Business Advice, Startup Advice

Three strategies for learning absolutely anything

Emma Koehn /

Company founders are no strangers to getting a crash course in a new idea, but according to one education expert, how well you learn new skills depends not on your genetics but on your approach.

Speaking at Google HQ recently, Ulrich Boser, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and author of Learn Better, explained recent research into learning has moved away from the idea that some people are pre-disposed to pick up new abilities quickly.

Instead, Boser says your success is more likely to be dependent on how you practice and how you form connections and context.

Here are three ways he suggests will lead to better results.

1. Reap the benefits of being wrong

Most people think of the brain like a computer, Boser says, but evidence shows that’s not the case. For example, humans display a “hyper corrective bias” tendency, which can mean the more confident you are in an answer that turns out to be incorrect, the more likely you will be to retain the correct information when you’re proved wrong.

He advises people to think about learning as “sense-making”, rather than a linear process of learning one fact, then another.

Ultimately, you shouldn’t be afraid of being incorrect, because “the more wrong that you are, the more that you learn,” he says. 

2. Mix up your practice

When trying to get across a complex area, whether that’s coding, understanding a new system or learning a new sport, practicing different elements of a new area within one session can boost your retention.

Working on different parts of an overall skill set, such as focusing on a couple of works by different composers during a piano practice session, can result you mastering each bit faster, Boser says.

The reason it works is kind of similar to [the idea of] learning as sense-making — it prevents you from being too robotic in the way you practice,” he says.  

3. Value feedback and interaction

Even if you’re nervous about showing your developing skill set to others, asking for help can also boost your progress.

Boser uses the example of his own skills when playing basketball, which he says despite passion and sustained practice, had never substantially improved — until he took some one-on-one classes with a former professional.

“Doing is not necessarily learning,” Boser says, highlighting that even for activity-based tasks, feedback from an expert can help shape your development, even if that expertise is only delivered in short bursts.

“I got a lot better, just like, with two sessions. [That’s] the power of very basic things, like feedback,” he says. 

Watch the full talk below.

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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  • Adil Babikir

    guess the heart do that, brain serves as and arithmatic and logic unist, storage and fiber.