Tips To Learn A New Skill

TAY YU XUAN decided to pick up the basics of data analytics on his own. Now a junior data scientist at Government Digital Services, IDA, he shares tips you can use to teach yourself new skills.


“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” This famous quote from Alvin Toffler, an American futurist, is a principle I subscribe to. It is increasingly relevant in the current era, especially the fast-changing technology field that I am in. Learning is also important to prepare yourself for potential career-changing opportunities.

The tips below are more for learning a new programming language or software, but you can easily apply the principles for learning in other areas.

Find the reason

This is the most important tip. While it is possible to learn purely for learning’s sake, most people will find it tough to stay the course without a purpose, or the source of motivation that will maintain your interest. It is key.

Want to learn HTML or Javascript? Build your own website to showcase your portfolio. Enjoy watching foreign TV shows? Learn the language so that you can watch them without subtitles. Do you use Microsoft Excel extensively? Then there is a good reason to pick up the programming language, Visual Basics for Applications, to automate the repetitive parts you have to do regularly.

Start with something small, so it becomes a healthy challenge instead of an intimidating project. A simple plan also gives you the benefit of being able to see the results of your fresh skills quickly, keeping you motivated to learn even more. Build up the challenge level as you hone your new abilities.

Find resources online

I like using online resources, so that I can go through them in the comfort of my home, and at my convenience. The easy access to resources helps me commit to the process. Of course, if you feel that signing up for a course at an educational institute keeps you disciplined to complete the learning, go for it.

Massive open online courses (MOOC) platforms such as Coursera, EdX and Udacity offer free courses from reputable universities worldwide. These sites contain many well-structured courses with recorded lectures and useful assignments. They cover anything from business skills to art, and design to psychology. They also offer paid verified certificates, which you can then add to your LinkedIn page after completion.

Focus on courses that end with an output, such as building a game. I also like courses that are part of a series so I can advance to a higher level. If you are unsure of your level of commitment, consider shorter courses that finish within four weeks.

Stick to it

This is the most difficult commitment but a crucial one: set aside a few hours per week for your new endeavour. Two hours is probably sufficient to go through some materials, with a couple more for completing assignments and practising. Spread the hours out, in 30- to 60-minute blocks, so that you can more easily find the time required, especially on weekday evenings. This has the added benefit of keeping the new knowledge constantly fresh in your mind. If you find yourself unable to maintain your committed time, try to at least finish reading the materials.

Learn from others

The best way to learn is through guidance from experts. They can be your colleagues, or fellow learners you meet in an interest group. Question-and-answer sites such as Stack Exchange and Quora can help you with specific problems you may face. You can also learn from people around the world by subscribing to community-collated feeds and newsletters.

I find that reading through these sites helps to maintain my interest, exposes me to new approaches to old problems, and encourages me to try new techniques in my work. This way, I learn faster and continuously. It also keeps me up to date with developments in the fast-moving field I am in.

With so many resources on the Web, there has never been an easier time to pick up new skills. I hope these tips help you find the right ones and be driven to complete the learning. Enjoy the process!

Looking to learn something new? Use your SkillsFuture Credit. A directory of approved courses can be found at the SkillsFuture website.

    May 11, 2016
    Tay Yu Xuan
    Ng Shi Wei
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