When friends in career development consulting interviewed me in LinkedIn Live event last year, they asked me how to use learning as career fuel.
If you are a proactive learner, you deserve praise for that, and my guess is your efforts bring you many benefits in your career and life.
If you are what is known as a “passive learner,” someone who lacks a clear learning plan, who waits for HR to arrange a training before they will take learning seriously, who seldom takes in new information through books or courses, etc., as a person who cares I ask: What are you waiting for?
Being passive about learning and expecting your career to progress healthily is a lot like not exercising and hoping to get physically stronger. It simply will not happen. You will fail to fully develop your talents and you will have difficulty advancing your career.
If you are among those who choose to invest in your learning and development, the field of adult education has some valuable suggestions on how to optimize your efforts that I have summarized as four tactics.
Tactic #1 Learn in Context
We learn best if we can contextualize the learning. What problems do you want to solve? What would you like to get better at? What is missing in your knowledge or skill set that you rely on to do your work? These are good questions to start from and then, as you learn, try to think about how what you are learning relates to your experience, your current environment and challenges.
Tactic #2 Discuss what You Learn with Others
Humans do not learn well in isolation. We are social learners. That means we need to interact with others in order to optimize our efforts. I love to sit in my office, classical music on in the background, and read or work through an online course. This is useful, but I learn much better if I can discuss what I’ve learned alone with smart, curious friends who are interested in the topic, or if I can integrate what I’m learning into a conversation in a meaningful way.
Tactic #3 Apply a Little Pressure
We learn best when we feel safe AND there is pressure. Not low pressure. Not high pressure. Moderate pressure. People learn job skills effectively when they have to do so on a deadline, but most people are unable to fully focus if they have too much time. They are also not able to learn effectively if they are under too much time pressure. The same thing applies to complex learning challenges, such as learning to be a good leader. If you have no pressure, you won’t learn much. If you have huge pressure, you will learn ineffectively because you won’t have time to reflect or practice. Moderate pressure and a general sense of safety are key.
Tactic #4 Learn from Caring, Professional People
Did you have a good math teacher in high school? I’m guessing that teacher made learning algebra, geometry, or calculus much more interesting for you. If you had a bad math teacher, I’m guessing it made you dislike math. That’s because we learn best when we feel a connection with the person who facilitates our learning. We can learn from people with annoying or abrasive styles, but not as much as we learn from people who inspire us and care for us. Choose your teachers, trainers, writers, and mentors wisely and if they don’t resonate with you, switch.
The research in this field is vast. If you are interested in learning more about adult education, especially in an organizational context, let me know and I’ll send you some additional resources.
Yours in learning,
True Talk #15 How to Optimize Your Learning (ENG)