Taking Time to Learn with Alex Salas

Alex Salas, eLearning expert, talks about taking time for learning new skills, and how we can put that into practice.

Taking Time to Learn with Alex Salas

Alexander Salas an award-winning learning experience designer, eLearning expert and Chief of Awesomeness at eLearning Launch.

As an expert in the integration of instructional science with popular authoring tools, Alex has been a designer of learning programs for Fortune 100 companies such as Centene Corporation, Philips and Dell Technologies.

There’s no one better to talk about taking more time for learning new skills, and how we can put that into practice in our daily lives.

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

What key skills are missing in today’s learning development?

As time marches on and new technologies are developed, our fields expand and there are always new things to learn. But Alex explained that the same problems are always there.

It’s not just about learning creative skills.

“A lot of people have to develop creativity and then learn ways to actually express that creativity. That’s the challenge today … learning to express ideas through visuals takes work.”

Learning the skills to express that creativity with a good sense of quality.

“Otherwise we’re left with a lot of Clip Art. We go back to the bad PowerPoint, the bullet points and the Clip Art.”

How does someone start to gain those creative skills?

“Good artists copy, great artists steal” is a quote that’s been attributed to Picasso over the years, and quoted a lot by Steve Jobs. Alex believes it’s the best place to start.

“The first thing you have to do is to imitate something you see that is awesome.” When you see a great video, it’s natural to want to imitate what it does. That leads you to questions about how the video was made, and how you can replicate the process.

To imitate something awesome that you’ve seen, you’ll have to start gaining new skills. Soon enough you’ll find new applications for those skills in completely original areas.

“The neuroscience backs that up.” Alex explained to us the interesting research into the effect of learning on the brain. “The dopamine rush we get from learning is actually from the pursuit of the goal, not the achievement of the goal. So you get a better dopamine hit when you’re always trying to learn new skills.”

How do you make sure you’re taking the time to learn new skills?

“Learn to embrace the suck,” is Alex’s blunt-yet-poetic advice.

Learning can be something that you know is going to be hard and take time, so you put it off and put it off. When you finally do get started, a lot of people give up immediately. They’re not good at it immediately, it feels too difficult, so they give up.

“The more you do that, the more you train your brain to give up. Your brain starts to learn that when we try something that’s difficult, we give up and then the difficult thing stops.”

You have to become persistent with your learning. That’s something Alex learned from his time in the Navy. “We had scheduled time, at least four hours Thursday morning where everyone stopped what they were doing and got down to business.”

“From that practice, you’ll always find me Saturday morning tinkering on something new. Most people are sleeping and learning something new.”

That hustle mentality is something you hear a lot of in the tech space, but the same applies to learning new skills. To get something done you have to want it, and you have to hustle for it.

“If you’re gonna be the person who just goes to work and expects that everything you’re gonna learn, you’re gonna learn at work then you’ve got problems. Because when things like COVID happens, you suddenly need to catch up.”

What are the barriers to learning new skills?

Alex firmly believes that inaction is the biggest barrier to learning, and he’s passionate about skills being applied to create and build something.. “You have to act, you have to do something.” 

But Alex warns that learning is incremental, and that anyone thinking they’re going to sit and read or watch something for three hours is setting themselves up for failure.

“You don’t learn anything in the beginning … you think you learn at training or classes but you’re not learning anything there, all you’re doing is recording … you’re learning when you sleep. You strengthen those synapses when you sleep.”

That’s why it’s important to give yourself time to reflect. To being with you’re just taking things in, you’re just processing it. You need the time to reflect in order for your brain to retain the new information.

Motivation is also a key factor in learning. “If you’re not engaged then you’re not focused and you can’t learn.” If you’re thinking about learning something new, whether it’s software development, how to use a new platform, how to make videos, motivation has to be there or you simply won’t learn.

If you’re not motivated then you’ll have doubting thoughts. Why am I learning this? Why am I putting in this much work? What am I gaining from this. Alex says that your have to get out of your head and start engaging with the material. “You can’t think like that. You have to think “this is relevant to me” and then act. Start reading or talking to people or whatever works for you.”

Taking Time to Learn with Alex Salas

Where do you go for learning resources?

“I still encounter people who want to learn, but don’t search … they’re waiting for the information to come to them.” Alex told us that in this day and age, there are so many resources out there for you to search through and find what you need, there really is no excuse.

“YouTube is awesome. One of the best things that happened for learning.” But Alex warns that one of the critical skills needed by anyone who is learning i s the ability to research properly. How to search through available resources and identify the ones that are good quality

If you want to learn about home improvement, there are thousands of videos available to you on YouTube. But you have to be able to search through them efficiently, in order to find the right video that fits your particular situation.

