Four easy (and free) ways to learn

online-learningIf one of your goals for 2017 is to learn a new skill or subject but you have no idea how to fit this into an already packed life then perhaps try some online learning. 

I’ve had to research this as I have recently become a mum. It means my plans for attending workshops and conferences to boost my sports psychology knowledge have been put on hold for a little while. Whereas evening seminars were once a great opportunity to listen to an inspiring speaker followed by networking with others in my field whilst nursing a glass of warm white wine, I now find my evenings involve nursing a small baby, listening to repeats of Midsummer Murders, so am having to utilise technology to acquire new skills and knowledge in small, digestible chunks.

Research in educational learning has found great benefits in learning online, even when we do have time to attend more formal face to face training. It means that rather than having training ‘pushed out’ to us by an HR department we can ‘pull in’ knowledge as and when we need it. The problem with ‘pulling in’ knowledge though is we can be at the mercy of Google and can’t always know what we find is correct. We need well curated information we trust. I’ve found four channels I trust and am enjoying learning from – and all are free:

  1.     Youtube videos from respected organisations – there are thousands of these but for those into sport the ones from SportsCoachUK featuring well known sports psychologists are really good. Watching Youtube videos mean you can pick and choose to learn from world experts hearing them talk about their own topics, not being filtered through the perspective of a lecturer who may only have heard the concepts second or third hand.

2.     Coursea courses – these are online courses, mainly videos and assessments from great universities around the world. I am currently doing one on positive psychology from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill but they have hundreds – lots of business development ones but also lots for sport, computer science, personal development, languages, creative writing, science or finance. You can pay a little bit to have your assignments marked and receive a certificate or, if like me you just want the knowledge, you just do the homework and listen to the talks and it does not cost you anything.

3.     Webinars – these go deeper than YouTube clips because they will also offer opportunities for questions at the end. Professional bodies seem to be great at these for so I’ve been watching some from BASES (British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences) as they can be watched live but are also recorded so you can watch older ones too. I found some really interesting sport psychology ones which are often designed for those coming from the general sport rather than psychology perspective so can be more accessible.

4.     Podcasts – these are great as they are so portable and cheap to produce so there are lots out there. For sport most include interviews with athletes so you can learn direct from the athlete themselves about their training, their mindset, their nutrition or the mental skills they use. They can also squeeze into whatever free time you have so you can listen while at the gym or driving.

There are some specific benefits of using YouTube or Coursea as they incorporate film. PhD research in 2012 found people retained much more information when film was incorporated into training courses then when they just received presentations and powerpoint slides. It was thought this was because films impact our cognitive, emotional and social dimensions which help us to better encode the information.

Using these channels does risk us missing out on the networking benefits of face to face seminars, workshops or conferences and we can get some confirmation bias by only watching what we already believe, but they can open up knowledge we’d miss otherwise and for the time crunched learner they can all be a really valuable addition.  

Would love to hear of any other channels you’ve found – or great podcasts, webinars or youtube channels to follow.

10 tips to stop drowning in email

computerWhile email is considered quaint and old-fashioned for anyone under 21, for those working in offices it can still be far too prevalent.

How many email addresses do you have? Am guessing a work one, a personal one, one for the club on which you sit on the committee, an old Hotmail one you no longer remember the password for, and perhaps one from uni or college. How many times a day do you check your email? And how long afterwards does it take you to get back into whatever you were doing before? It’ll bet the answers are (1) too many (2) too often and (3) too long!

With each of us getting on average 121 emails a day it is really difficult to stay on top of them and not feel like you are drowning. As these emails arrive in dribs and drabs we can find ourselves with a Pavlov Dog type response, checking and replying, despite actually needing to be focused on something else. Our brains love the idea of ticking things off as achieved, so we tackle the easy things to do first, often ignoring the bigger more time consuming projects we are working on. We end up doing lots of small, insignificant things like reading and quickly answering an email, and the big important things get done poorly or rushed, rarely receiving the full focus they require.

So – some tips for staying focused and managing your emails much more inbox-picturesuccessfully.

  1. In the title of your outgoing emails write what someone will need to do with it. Is it for action, just for information or to sign something off? This directs them actually do what you need them to do and hopefully means people start to do the same for you – saving you time and focus.
  2. Unsubscribe to as much as you can. Googlemail even has an unsubscribe button now to use when it detects an email is coming from a newsletter database. If you don’t have this button then try unroll.me or spend one week each month unsubscribing to everything that comes through that you don’t want. It saves you lots of time in the long run.
  3. If you do want some newsletters or offers then set up a filter so they go to a separate folder which you can read during dead time like train journeys.
  4. Turn off your email alerts. Having a little message pop up in the corner of your screen every few minutes is really distracting.
  5. Set up a really good filing system so you know you can always find what you need – so you feel safe filing it and not leaving it in your inbox ‘just in case.’ Things in your inbox should be things you actually still need to action in some way.
  6. Create a separate email address for websites or apps which insist on you signing up before being allowed to read them. I’m sure that is why Hotmail is still going!
  7. Some of us work much better if we work early or late. Those who are larks may like to get on top of their work early, owls may be online catching up late at night. This can put pressure on others to respond which, if you are in a management or leadership role can be unfair. Outlook has the option of sending emails later (so they don’t send till work hours) and if you have Googlemail there is a great tool called Boomeranggmail.com which does the same.
  8. Most emails are now checked on a phone or blackberry so keep them short, succinct and clear about what you need. If someone is likely to get Repetitive Strain Injury (or Blackberry Thumb as I’ve also heard it called) scrolling through reams of text, then your message is likely to get ignored or deleted.
  9. Go through your sent emails every few weeks to file or delete things that have been sorted and see what you are still waiting for.
  10. If you have given a sigh of relief when you’ve emptied your inbox only to groan when 3 hours later it is full because everyone has replied) then send fewer emails yourself. Pick up the phone, use online messaging or head over to someone’s desk.