There are many subjects that I want to learn. Over my career, I continue to study and apply what I’ve learned. Some things are easier to learn than others. There is one trend that I have observed every time I apply myself—invested in learning something new:
There is so much more that I don’t know.
The learning process seems like common sense. It takes time to understand new things. However, there seems to be an underestimation of the effort required to succeed. That is, the time it takes to not just gain familiarity with a new subject, but to study and practice—eventually to teach or mentor. It is not abnormal to hit moments where we just need to get work done.
Here we stand—the people responsible—optimistic that we can have a sufficient “crash course” so we can finish our work on time. This succeeds on occasion with little to no consequence. For the other instances, we should be more concerned with learning from past mistakes. The naivety of hasty and reactive choices led to my reflection on the educational process itself and the responsibility we owe to those who pay for our services.
To help explain, please refer to the following graph—created to describe the levels of experience in an educational mastery curve. This should set better expectations on time/effort investments, promote greater responsibility over applied knowledge, and encourage accountability in the learning process.
The first thing this illustrates is the amount of time it takes to achieve various levels of experience. Easier subjects take less time, while complex subjects take more time. Let us recall that common sense is often neglected when urgency or emotion consumes the decision-making process. We can counteract that by considering this chart when preparing to learn about something new!
To encounter something new is to experience it for the first time. Is this your first time seeing someone ride a bike or observing a heart surgery? Is this something that you would like to learn for pleasure or for your occupation? It all starts with that first encounter. The process is usually an instance with little to no invested time.
After a new thing piques our interest, we may choose to better acquaint ourselves by reading casual articles about it or discussing it with others. This can take us a few minutes, hours, days, and sometimes weeks. It really all depends on the complexity of the subject.
Eventually we may decide to truly invest ourselves and study a subject with the intention of using that knowledge. We should prepare ourselves for the true amount of time it will take to learn a thing. It helps to identify key resources—sometime through the help of a mentor—to make the best use of our time. This can take anywhere from days to years, which is why planning is quite important. Be prepared to need more study than you expected initially. Sometimes a little study is all you need to reliably sell your work, while with others it is grossly incompetent or potentially illegal.
Experience comes with practice, which will overlap with continuing study and education. In fact, you should never stop learning about something you actively do. Your apprenticeship or applied learning might be in a controlled environment at first, but you eventually need real-world experience—particularly if you intend to do something professionally. This process will take weeks, months, and often even years depending on the breadth and complexity of the subject. At this point you can responsibly sell your services in most cases.
It is said that to become a master of something takes 10,000 hours—or about 6 years of a full-time effort. I would argue that mastery is dependent on the subject and how you use that knowledge. If you find yourself at the forefront of a field, teaching others, creating things no one has seen before, then you might consider yourself a master. Granted, different vocations or trades will hold more official titles, which should be considered. Let’s just say that mastery usually takes years, but with some simple things, may only take a few months. When you have mastered something, you should be able to work more efficiently and your services will be more highly valued.
There you have it. Please go learn more. Practice. Teach. Don’t stop learning. Even the foremost expert needs to continue their education to remain a foremost expert. Just don’t try to cheat the process or allow others to force you to. Respect the time it takes to be prepared.