What I've learnt from reflecting on learning

Updated: Jul 8

apple on three books and ABC blocks on a school desk

It seems appropriate in September to think about learning. Children are going back to school, students back to college and September is usually one of my busiest months for running career development events. Recent conversations on social media have been about the skills that friends and colleagues learnt through the lockdown - be it sourdough making, learning Italian or candle making. How many of them continue with their passion post lockdown is another matter (In a fit of enthusiasm for my rediscovered basic sewing skills I bought a zipped pouch sewing kit in June and am still less than halfway through!)

When I started my training career, I was taught well known but simplistic models of how people learn - 70:20:10, Honey and Mumford learning styles and Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory. All of which have their place and make for fun “personality” questionnaires if you like that kind of thing. But in the knowledge economy of 2020, where skills can be out of date in 10 years and where the digital age has laid so much learning potential at our fingertips, how we do our learning and what we learn becomes increasingly important.

With a return to the “new normal” our routines will be changing. For some that will mean less time on their hands, for others more. Either way - what can we do to ensure we are learning the right things in an effective method?

When I think about the things I have learned over the past few years, the following four areas have made the most difference:

slide on most beneficial learning experiences

Things that have made my life easier and run more smoothly

As a busy working mum of two and charity trustee, this is important! In this category, I would put things like useful apps, time-saving tips plus also things like who to speak to at school to get things done. Invariably these have come from reading magazine articles and speaking to friends and other parents. This “microlearning” consists of unexpected small bits of knowledge that can make a lot of difference to the day to day. Sometimes they need a bit of time investment (getting to grips with a new app), but generally, they occur naturally and are fun to discover.

New skills that I can use in my existing role or help me move to my next role

If the last example was microlearning then this is often the macro learning. It’s what formal learning programmes and qualifications were designed for. The cost and time investment of these can be a barrier but it’s also about getting incrementally better at a skill we already have through more informal learning. In my last year of corporate life I improved my “closing the deal” skills through watching senior partners with their clients, and went on a one-day advanced negotiating skills course, that involved role-plays with potential clients (uncomfortable but oh so useful!). Observing others, putting things into practice and getting feedback is just as necessary as the formal course content - any well-designed training programme should include these but you can also create the experience for yourself in your day to day work life.

Who I am and my strengths and values

I wrote about this in an earlier LinkedIn post. Knowing who I am and what is important to me has been invaluable. I came to this kind of learning later on in my career and I wish it is something I had done earlier. Most of this learning has been done in quiet periods of reflection, using a variety of resources such as my own thoughts, feedback from others, and specific questions and exercises. Keeping a journal is also helpful. However, I’ve also been grateful for coaches and mentors who have challenged me and asked me the questions that have given me the most insight over time. The final piece of this jigsaw is to then be comfortable with you who are, particularly if it differs from the perceived idea of a high flyer or leader in your organisation.

A new perspective on something - whether a historical event or current topics of interest.

For me, this has generally come through reading a variety of material and through talking to other people. It’s a little different from the other learning I do in that I’m not sure whether there is a direct benefit to my life, but I find it interesting, get a lot of enjoyment from it and I think it makes me a little bit more open as a person. It certainly leads to some great conversation starters when meeting new people. For this kind of learning to be effective, it’s important to get as wide a range of views as possible and not just listen to “people like me”. This is getting increasingly difficult as our social media feeds are curated to what we have read in the past. I always make a point of reading a post that provokes a strong negative reaction in me, just to see what the writer has to say and try to see their point of view. Asking respectful questions to find out more about why they have that view can extract even more learning for me.

I don’t realise at the time that these are in fact learning experiences. Keeping a learning journal or log is a beneficial way to capture my new insights and knowledge - but do make sure you look back at it now and then to encourage yourself to keep learning and use what you have discovered.

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