Conquer the 5 big challenges that make it hard to stick with learning

What’s on your 2017 learning agenda?

Guest blogger Caroline Walthall from Udemy’s content quality team shares advice for staying motivated to learn in 2017! 

Before you begin chipping away at your 2017 learning goals, think back on how you learned in 2016 and ask yourself: how can I improve my follow-through?

Learning on your own can be deeply empowering, but it can also be quite challenging. Even if you have the best of intentions, there are always times when life gets in the way. Maybe you wanted to pick up conversational Spanish last year or brush up on CSS for a personal web project. If you’re a busy person (heck, if you’re any person), chances are some of those goals faded away.

As you look back, can you pinpoint why you stopped learning?

We’ve identified five common barriers to learning effectively on your own, and you’ll probably recognize yourself in some of them. But help is here—we’ve also compiled tips for overcoming these challenges so you can power up your learning success in 2017.


  • Schedule time on your calendar for learning at regular intervals. This will be different for everyone. Some find it helpful to learn a little every day while others prefer to schedule larger blocks of time once or twice a week. Be realistic about your schedule and your energy level, and try to choose times when you will feel fresh and motivated.
  • Post a physical reminder to yourself somewhere in your daily environment. This could be a stickie note on your monitor, on the front of a notebook, or on your desktop. It should be a visual cue that reminds you of your commitment to learning.

Poor time management

  • Set milestones and goals for how much you want to achieve in a learning session and, for example, over the course of a month. It might take some trial and error to get this right, as you get a better grasp on how long various learning activities will take to complete. Add these milestones to your calendar to keep yourself accountable.
  • Commit to distraction-free learning for a short time, say 20-25 minutes, so you can get into a flow state. Consider using a timer or follow the Pomodoro Technique to help you get going.

Not being in the mood

  • Reconnect to your deeper reason for learning. You can ask yourself questions such as: Why did I want to learn this in the first place? How can I make use of this in my life? Whom could it help? If I learn this, what else could I accomplish?
  • Reward yourself for completing a learning session. Maybe you let yourself watch your favorite TV show when you’re done or have a congratulatory treat or glass of vino. Those who celebrate small victories build habits!
  • Set up a learning environment with everything you need ready and organized so you can quickly jump back into learning. Bookmark your place, keep your notebook out, and have a folder with the course name on your desktop or in the cloud.
  • Make a soft start, like watching a quick snippet of something in the same topic area that awakens your curiosity. Then, when you’re ready, switch gears and get to work!

Juggling too many interests

  • Make a list of all the things you’re interested in and prioritize. You can rate each learning item by how much impact it will have, how motivated you are to learn it, and how urgent it is.
  • Pay close attention to the moments when you feel compelled to switch and learn something else. Reflect to see if you can pinpoint the triggers that make you lose focus—Is it when you’re bored? Is it when the material gets too detailed? Or when it gets too hard? Is it when a new concept is introduced? Understanding your mental process at these times can reveal a lot about what additional support you may need and what resolve you’ll have to build up. It could also be that you need to adjust your goals.

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Not staying accountable to your goal

  • Make sure your learning goals really matter to you and that you frame them powerfully. What do you stand to lose if you don’t meet your objectives?
  • Visualize your progress by making a plan with items you can check off to feel that sense of accomplishment and forward progress.
  • Partner up with a learning buddy and meet monthly to check in on your learning progress. Give each other encouragement and understanding while also holding each other accountable to your commitments. Celebrate your milestones together too.
  • Go public with your commitment. You could tell your boss, announce it on social media, or inform your partner what your learning goals are and your timeline for reaching them. Let them know why this is important to you and how they can check in to help you stay motivated.

Which of these issues presents the biggest challenge for you? You’ll need to prioritize, be honest about your life load, and think about the organizational solutions that will work to make it happen for you. We think you’ll find that awareness coupled with smart solutions can set you up to win in 2017!