The time you spend dabbling in and learning new technologies is only as valuable as your ability to retain what you learned—and your ability to put your new skills to use. Spending hours watching a course on the hottest technology won’t help you much if you don’t commit what you’re learning to mastery or practice. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to better understand difficult topics, improve your retention and upgrade your skill development—and we’re here to tell you about them.
Have the right mindset
Intentionality is key when it comes to skill development. Half-heartedly researching and studying new technologies while getting distracted by your phone isn’t going to cut it. You need to be fully present with what you’re learning—which means no distractions and a healthy dose of determination! The more jazzed you are about learning something new, the better you’ll learn.
Make a plan
There are probably going to be times when you see something cool and you just want to dive straight into learning about it. But in most instances, that’s not the best way for you to retain information. Blocking out specific time in advance, and having realistic goals, is a more sustainable, effective way to develop your skills. That means no late-night study sessions at times when your brain needs sleep!
Over the years, countless books and scientific studies have shown links between stress and damage in the hippocampus, the section of the brain directly involved with learning and memory. If you want to retain information long-term, you need to be able to absorb information while your brain is stress-free.
“Oh, easy,” we hear you say sarcastically. But don’t worry. There are some things (backed by science!) you can do to lower your stress levels, even if you can’t change how stressful your external circumstances are:
- Short, effective meditation and deep breathing exercises
- Physical exercise
- Writing down your thoughts and feelings
- Going somewhere silent to scream
We’re not joking about that last one—”primal screaming” is an effective way to complete the body’s stress response cycle. Just make sure you don’t spook anyone around you!
Give yourself a break
Trying to cram your brain with as much information as possible is not the way to retain information effectively. Decide in advance how much time you can dedicate to learning, and make sure your plan includes regular breaks. Remember—we’re going for quality over quantity, because a stressed mind is a less productive mind! If you’ve been studying something for so long that you’re no longer able to focus properly, it’s time to stop. No excuses.
The popular Pomodoro Technique suggests giving yourself a five-minute break every 25 minutes. You could also bunch your break into a single bigger break each hour, so you’d break for 15 minutes every 45 minutes.
Whether you’re a natural note taker or not, you should take notes. It’s one of the best ways to get your brain to retain information. How you take notes is up to you, and should align with your learning style. If you’re a visual learner, try taking image-based notes; auditory learners might want to record their notes to play back later on. Pluralsight also has a notes feature where you can take notes at any point in a course—so your notes align to course content and you can easily revisit specific concepts.
Practice, practice, practice
With your notes close by—and maybe even with video course pulled up, jump into the technology. Give it a go. Try to replicate what you learned. When you get stuck, lean on your notes (and video) for help. Then try it again. When you start to feel confident in your skills, consider practicing your new skills in different use cases.
A day or two after you’ve done a study session, test yourself on what you’ve learned. It doesn’t have to be a formal written test with 100 multiple-choice questions—just take the time to write out the key concepts you learned. And if you forget stuff, don’t worry. Forgetting can be a valuable step in the long-term retaining process if you revisit the information you’re learning. With Pluralsight, you can take a learning check at the end of each module in a course to see if you’re retaining information properly—and revisit what you haven’t understood yet if necessary.
Repeat as necessary
As with all new things, it can take work to master complex skills. Don’t be afraid to dedicate a second study session to revisiting a particular topic—either all of it or just the parts you’re less confident about.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for developing stronger skills, but this article should have given you some pointers. Remember—the brain is a muscle, and the better your learning habits become, the better you’ll be able to retain the information necessary for you to flex new skills effectively.