Children are better learners – we can learn from how they learn

I, along with many others, have discussed before how imperative it is for working professionals to be continuous learners.  What got us here, as my friend Marshall Goldsmith argues, is not likely to get us there. Past success is becoming a poor indicator of future success. Better indicators of future success are networks (social and professional), adaptability, and creativity. 

Fewer of us are executing tasks at work that are repetitive, or have any semblance to how those tasks were done a few years ago. This all means that constantly and proactively learning is arguably the most important developmental function of a working professional. Most of you get this. The disconnect seems to be in how adults learn best.

When I observe my two little ones learning, there seem to be some common themes in how they learn best.  This past weekend, I was able to teach Hunter, my 5 year old, to ride his bike without any training wheels on it. The objectives are clear—Hunter is learning this because Hunter wants to learn to ride a bike without his training wheels because his friends and his big sister are already doing it.  His objective is very clear to him.

  1. Learn & apply – the longer the time between learning something and applying it, the less relevant the learning is. Hunter and I went out yesterday and as I coached him, he was applying the new skill in real time and was seeing results instantly.
  2. Reinforce – we started in the morning, took a break, practiced again around lunch, took a break, and kept going in the afternoon… even though he got it the first time. I started each progressive session by asking him what he learned earlier. And ended each session by asking him what he would do different.

Hunter was riding his bike without training wheels all afternoon yesterday.  I know some of you will laugh at this comparison but ask yourself—as an adult—when was the last time you learned something in this fashion. The truth is that kids learn much better than adults. And we have much to learn from how they learn. This week, attempt to learn something the way a child would. Let me know how it goes!

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