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A recipe for learning new skills

January 30, 2013

After a 20-year break I’m getting back into skiing. I’ve just returned from a four-day ski trip to the French Alps. It was awesome. Returning to a soggy grey UK, I’ve been thinking a lot about the trip and reflecting on my learning process.

Les Gets, French Alps
I went with three goals in mind:

  • Learn to parallel turn (turn with my feet parallel)
  • Start to carve (turn using the edges of the skis)
  • Do one red (advanced) run

In order to achieve these goals I built up to them; I had an instructor show me how to parallel turn, I then practiced these on green (easy) runs and blue (intermediate) runs. Once I had these nailed, I tried carving on some slower sections of piste. By the fourth day I could ski the blues fairly comfortably so I felt ready to try a red.

I knew this would be a stretch, so I’d asked other, more experienced skiers which red they would recommend for a first attempt. I warmed up on a few blues then tried it just before lunch. I had a fall, got up and tried again, making it successfully down the most advanced slope I’d ever skied. After lunch I did it again to prove to myself it wasn’t a fluke. This time I went faster and didn’t fall once.

These were fairly ambitious goals for someone who last skied when they were 17 and who had never skied on real snow, however, I achieved them all by:

  • Having clear goals
  • Seeking support from experts and peers
  • Practicing and learning from my mistakes

This, of course, is a recipe for learning any new skill. Unfortunately it is an approach missing from many learning interventions both online and in the classroom. In your next learning design ensure you include all three of these elements, for example:

  • Goals – don’t sheep-dip your learners, let them choose what they should learn based upon their skills gaps.
  • Support  – include some expert tuition or coaching for novices, allow people to connect and share with their peers
  • Practice – design activities where people can practice the new skills they are trying to develop, ideally with increasing levels of difficulty
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 1, 2013 4:02 pm

    Great post – I couldn’t agree more on those three elements for successful classroom (or elearning) design. The opportunity to practice (and fall down and make mistakes) in the training environment especially seems lacking in too many courses. It’s funny how the stuff that works in real life (and which we don’t think too much about) like setting goals and getting advice and practicing doesn’t always transfer into how we teach others!

  2. Bill permalink
    February 3, 2013 1:32 am

    Simple and concise process. Adding it to my learning plan at work.

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