5 Things Professional Learners Do Differently

By Jacob Dillon, Professional Writer and Journalist

Learning is one of those qualities that are uniquely human. It is what gives us humans an edge over the rest of the animal kingdom. It is well known that some people are overall better learners than others, being better at absorbing information than others. However, this ability isn’t something you can explain away with only intelligence. There are other factors to be considered when it comes to people’s ability to learn.

The most remarkable learners out there are autonomous learners. People are fully capable of self-directed learning without supervision or instruction. What, exactly, do they do differently? How do people learn when they’re right at the boundary of their personal knowledge? How to bridge the gap between what they know and what they don’t know so effectively?

To understand the whole thing, we first need to understand the term “learning” itself. It is a deeply loaded term that is full of cultural meaning. When you ask professionals how they learn, most of them will tell you that they did formally. They went to school and enrolled for some degree or accredited course and got certifications. However, there’s a lot more to learning than that. You can source for information online, read a book, watch an educational video, ask questions, or learn on the job by immersing yourself in a project.

Learning doesn’t even have to be intentional. You might have a random conversation and walk away with a wildly different perspective than you had before. You might try to apply some new thing at work or get taught a new skill by a colleague that you knew nothing about and that would lead you to develop expertise in a given area. You don’t always recognize it when you’re learning either. Many kinds of learning are entirely opportunistic. The best self-learners know how to capitalize on all these opportunities to learn in ways that they hadn’t planned or recognized.

So what lessons can we learn from autonomous learners? What are the qualities that professional learners apply consistently that you can start applying today?

  1. You need to be Interested in what you’re Learning

This is about as obvious as it gets. You need to be motivated in order for you to learn more effectively and that motivation comes in the form of interest. The cause of the interest can vary. For example, you might be anticipating rewards like qualification or accreditation, the promise of prestige, or material gain. However, the most effective kind of interest isn’t driven by such extrinsic gains. It is instead intrinsic. This is the kind of interest that makes you feel self-satisfied when you make achievements during the learning process.

What happens when you don’t have an interest in learning? There can be many reasons for this. One of these is when you feel forced to learn new things on the job in order to be able to carry out additional tasks. These additional tasks might not be directly related to your job and so you might not be interested in learning anything about them.

  1. Contemplate How Valuable the Learned Information is beyond the Immediate Context

Barbara Sanders, a researcher at EssaysOnTime, says that she learns better by drawing connections between what she has just learned and other things she knows. This technique is known as creating mind maps and is highly effective. The most effective professional learners don’t just take everything they learn within its immediate context. They also consider how significant it could potentially be in future job roles, tasks, career-related challenges, and so on. It is by drawing such connections that you are able to use what other consider old information in novel ways.

  1. Confidence in your Learning Goals

While interest is very important to help you focus, being confident in your abilities, especially when it comes to achieving your learning goals, is crucial to success. When you don’t feel confident about your abilities, you’re likely to lack the resilience to persist in the direction of your goals. Confidence is typically shaped by your past experiences. When you face successes early on, you’re likely to develop confidence in your ability to complete the tasks in which you succeeded. When you encounter a task in the future that is similar to a task that you completed successfully you’ll feel confident about it and your ability to complete it. Unfortunately, there isn’t a quick fix in this case, since confidence is a combination of past performance and our attitudes about them. Early success will make you more confident. However, that doesn’t mean that early failure will automatically make you less confident. Some people tend to feel less confident if they failed in the past while others believe they can build on their failures and grow from them. Your initial level of interest also matters here as it will give you the motivation to keep going despite initial failures and you will be resilient enough to wait for the successes that will alter build your confidence.

  1. Efficient Planning

Professionals are always faced by constraints, either in the form of time constraints or otherwise. Under such circumstances, many professionals will just dive into learning without thinking about the best approach. The most effective professionals, however, will take time to first plan their learning process intentionally. They will select the best learning method for the situation and based on their own strengths and weaknesses and the amount of attention and effort they will invest in each aspect of the learning process.

  1. Seeking Help from Experts

There will always be a time when you get stuck in the learning process. During such times it will be necessary to seek out people with the kind of expertise you would like to get and gain help from them. Since effective learning is all about having the right expertise in different situations, it is important to actively seek help from appropriate experts in your journey. They will be able to give you a lot more than the surface learning that you will gain if you do it by yourself. As a professional, you will typically be an expert in a very narrow area. That means you will need to seek help from experts in other areas in order to be able to learn effectively and carry out your tasks. You will also need to develop relational expertise, which allows you to draw connections between different forms of expertise.


To become an effective professional learner you need to be able to think and act in a certain way. Not only do you need to have the skills outlined in this article, but you also need to have a growth mindset, where you are interested in your own personal growth and development for its own sake and not just the extrinsic benefits of learning.

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Latest update: November 30, 2018
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