Young Lady Studying and Taking Notes

Personal Learning Plan: The Compass to Master Any Skill

People around the world are having more spare time due to the lockdown caused by the new coronavirus (COVID-19). As a result, many are looking to spend this extra time to learn something.

Which skill should I be learning? What is the most effective path to master it? And finally, how to continuously make progress without doing a half-baked job or dropping out midway?

As you might guess from the title, having a personal learning plan is a way to go.

I am trying to come up with a personal learning plan for myself after reading Learn Like an Athlete by David Perell. What you’re about to read is an outline of my thought process and the steps I’m taking to come up with my own personal learning plan.

Pick an Area of Life to Focus On

We tend to gravitate towards hard skills relevant to our profession when choosing something to learn. Nothing wrong with that, but it is worth keeping in mind that life is beyond our 9-to-5 job.

Just look at the homepage of Skills You Need. You’ll find a total of 528 skills you can learn to live a better life.

No, we’re not trying to learn everything either.

I work for Mindvalley, a personal growth education technology company. One of the courses we publish is Lifebook. In the course, Jon & Missy Butcher talks about the 12 dimensions of life, which you can apply to this exercise:

  • Health and fitness
  • Intellectual
  • Emotional
  • Character
  • Spiritual
  • Love relationship
  • Parenting
  • Social
  • Career
  • Financial
  • Quality of life
  • Life vision

Look through all of them and ask yourself – “What are the areas that I should focus on in the next 3 to 12 months to live a better life?”

Mine was very obvious to me – health and fitness. Getting it right will give me the energy and body to tackle all the other areas of life.

If it’s difficult for you to choose one, go with three.

Where Do You Want to Be?

After coming up with one or more areas of life, visualize the ideal version of yourself for each of them. Try to describe and write down the visualizations as vividly as you can.

According to a research paper on the role of a vivid and challenging personal vision in goal hierarchies, students who conceptualized a vivid personal vision were more committed to their semester goals.

Then, under each of these areas, think about the skill that will propel you towards the ideal version of yourself the most.

What is Your Why Behind Learning a Skill?

Here’s a quote from Start with Why by Simon Sinek:

If we want to feel an undying passion for our work, if we want to feel we are contributing to something bigger than ourselves, we all need to know our WHY.

Identifying your why behind every skill will help you prioritize what to learn first. But more importantly, it will give you a sense of purpose, and that will keep you motivated all the way to the finish line.

For this step of the process, I write down all the whys that come up for every single skill that came up during the previous exercise. If certain emotions bubble up, I will try to describe them in my writing too.

As I’m writing this, I want to devote time to learn more about nutrition, so that I can become healthier and be more conscious of my food choices.

According to the World Health Organization, worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975. My dad had a heart attack when I was 28, and I soon realized I have a family history of chronic diseases.

Learning more about nutrition will help not just myself to live a healthier life, but it will also inspire everybody, especially those around me, to take nutrition seriously and start transforming their health.

What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?

You are now crystal clear on what you will learn. The next step is to carve out your strengths and weaknesses, including problems that you will bump into during the learning process.

Answer these questions:

  • How do you learn best?
  • Will you need external accountability?
  • Do you learn better on your own or with like-minded peers?
  • Do you have people you know who can guide you?
  • Did you try learning this or a similar skill in the past and failed? Why?

Answering the questions above will help you pinpoint personalization that your learning plan requires to ensure a smooth-sailing path to master the skill.

Researching the Best Path to Master a Skill

Regardless of what skills or knowledge you’re trying to learn, you will follow the same path of acquiring information, experimentation, and deliberate practice.

The path for some skills, however, is different.

Take learning a new language for example. Depending on the language, there are so many different methods and approaches around. Before you start, it’s best to read up or get a consultation from an expert to map out the best learning path.

For nutrition, my friends who are passionate about nutrition and fitness recommended a few beginner-friendly books and go-to resources. From there, I found a well-recognized course that can give me a very thorough understanding of human nutrition.

