Here’s how science says you should learn a new skill
Originally published on May 9th, 2017.
For travelers who have avoided visiting a country for fear of being unable to speak the language, research finds that, despite the old adage, you can in fact teach an old dog new tricks.
A new theory from University of California Riverside psychology professor Rachel Wu says that adults can continue to learn like children if they just change their mindsets.
According to Wu, when adults begin their careers, they switch from “broad learning” — learning many different skills — to “specialized learning” — focusing on just one specific area. She argues that when adults start to become experts in one area and ignore unfamiliar curriculum, it leads to a “cognitive decline.”
For adults who want to dive back into a new subject — like learning a foreign language, for example — Wu suggests re-incorporating the six elements of “broad learning” from childhood.
1. Get out of your comfort zone.
When learning a new skill, people should be open-minded to exploring new skills outside of their comfort zone.
2. Find a mentor or teacher to help.
They should also have consistent access to teachers and mentors who will guide them through learning.
3. Recognize that growth requires effort.
Learners should understand that growing will require work, and that new skills don't typically come easy.
4. Forgive your own mistakes.
Adult learners should enter their subject believing that significant effort will be required to achieve results, but also comfortable in an environment that allows mistakes and failure.
5. Find your resolve.
It’s also important to seriously commit to learning and keep going even through setbacks.
6. Learn multiple skills at the same time.
Wu also said that “learning multiple skills simultaneously” could help reignite the “broad learning” style of youth.
“What I want adults to take away from this study is that we CAN learn many new skills at any age,” Wu said in a statement. “It just takes time and dedication. We seem to make it very difficult on ourselves and other adults to learn. Perhaps this is why some aspects of cognitive aging are self-imposed.”