Learn (and Teach) Information Technology Quickly With 4 Techniques

Tech never stops changing, so working in IT takes constant learning. It’s often said that one of the best ways to learn is to teach.  That’s great news for IT professionals, as they’re regularly called upon to be impromptu teachers.

Here are a few techniques you can use to learn information technology (and teach it) quickly:

1. Imagine How to Teach Technology While You Learn

We learn faster and remember more when we expect to teach it to someone else (according to a study by Washington University).  So, visualize how you’d teach every step that you’re trying to learn.  Your brain shifts mindsets and tries to organize key points into digestible takeaways when it starts (or mimics) the process of explaining things to others.

2. The Slow Way Is the Fast Way

Learning quickly might call to mind all-nighters with too much caffeine in your system, but this fogs your brain and drastically reduces the efficiency of your learning process. Instead, work in bursts of 30-40 minutes, with breaks in between to let your brain catch its breath. Research has shown that spaced learning recharges neurons and drastically improves retention in long term memory. 

Sleep breaks are essential too. Right before you sleep is actually the best time to learn, because it consolidates your memories while you rest.  You’ll learn more quickly if you take breaks and get sleep rather than cramming.

These lessons also apply when you’re trying to teach information technology systems to others. Run training sessions in bite-sized pieces and give folks something small they can try out or read later in the evening, after dinner.

3. Learn Backwards (By Doing)

Rote, sequential memorization of complex topics (often completely without context) is a recipe for distraction and burnout, not inspired learning.  Instead, only learn the abstract details, domains, and terminology on a case-by-case basis, when you need them for a practical project.

David Clinton, author and Linux professional, advocates this approach in his book Linux in Action:

“Don’t worry, all the core skills and functionality needed through the first years of a career in Linux administration will be covered — and covered well — but only when actually needed for a practical and mission critical project.”

This is the skip-the-glossary-and-dive-in approach that keeps learning focused on meaningful outcomes (your projects) rather than just knowledge acquisition.

4. Stray Off the Path

Learning is more dynamic when it’s experimental.  Whether it’s a toddler manipulating a stack of blocks or a developer tinkering with lines of code, we learn more when we stray from the prescribed instructions manual and play around with a system.  

See what else you can get your IT system to do while you’re learning a new function—you’re likely to reach a clearer understanding of how (and why) it works the way it does.  This is great for teaching, too. Have the person you’re training or helping try out some things on their own, beyond the narrow purpose you started with. 

For example, let’s imagine that you’re showing a Conference Director how to assemble a custom registration form for collecting session proposals. Form building software can be highly responsive to users when you know what you’re doing (say, with nested fields or embedded eligibility rules). Encourage the director to build a few different kinds of forms, rather than just showing them how to get the one they think they want.  They might discover new options they didn’t realize were possible and build a better form.