If You Want to Learn Better as an Adult, Start Seeking Quality Feedback


Continued learning is a critical skill for everyone to have in today’s fast-changing world. A 2016 study found that three-quarters of adult Americans found it valuable to pursue further learning.

You can learn a lot on your own, but how far do those efforts take you? Consider a simple practice to improve your singing; how you sound to others will be different from what you hear as you sing. It limits your ability to self-correct. You’ll be far better off taking voice lessons from a knowledgeable instructor.

Efforts to learn in any domain will often lead us to various roadblocks. A common underlying problem is the lack of good feedback. When your continued learning is entirely self-contained, you’re imposing an additional limitation in the form of self-awareness.

People often find it hard to accurately and objectively review their own performance in this regard. And feedback is a crucial tool for overcoming this challenge.

Embracing the iterations

Feedback is essential to all learners. When a student gets handed back their test results in school, they receive feedback. They get to see which items they answered correctly and which ones were mistakes. If the teacher takes time to break down and discuss the exam, those learning points will be further reinforced.

This model acknowledges that learning is not a straightforward process. Often, the course outline makes it seem like a linear progression. Students are expected to keep pace as the teacher covers the basics of a subject and moves on to progressively more advanced material.

But every individual learns differently. Some will stumble or struggle to absorb certain topics fully. Even those who seem to be keeping up just fine might be unaware of knowledge gaps.

This is why teachers routinely devise assessments and review the results. They need to evaluate true comprehension among their students. And feedback is implemented as an iterative process. It helps to bridge those gaps on the fly.

Before you even seek out feedback, you need to understand and accept its looping nature. You don’t take an entire course or read a dense text and assess your knowledge at the very end. The whole journey must be broken down into bite-sized chunks so that you can genuinely absorb essential concepts.

Looking for quality

student and teacher conversation between professionals

You can get feedback from various sources. It’s even possible not to involve anybody else. Attempt to apply your knowledge through a small DIY project; if it fails, you’ve just received instant feedback that something was wrong. But getting an outside opinion can facilitate the analysis and help you pinpoint exactly where the flaws lie.

Thus, not all feedback is equally useful. You’ll want to seek out sources of quality feedback to maximize your learning progress and outcomes.

But what are the qualities of good feedback? One of the vital aspects to look for is a constructive nature. It’s not enough to point out mistakes. Even a fellow layperson can help you in this regard. But a skilled mentor will be able to guide you on how to improve upon failure.

Feedback also needs to be timely. If you involve others, you’re asking them to give of their time. A friend or colleague might help you for free, but only when they have time to spare. Sometimes, you need to make adjustments while assessment results are still fresh in your mind.

Finally, you’ll get the best results when the person giving feedback can align their guidance with your specific needs. For instance, would-be entrepreneurs can get valuable advice from established business owners. But the best tips will invariably come from those who have experience starting the same sort of business you have in mind.

Maximizing your resources

In light of these considerations, there’s still no substitute for receiving advanced instruction from someone with the necessary expertise. And while you might be able to find mentors who’ll volunteer to guide you, this sort of feedback more often comes as a paid service.

Still, you can supplement this formal instruction by making the most of other tools and resources at your disposal. In workshops or webinars, you might not necessarily get the same sort of in-depth knowledge that a full course would cover. But you learn from the back-and-forth discussion among multiple participants.

Peer feedback is a valuable way to boost your further learning in any effort. Even a simple step, such as joining online forums and submitting your work for review, can help you gain insights and direct you towards improvements.

The impetus for continued learning will always come from you. But it’s a long journey to get to your self-improvement goals. Look for useful feedback along the way, and keep getting better in small steps.

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