Be cautious about where you get your resources from.

“You have to be careful where you go, because you can get wrong information. And then you’ll have a problem, because you’ve learnt the wrong information and you’ve gone off in the wrong direction.”

We all know that appearing at the top of a Google search is no mark of value or quality. Content can be optimised to appear ahead of all other content. It doesn’t mean that content is necessarily the best, it just means it has the best SEO and hit all the right keywords.

“I follow Google Scholar, instead of doing a Google search. Because with Google you get you anybody and their mother. Somebody writes a blog with no credentials, and it can still make it to the top page of results. Go to google scholar and you’re going to get academic papers.”

Organizational teaching – how to teach someone who’s learning for their job

We know that motivation plays a crucial role in learning. But so much training is done because organisations require their staff to complete certain courses. How do you go about teaching people who are only learning because their company told them to?

Alex believes Robert Gagné laid it out best in his “Conditions Of Learning”

  • Grab their attention
  • Make them understand the relevance
  • Emphasise the aesthetics

“I’ve got to grab your attention to begin with, then I have to make you understand the importance of what it is you’re going to face.”

Whilst the course might be mandated by an organisation, it still holds a lot of value for everyone taking it. You need to communicate that value to them.

“The problem is, we hardly ever see anything communicating the value of what is being taught,” Alex explained. “Usually the academic structure of a learning course involves learning objectives which are poorly crafted and designed, and then ten bullet points that don’t really say anything or mean anything.”

Academic courses are built around tasks like passing an exam. That solves an academic problem, but it doesn’t solve a business problem. “Exams only address the cognitive pieces. You were able to remember something, but that doesn’t mean you’re able to use it, care about it, or consider it to be part of your life.”

So it’s vital that you communicate the value of the course to the individual, and make them understand the relevance of the learning.

Another vital aspect is having good aesthetics. Your design has to be good, it has to be visually appealing. If you have something that is relevant but looks poorly designed and  cheap, people are going to discount your teaching right away. 

As Alex puts it, “That’s why Netflix doesn’t look like Craigslist.”

Using the right tools

Alex has created eLearning Launch, an online academy for digital learning designers. Offering self-pace courses that allow students to engage in practical learning and build a digital portfolio for the potential employers.

e-Learning Launch looks to close that gap between academia and the business world. Alex explained to us that the self-pace courses feature one-on-one feedback with the instructors, and the important application of skills. “People get to build something, it’s not just all theory and talk. They get to be creative and learn through making things.”

A key part of e-Learning Launch is instructing the students on Camtasia.

“I find Camtasia to be that in-between step to some of the big, complex, very complicated tools, and some of the tools that are super basic.”

Whilst students might want to immediately learn how to do all the big, sexy things in video design, it’s important for them to earn the vocabulary and structure of video. E-Learning Launch teaches them how to build those blocks first, so they can move on to bigger steps.

“I call Camtasia the Swiss Army Knife for e-learning, it has all these applications. I use it every day to do e-learning, because I incorporate video all the time.”

Taking Time to Learn with Alex Salas

3 tips for taking time for learning new skills

“All of us are running around with a 3.5 lb computer. Some of us are running a Commodore 64 and some of us are running a PS5. That depends a lot on what you’re doing with your life.”

Alex told us about some insightful research on how oxygenation to the brain affects your brain’s capacity. So working out, getting sunlight, oxygenating the body, these things all play an element in learning. It’s important to give your brain the best chance you’ve got.

There’s a formula that can be applied when wanting to achieve anything in life. Whether it’s losing weight, working out or learning a news skill; exposure + frequency x interest / time

You have to create exposure to the thing that you want to learn, and you have to expose yourself in action to that material, not just just in theory. “If you buy a book you have to read it. Buying the book alone doesn’t help you.”

Then have to be able to reflect on what you’ve learned. Alex has already explained that learning takes place while you’re sleeping, or while you’re reflecting on what you’ve “recorded”. The key to this is to space out the learning session. Give yourself time between sessions to reflect.

Finally, Alex recommends putting the theory into practice. “You have to be creating something as part of the learning.” Apply the skills with creativity and see if they hold up, see if you have a grasp of them. If you don’t, then reflect on what went wrong and take your questions to the next learning session. Find out what went wrong and why.

Take some time to learn and level-up your abilities with the TechSmith Academy

For more expert advice and tips visit TechSmith Academy on YouTube or listen to the Podcast.

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

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