What is Smarter Learning?

I always thought I was good at learning because I was good at school. It took me a long time to realize that I was not very good at learning at all. In fact, I faced a lot of frustration when approaching new tasks and was more apt to repeat something that I was good at than to keep pushing myself into uncharted territory. It was not until I was much older that I realized that while I was good at doing the things I was good at, that my marriage to the ideals of perfection, performance and outcome was crippling my personal and professional growth. 

It took me far too long to realize that not only is learning a “skill” that we can improve but it is also a mindset. A mindset that has, as its foundation, curiosity, goal setting, asking questions, receiving feedback, in other words, a growth mindset. 

This topic popped-up recently in a conversation with a friend’s daughter, Ava. Ava is an extremely talented artist. I had asked her if she would show me how to use Posca paint pens. From her London home, she kindly obliged and virtually toured me through her art supplies from painting pens like these to traditional markers and inks. She also shared her sketchbook, and her process. 

She said that she used to be self conscious about her sketchbook. She wanted everything to look really “good”. She would even rip out pages, when she judged them not “good” enough. However, with a maturity that we can all learn from (Ava is 11 turning 12 very soon), she has come to the conclusion that tearing out the “bad” pages was limiting her. It was preventing her from growing as an artist. As a result, she now leaves all pages without judgement and, even more, makes sure to date the sketches, even the “bad” ones. In this way, when she gets to the end of the sketchbook, she can now look back and see how she has progressed. In these sketchbooks, she has a visual, time-stamped record of her growth and development. She was not just showing me her magnificent sketchbook but was showing me how she uses a sketchbook as an active learning tool. 

A thirst for growth and development is an essential part of being human. In addition, I don’t think it is a stretch to say that we all want to feel like we are good at something. At the same time, it is often very difficult to “see” growth, or even feel like we are growing, particularly, in our professional lives. You might look back on your career after 20 years and see something you did when you were starting out and think (cringing) that you have come a long way; however, 20 years is a long time with little to mark progress along the way.

I have had a few similar conversations recently that have highlighted the importance of doing things (sports, art, hobbies) outside of work not just as a way to relax, have fun, or to take your mind off of other stresses but also using the hobby as a playground for growth. As Ava pointed out, this is your safe place, a place to take risk little bits at a time, to apply the growth mindset, to try something new and fail with no consequence. 

Our current and future workplaces demand that we embrace the ideals of a “learning culture”. What does this mean? This means that the skills you learn in college or university will be dated in 18 months and on a faster and faster timeline as we progress. This requires us to be really good at learning new things so that we can learn smarter and faster on a continuous basis.  As it turns out, this particular skill, the skill of learning, is most often not what we learn in school, it is what we learn in life. 

For example, as Ava showed me, you can use your hobbies to become really good at learning. And along the way, you may find that you become good at something (and have fun doing it). So go and do something fun, play, experiment, be happy to fail, lose and mess up. If questioned about your time out of the office, tell your employer that you are working on your Smarter Learning skills which will only make you a better employee. 

Ava’s 10 Tips for growing as an artist:

  1. In your sketchbook, draw something special on the inside cover that will inspire you. Make this something that you love in a lasting way (not a passing fancy). 
  2. On the first page, state a clear goal or intention for the sketchbook. Maybe it is to learn how to draw people, or an animal or mushrooms. 
  3. Break down your goal into smaller pieces. Just practice eyes on one page, noses on another. 
  4. Start to create your own drawing process. Draw from still life. Think about the shapes you are drawing and try to think about how it feels to draw these shapes. 
  5. Develop a visual vocabulary for shapes that you can pull from.
  6. Once you get the hang of drawing the thing (say a cat) in this way, build on this, experiment and play with other poses. Try to consciously think about the feeling of drawing the shapes of the cat.
  7. Watch some (but not too many) videos to get inspired and learn new techniques.
  8. Practice every day (she draws for 2-4 hours a day) but even 10 min a day will help you grow.
  9. Date your sketches.
  10. When the sketchbook is full, go back and reflect on your development. 

Smarter Learning is the bedrock of Skillpod’s 7 skills. To  learn more how we can help you (or your organization) learn smarter and faster, sign up for our newsletter or contact me directly.

All artwork copyright Ava R. 2021 (contact agent Kathleen Traynor for commissions)