Published in May/June 2019
The first rule of modern learner-centric experiences is that learners must be accountable for their personal learning journey. How can learners create and follow an effective plan to get the most out of their learning experiences? There are four key tactics to becoming an effective, accountable learner.
- Embrace the Paradigm Shift for Personal Learning
Those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn in the face of increasing disruption will quickly lose ground to those who can. Employees who can evolve and adapt in the workplace increase value for their organization. Learners now need to know how to access all that is available to them, understand their evolving jobs, and identify the requisite knowledge and skills to do new jobs. This is not an individualized activity. Learners need to understand the role of collaboration in their own learning and know how to establish a learning network to maximize their success.
Learning and development organizations have been changing for years, but the changes that have already occurred are transforming how learners can and will learn in the future.
It’s an exciting time; learners have both the access and agency necessary to control their learning experiences. They just need to hold themselves accountable to ensure that access and agency do not go to waste.
2. Adopt Fundamental Behaviors for Success
Let’s examine the five fundamental behaviors instrumental to a digital learner’s success:
- Take Action: Don’t wait to be directed; take initiative. As a digital learner, look for trends in your work and start identifying the skills and knowledge you need to succeed. With all the disruption in work and personal life, committing to continuous learning is critical.
- Build Your Network: Some of the best content isn’t available within your immediate circle of peers or on your internal search site. Find others who can guide you and thought leaders you can follow. A strong network is critical to finding answers and insights when applying a new skill, as well as in situations where something has changed or something goes wrong.
- Join the Right Communities: There are communities of practitioners doing what you do, facing the same challenges and overcoming them in different ways. The sooner you join and become a contributing member of such a community, the better prepared you will be when responding to change.
- Share Your Expertise: When it comes to your network and communities, it’s a two-sided relationship. You have a lot to learn and a lot to share, and doing one makes doing the other easier. Providing valuable contributions builds your peers’ confidence in you, which in turn builds your network.
- Be Curious: Don’t become complacent because you think you know enough about a topic or area related to your job. The world and your field change every day. To stay competitive, scan for new trends and developments on the horizon so you can plan and respond accordingly.
3. Take Ownership of Your Learning Needs
When you think about what you need to learn and when, recognize that not all learning needs are met in the same way. In their Five Moments of Learning Need model, Conrad Gottfredson and Bob Mosher identify distinct moments when learners need information or instruction:
- Learn or do something for the first time.
- Learn or do more of something.
- Apply and refine.
- Adjust to change.
- React when something fails or goes wrong.
Most of us are comfortable with finding solutions for the first or second moments of need. We look in the normal places for a course or an instructional piece to introduce us to a concept. However, when we need support when first applying a new skill or when something goes wrong, we often need different resources, and the typical places we look aren’t always the best.
For example, when taking on a woodworking project, like building a table, you might start with a simple blueprint and a YouTube video that provides an overview of the process. You learn the concepts from these sources and then have to apply them to the task at hand. During the process, you find you’re having difficulty cutting the table legs to the same length, so you return to YouTube and find there’s no video for fixing short legs. You then turn to a woodworking blog or community, and search for tips to ensure equal leg lengths. Here you find a video for creating a tabletop saw sled, which will solve your problem.
This example highlights the need for a range of learning resources that provides learners with solutions. Developing a range of resources requires a learning network, and learners need to think strategically about their networks. These networks need to include support for innovation and skills mastery, and it’s up to you as the learner to build your network.
4. Create a Dynamic, Self-Directed Learning Plan
Although there is no secret recipe for creating a dynamic, self-directed learning plan, the following are tips for creating an effective, personal learning plan:
- Think about your learning goal. Compare how you’d create your professional learning experience to how you would use digital resources to pursue a personal passion. Undertake all learning the same way you’d undertake something that matters deeply to you.
- Begin with the end in mind. Identify your learning journey. What will it take to learn, then master? What knowledge do you already have? Assess what needs to happen along the way, from individual learning to application to learning from others’ successes and failures. Consider how the learning content is delivered (i.e., courses, videos, blogs, forums, podcasts).
- Assess your own capability. Are there specific traits or behavior patterns that may make you less likely to make a bold, dramatic move? You may struggle if actions such as reaching out to a subject matter expert, connecting to a community new to you or searching the digital field for those with skills you want to attain make you nervous. Be aware of these potential stumbling blocks. Tools like StrengthsFinder, DiSC and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator can provide insights into your personal patterns.
- Leverage your internal and external networks. Think about contacts inside and outside of work, those you know and those you want to know, and then connect. LinkedIn and Twitter are excellent resources. Find communities of practice by reading and following blogs and connecting with contributors. Find out what these folks are reading and consider adding those books and articles to your own reading list. Follow people on social media, participate in Yam Jams, TwitterJams, and LinkedIn and Facebook groups. They’re out there. Go find them.
- Explore the full span of resources. Explore curated sources of reliable content to achieve your learning goals. Many learning platforms like LinkedIn Learning and Udemy offer incredible courses covering a variety of subject matters. Consider using a productivity app to help you manage when and what you’re working on, so you can schedule your own learning plan. Managing the analog and digital self-directed learning that happens outside of a traditional platform is an important part of planning and completing the journey. It’s important enough that many learning companies are developing mobile productivity apps of their own.
- Opt in to new learning experiences. Get comfortable in unfamiliar learning environments. These new experiences aren’t generally person-to-person anymore, as many bodies of knowledge incorporate various new technologies like chatbots to help you search more effectively. Try them.
Gone are the days of traditional career paths and linear progression. As learners gain knowledge across digital platforms and learn using less linear pathways, they need to be held accountable for how they learn in the modern work environment. The onus is now on learners, and they must play a central role in their own learning and development. By using the tactics laid out in this article, learners can develop their own dynamic learning plans that guide them through the changing L&D landscape and create modern learning experiences that keep them competitive.
In the end, it’s all up to you as the learner. Are you ready to embrace the new paradigms, adopt the five fundamental behaviors, take ownership of your learning needs and create your own personalized learning plan? If so, you’ll be well on your way to becoming an effective learner in the digital age.