In1921, an interviewer asked Albert Einstein about the speed of sound. Einstein replied that he didn’t know because he didn’t carry such information in his mind. Instead, he’d look it up in textbooks where the answer is available anytime.
If Einstein lived today, he’d probably memorize even less because the internet enables us to find answers to most questions within seconds.
Yet, education systems all over the globe still force students to learn information by heart regardless of the relevance.
That’s not only ineffective but also worthless as knowledge itself isn’t worth much. The saying knowledge is power might have been true a few decades ago. Today, only applied knowledge is power.
In the 21st century, you can learn almost any skill for free if you know how to browse the web and take enough time.
That’s a blessing and a curse at the same time because most people don’t know how to find relevant information. Yet, that’s one of the most powerful skills of the 21st century.
If you know how and where to look for information the moment you need it, you can master almost any problem with ease.
Instead of wasting your brainpower on memorizing information, you should try so-called just-in-time learning.
“Just-In-Time means learning something only when/because you actually need to use it.”
— Kathy Sierra
Learning on the job is also called embedded learning and becomes increasingly relevant. More and more organizations switch from traditional education systems to just-in-time learning because of several reasons.
In the past, companies invested in random educational programs to equip their employees with additional skills. Today, most businesses don’t want to waste time and money on programs teaching random skills that will never be used anyway.
Typically, if you learn a skill without applying it, you’ll forget what you learned pretty quickly. When you need the skill after a few months or even years, you’ll need to relearn everything and realize that the first time was a waste of time.
And as time is our most valuable resource, we shouldn’t waste it on learning skills and memorizing information if we don’t need it.
Instead, leading organizations encourage their members to apply just-in-time learning. That way, employees can educate themselves in real-time when they actually need a skill.
Originally, just-in-time is a manufacturing concept to optimize processes so that the product is manufactured just in time when an order comes in.
That way, engineers can optimize processes and free up storage place as the company needs to hold less inventory.
However, the concept can also be adapted to learning. In that case, your inventory is the content you study or the skill you learn.
The only exception to learn new skills without needing them is if you do it for fun. If you enjoy challenging yourself and learn new things regularly, that’s a great hobby.
In all other cases, just-in-time learning will enable you to have more time for your hobbies in case they’re not tied to learning.
What To Do Instead
Instead of learning random skills and wasting hours on irrelevant education programs, you should learn to learn.
You can literally strengthen your learning muscle by finding out how you can best learn a new skill efficiently and effectively.
Each skill requires a different type of learning: Sometimes, reading a book might be enough. Sometimes, you’ll need to watch videos, and some other times you’ll need to do much more.
But in each case, you’ll need to have mental clarity, manage your time, and ensure that you learn without distractions.
Being an effective learner is the ultimate meta-skill of the 21st century. And even though many organizations still require applicants to have unrealistic experiences when entering the job market, there’s likely going to be a massive shift towards in-demand learning in the next years.
Today’s economy is fast-paced and new challenges can emerge quickly. During these challenging situations, the organizations with the most effective learners will always outrank the competition.
Instead of wasting your time learning stuff that you’ll never even need, focus on creating a learning process that will help you learn any new skill efficiently.
How To Learn
The most effective way to become a super learner is by creating a learning pattern that you can repeat each time you need to acquire a new skill.
Here’s what my learning process looks like:
- First, I get an overview of the topic. I either invest in an online course, watch some YouTube tutorials, or hire a freelancer to create a summary of the most relevant and timely information on the topic. How this process exactly looks like depends on the topic. In most cases, you can easily find courses that teach you most of what you need to know. The goal of this first step is to have a general summary of the topic.
- Next, I look for the three to five most relevant books on the topic. I mostly use Amazon, but sometimes also refer to the online catalog of local libraries.
- After choosing the books, I analyze the table of contents. I barely read the entire book. Instead, I look for the most common chapters and complete the summary I created in the first step.
- After studying that initial information, I mostly try to connect with people who already mastered the skill or are experts in that field. E.g., if I’m learning about Facebook ads, I’d join mastermind groups and ask my community whether someone is into FB ads and wants to meet to share their experiences.
- If it’s a more complicated topic that would require lots of trial and error (like Facebook ads), I additionally reach out to an expert who’s willing to coach me. There’s nothing more powerful than learning from someone who already walked the path. Yet, I always want to understand what he’s doing, so I barely outsource important tasks but instead prefer learning the skill myself.
Additionally, you should build a digital medium that helps you find new learning resources quickly.
I use Notion to organize all my learning processes. However, I also document various resources where I might find relevant information. By doing so, I accelerate the first step of the researching phase because I’m much quicker when looking for relevant resources.
If I, for example, come across a great Youtube with lots of videos about digital marketing, I’d put in on my learning database so that I can check it out next time I’m looking for specific information.
I do the same with books, Facebook groups, coaching programs, and anything else that I come across.
Having a good overview of potential learning resources helps me to be much quicker when completing the first two steps of my learning process.
Memorizing too much information can quickly become a mental challenge and consume valuable brainpower.
Being a good just-in-time learner will give you confidence because you’ll know that you can solve any problem — for yourself but also your customers.
In fact, you should never waste your brainpower to memorize information that you can easily store somewhere else and find in just a few seconds.
Every single day, we have thousands of mini decisions to make. With each of these decisions, our energy levels fall, and being mindful and productive becomes harder. Memorizing lots of information makes it even worse.
What you should do instead is setting up digital information management systems. You can use tools such as Notion, Evernote, Trello, or Google Drive to document and store important information.
Once you’ve set up these tools up properly and got used to just-in-time learning, it’ll be much easier to have a clear mind. Additionally, you’ll be able to use your precious brainpower for more critical tasks such as making important decisions.
After all, how you spend your days ultimately defines how you spend your life. And if you want to spend your life doing things you love, you should ensure that you don’t need to relearn a skill because you already forgot everything you learned at the first attempt.
Next time you find yourself studying a new subject, or trying to memorize information, remind yourself of Albert Einstein’s wise words:
“You don’t need to know everything, you just need to know where to find it.”