Your learning path and to-dos are in place. It’s time to put them into your personal learning plan.

Designing the Plan

Your personal learning plan will include four sections:

  • Resources to study
  • People to follow
  • Projects to start
  • Habits to build

The most important elements to include in your learning plan are the timeline and due dates. For accountability, you need to specify when you will finish a book or complete a course on your list.

With all these in place, you will be crystal clear with your direction and progress.

Resources to Study

It doesn’t matter what you’re trying to learn. Chances are, there are people out there who mastered them. Some might have even produced comprehensive guides and resources to help others do the same.

In your personal learning plan, create a list of all the resources you will be studying.

I consider four types of resources in the following order whenever I want to acquire a new skill:

  • Books
  • Courses
  • Blog posts
  • Videos

I prefer to start with the most recommended books and courses. Pay particular attention to the table of contents and course structure. Look for one with adequate coverage on the subject. Not sure? Read the reviews.

Once I completed a book or a course, I will use blog posts and videos to provide a different perspective on certain topics or to supplement an area that piques my interest.

We all have distinct preferences and learning styles. Revisit the outcome of your strengths and weaknesses exercise. Choose resources that match your learning style.

People to Follow or Study

Observing people who are ahead of yourself with a skill you’re trying to acquire or domain expertise you want to pick up is a way to learn too.

Once you have identified these individuals, create a section in your personal learning plan to list them down.

Good artists copy, great artists steal.

– Pablo Picasso

Consume their craft. Try reproducing it yourself. Follow them on social media or create Google Alerts with their name to watch how they do it. Read, watch, and listen to their interviews to understand how they approach their work.

When I got started in my online advertising role, I reached out to about 20 experts, asking if they have tips for me. Not everybody will reply, but some of these tips propelled my career to where I am today.

Deliberate Practice

To become good at something, you need deliberate practice. And no, merely doing something because you enjoy doing it is not practice. 

Deliberate practice improves performance. It requires a lot of effort, and it is not fun at all.

Deliberate practice is hard. It hurts. But it works. More of it equals better performance and tons of it equals great performance.

The quote above was taken from Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin and expanded upon by Shane Parrish in his essay, What is Deliberate Practice? In Shane’s essay, you will find a comprehensive explanation for deliberate practice.

Presenting to your team at work, if it is something you’ve been doing, is not deliberate practice for public speaking. It’s you being in your comfort zone.

Include one or more of the following to introduce the element of deliberate practice into your personal learning plan:

  • Projects to start
  • Habits to build

Pick projects or habits with the ability to pull you out of the comfort zone, but not to the point of causing frustration and inaction.

The project or habit should also allow you to practice smaller parts of what you’re trying to learn in a fixed cadence. An example of this will be making dinner for friends and family every weekend to improve one’s cooking skills.

Nutrition is a broad topic. Today, new scientific findings are even challenging some of its foundations.

When I start my learning process, I will write about what I learned here. I have never written anything on nutrition before. The thought of having to synthesize the information is nerve-racking, which is why it is a form of deliberate practice in my personal learning plan.

Seek Feedback

The feedback mechanism in a learning plan is optional, but having it can accelerate your progress.

A teacher or a coach can guide you, point out what you missed, and suggest how to improve.

You can work on technique all you like, but if you can’t see the effects, two things will happen: You won’t get any better, and you’ll stop caring.

Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin

Don’t sweat it if you can’t afford a coach. Consider getting a friend or a family member to help. They may not understand the topics you’re trying to learn, but they can at least keep you accountable.

Another way of getting feedback and accountability is to share your personal learning plan publicly.

It can feel daunting because people will be watching you, but the fear of getting judged will keep going.

My Personal Learning Plan Template

I created two personal learning plans last week. One of them is for nutrition, and the other is for me to get better at writing.

As a reward for reading this entire article, I am going to share my personal learning plan template with you.

Use it. Customize it. Share it. Do whatever you want with it. Just don’t stop learning.

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