The Best Way To Learn A New Skill Fast

Why this counter-intuitive process is one of the fastest ways to learn.

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Photo by NESA by Makers on Unsplash

When the pandemic closed offices earlier this year, I was one of the millions who suddenly had to learn how to use video conferencing. I had only ever used video chats a couple of times in my entire life, so I was way behind the curve.

When I first opened Zoom, I had no idea how to connect to a room or turn on my camera. I wasn’t even aware of the more complex tools like annotations and breakout rooms.

I might have been able to fake it if I was just sitting in on meetings, but I was going to have to run them. I needed to master Zoom fast. So, I turned to an unusual tool that’s helped me through these situations before: teaching.

How Teaching Can Help Us Learn

One of the fastest ways that I’ve ever learned to master a new skill is to start teaching it as soon as possible. I’m using the term “teaching” broadly here, to mean any method of instructing others: from conducting a lecture to writing an essay explaining what you learned.

It may sound counter-intuitive at first; after all, how can we teach what we haven’t already learned? The key is to turn teaching and learning into an iterative process.

With Zoom, I began by watching the training videos in the Getting Started guide and following along with the software. As soon as I was done, I wrote down what I had learned in the format of an instructive article. My goal was to write it clearly enough that a total beginner could catch up with everything I had learned so far.

During the writing process, I discovered some steps that I didn’t completely remember. This provided the clue that I needed to go back and refresh my memory.

By experimenting with the software, I also discovered buttons in Zoom that I hadn’t learned yet. This told me that I needed to find additional articles, explaining how those tools worked.

I went back and forth, writing my article and learning the software for myself. In addition to reading guides and watching videos, I spent plenty of time just playing with the software and running demo meetings.

By the time I had to run my first real video conference, I felt confident that I knew Zoom more than well enough to get by. I actually continued to “teach” Zoom by writing more after I got an even better feel for the software.

Through this process, I had essentially mastered Zoom, and I had written about two thousand words explaining what I knew. As a bonus, I even ended up making a couple of hundred bucks through the experience, by editing down the material into a few articles and selling them to a blog.

The Benefits of Teaching

There are several reasons that teaching is such a powerful tool for learning:

  • You will quickly discover the limits of your knowledge as you run out of material to teach, or are asked questions to which you don’t know the answer.
  • You can learn an immense amount from your students, particularly if you’re teaching a live class.
  • Forcing yourself to explain concepts in simple terms will help boost your own comprehension of the material.
  • New concepts will become more ingrained in your memory through repetition: you’ll be exposed to them once as you learn them, once as you prepare a lesson, and once as you deliver it. Editing and revisions can add even more exposure.

Where to Teach

For many concepts that I’ve learned, I’ve had the benefit of being able to teach in live classrooms, but this option isn’t always available (particularly during a pandemic).

Fortunately, thanks to the internet, there are limitless opportunities for “teaching.” You can write an article, record a YouTube video, or even create an entire online course.

You don’t need to be an expert to start teaching. Some of the best teachers have the least experience, while we all know the stereotype of the professor who leads their field but has terrible lectures. If you’re committed to learning and careful preparing your material, you can help others study while you learn for yourself.

Written by

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more.

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