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Learn Anything in 20 Hours

I’ve been a StumbleUpon user for as long as I can remember. For years I’d stumble when I was tired or had a few minutes to kill, but for some reason I hadn’t stumbled in over a year. So now that I’m back, I’m being treated to some really cool stuff. Last night I found a TED talk from Josh Kaufman that opened my eyes to the possibility of knowing pretty much everything I’ve ever wanted to know, in a very small amount of time. After years of studying, Kaufman has come to the conclusion that you can learn anything in just 20 hours. The idea isn’t to be a complete expert on the subject, but to develop a significant knowledge on it by following four easy steps.

The key to the whole process is that all the 20 hours are spent in deliberate practice. With that in mind, here are four steps Kaufman gives to guide that practice:

  1. Deconstruct the skill – break it all down based on needs.
  2. Learn enough to self-correct.
  3. Remove practice barriers.
  4. Practice at least 20 hours.
Let’s dig deeper into each of these steps.

Deconstruct the Skill

In order to learn things as fast as possible, you’ve got to break down each piece of the skill down into its smallest possible components. By understanding each individual piece, you can combine them to form a body of knowledge. This also helps you determine what exactly is essential and what is superfluous. From a programming perspective, it’d be awful hard to write a program without knowing how to declare a variable but there are many topics you could safely overlook, like advanced language features, if you’re just trying to get up to speed on how to code. Kaufman reinforces this idea by showing that with just four chords you can play dozens of the most popular songs from the last 30 years.

Learn Enough to Self-Correct

Errors are a natural part of the learning process. So in order to get anywhere with a subject or skill, you’ve got to learn the basic building blocks so you can correct yourself when you get off track. Once you’ve learned the basics, then you’ll be able to recognize errors and perfect the model in your mind. By being able to correct mistakes, there are far fewer false paths where time is wasted with faulty beliefs. Imagine trying to learn multiplication and mistakenly deducting 4 * 4 = 8 because 2 * 2 = 4. If you continued forward with this line of thought, there are potentially many false steps ahead. Through re-examining the basics of multiplication, one could see that 4 * 4 = 4 + 4 + 4 = 16 and realize their mistake in little time.

Remove Practice Barriers

This item is huge. With so many distractions in the world, it’s amazing that anything productive gets done. Setting aside 30 minutes to an hour every day where your chosen topic receives your undivided attention is essential. From there, just make sure your working conditions are optimal for your learning style and you’ll be good to go. Unfortunately, this is a lot easier said than done.

Practice at Least 20 Hours

Finally, you have to commit 20 hours of focus to the subject. We’re all busy but if you were to work on learning your topic of choice for just 30 minutes a day for 40 days you’d be amazed by how far you’ve come in so little time. That, and the 20 hours would be complete. The key is to build the habit and iterate on what you achieved the day before. Some days will be harder than others, but always keep in mind the idea that every day you’re better than you were the day before. The practice won’t be such a chore when looked at from the right perspective and with a clear goal in mind.

The method seems to be well thought out and I’m excited to implement it into my learning methods. I’m not expecting to become an expert in just 20 hours, but I’ll know enough to be knowledgeable on the topic. At such a small amount of time, it doesn’t make any sense to not learn about the topics you’re curious about or skills you’d like to develop. Now if only I can curb my regained StumbleUpon habits for an hour, I’d be 1/20th of the way to knowing something I don’t know now. That’s powerful.

Published on 3/22/2014 10:05:09 PM

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