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What I Need to Know Now

​By Mark Milroy

My wife recently made a career change after having taught young children for many years. Her new position required her to immediately develop technology skills that those of us who work with computers every day take for granted. The learning curve was steep and the timeline for getting up to speed was short. 

The experience was much like being dropped into a culture where you only know a few rudiments of the language. If you were in that situation, what would you do? Most likely you’d want to learn the basic phrases that would help you get through the day, and you wouldn’t have time or patience for anything like studying grammar. In my wife’s case, she needed to know how to finish the tasks before her, and she wasn’t interested in knowing what the software was capable of doing on a macro scale. She simply wanted step-by-step instructions on how to get the job done.

As adults, our learning is often driven by our immediate needs. We rarely have time to engage in studying the subject. Instead, it’s “here is my problem and I need a solution—now.” Think about it. What do most of us do when we have to quickly learn how to do something? We go to YouTube, search for an answer, and then watch the shortest videos first until we have enough information to finish the task. 

You also see this is in preparation for tests. Quizzes and exams are essentially sampling methods, asking questions on a variety of topics to see whether the respondent can answer the majority of them correctly. If they can, it is presumed the respondent has sufficient understanding of the subject or has demonstrated competence. However, for some individuals, mastering the body of knowledge is secondary to simply passing the test. Their goal is to know what questions will be asked and have the answers ready rather than reviewing all the material and being prepared for any question that might be asked.  

It takes time to absorb the many aspects of a new job. During the first few weeks you might sit in meetings where everyone is talking in jargon that seems incomprehensible.  Over time, you learn the terminology, develop fluency, and eventually you don’t have to keep referring to cheat sheets as often as you did when you started. 

That’s been the case at home. My wife and I spent many evenings this winter sitting at the kitchen table figuring out website management tools, publishing software, and registration systems. It tested my own learning abilities, forcing me to open unfamiliar software, quickly get my bearings, then figure out and explain the solution she was looking for. As she completed more tasks, she started to recognize patterns, find efficiencies, and gain context. I was fascinated by observing the learning process we both were going through.

Think about it the next time you’re faced with a situation where it’s all new to you. Embrace the challenge. Jump in, figure it out, keep working at it, and eventually you’ll find familiarity and confidence. You’ll also discover that the joy of learning comes from making ourselves find our way through the unknown.


Mark Milroy is AIHA’s managing director of Global Learning. 

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