self aware. You’re going to have to identify all the ingrained habits that fill up your day. Once you start thinking, you’ll realize how many there are to choose from. It could be brushing your teeth, hanging your coat up when you get home, turning on the coffee pot, sitting on the couch after work, checking your pockets to make sure you have your keys and phone, kissing your kids goodbye, etc. This is just a quick list. You should be able to come up with many more than this.

Once you have identified these habits, you’ll need to do a little refining. Find a habit that occurs at a similar frequency to the new habit you want to form. For the art example let’s say you want to work on your art every day. So you would identify a habit that you do daily. That will be what we call your anchor.


Create a Process

Once you have found your anchor—a habit that you can piggyback off of—you will need to create a process to turn that habit into a cue for your new habit. For example, if you plop down on the couch every day after work, place your sketchpad on the coffee table. This is where your simple action you identified earlier will come into play. Once you plop down (anchor), open your sketch pad (action).

At this point, you don’t even have to draw anything. Just open the sketch pad. That might seem way too easy and pointless. However, it’s this simple action that will help you determine if you have identified a solid anchor. If you find that you just don’t have any motivation when you open your sketch pad after you sit down on the couch, because you’re tired and you want to just sit and relax, that’s probably not a great anchor to tie your new habit to. If completing the action with the anchor doesn’t make sense or doesn’t feel comfortable, try experimenting with other anchors. Maybe instead of the couch anchor, you open your sketch pad after you plug your phone in at night. There are myriad options to choose from.

Once you have perfected the simple process of anchor and action, you’re ready for the last step.


Ramp up the Tension

This is where your habit begins to take shape. It is extremely difficult to establish a habit if you go all in from day one. You might make it a week, but you really haven’t established the habit. You’ve just proven that you can do something new for a few days. This process is about establishing a real habit, and that happens slowly over time. There isn’t much instant gratification in habit formation.

Maybe ramping up the tension means starting with a simple doodle a day and perfecting some fundamentals of art. From there, maybe you start adding a YouTube tutorial or a few pages from an instructional book to the routine. Eventually, you will no longer need the anchor to cue your learning. That’s when you will know you have established a new habit of learning!

Here’s a quick recap of what we learned.


infographic a habit of learning

Again, thanks to the language-learning people at Babbel for informing me on this process. Like I said, it may not work for everyone. But why not give it a try? The worst thing that could happen is you cross off one more thing that doesn’t work for you. If it does work, I want to hear about it. I too will be working on my daily learning habits. Shoot me a question and hold me accountable or tell me what habits you are working on! You can comment here or tweet me at @bradensthompson.

is an MBA worth it?

As I am finishing my MBA I am constantly asked one question: Is my MBA worth the investment? This is an answer that will change for every individual. Since I have a background in Psychology I have found myself looking at this question in the perspective of others I have encountered that are pursuing an MBA or have attained their MBA.

A Check-Mark vs. Actual Skills

When I started my MBA I was working for an investment firm that was helping pay for an MBA. Most of the people that were pursuing an MBA at my company were doing so to take advantage of “free” money. The downfall is that the guy that was sitting next to me had his MBA for over five years and was still making the same amount of money as myself and wasn’t looking to go anywhere. These employees just went through the motions of higher education and finished their MBA. A lot of my colleagues would check it off their list and act like nothing happened. To me, this is a waste of money and time just so the company will pay me a little extra money that goes directly to a school and not me. I wanted my time and money to be used to better myself and my future.

In my first few classes I started to look at the experience and background of others in my class. One of my professors asked the students to introduce themselves and why they were in the program. The majority stated they wanted an MBA to get a raise or to get a better job. There were only a few of us that wanted to improve our knowledge and skill. Now I am not saying that the first group didn’t want to improve their skills as well, but motivations can determine the quality of the outcome.

Over the past two years I have found myself working with many different individuals in group projects. I am astounded at how little effort some people put into a master’s degree and expect others to carry them to the end. The thought of competing against these people after I got my degree scared me. A potential employer will not see how much work was put into an MBA and frankly they may not even care. We both will have a degree to show we accomplished the program, so what would set me apart? I wanted to be different. I wanted to show that I learned a behavior of learning that will help me find solutions to the business’ problems. The problem is that I couldn’t find a way to show that I have a newfound desire for lifelong learning. This was until I found Degreed. Degreed gave me a way to track all of my learning, not just my Degree. It allows me to show my continual learning to colleagues and will help direct me in valuable content to keep up with relevant changes and learning.


The Habit of Learning

Why does it matter to be a lifelong learner and make learning a habit? For my previous colleagues that had their MBA for 5 years and are sitting in the same role they were when they finished, your knowledge is stale. Business has changed over the last 5 years. Do you want outdated information in your business decisions? For those that get an MBA to get a pay raise or a better job, you are not going to have longing success as you missed out on a learning opportunity since you had others carry you to the end. What skills or knowledge did you gain? For those that went to learn and grow, you may not have a better job right away or an immediate pay raise, but you will be an asset to the business as you learned how to learn and how to analyze things differently.

Your Answer

So to answer the question “Is my MBA worth the investment?” I would say YES. I went into the program investing in my future through skills and knowledge. If I went into the degree for a check off my list or for a piece of paper, I would say no. The true value comes from your motivation and attitude in the beginning. Just remember, learning doesn’t end once you have the paper. You will find the most value in the MBA as you continue to learn and use what you learn like an MBA is structured to teach you.

You can tweet Branden @brandengbaldwin and follow him on Degreed here. Branden’s MBA is from Westminster College in Salt Lake City, UT. Branden enjoys spending time with his wife and children and volunteering in his community.

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