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Continuous Learning: Are You a Learn-it-All?

Bob Little 

January 26, 2018

Many L&D professionals will tell you that one of the key aspects of career success is “continuous learning.” But, why is this important? What does it really mean? And, how do we achieve it?

The University of Guelph in Ontario defines it as: “…expanding your ability to learn by regularly upgrading your skills and increasing your knowledge.” It goes on to explain that, “Strong continuous learning skills are required to successfully adapt to changing work and life demands. Continuous learning in the workplace involves viewing your experiences as potential learning, and re-examining assumptions, values, methods, policies, and practices.”

What’s All the Fuss About Continuous Learning?

So, what’s all this “hoo-ha” over continuous learning about? After all, historically, we’ve relied on formal courses and education.

Well, according to Stephen Walsh, co-founder of Anders Pink, the fast-paced age of information and technology in which we now live means that continuous learning is essential, if we are to survive and thrive in the future: “It doesn’t matter what you learned – or the courses you took – years ago. All these things become less relevant over time.”

He adds, “Relying on formal learning is insufficient because every course is fixed at a point in time. Even the best ones are, really, out-of-date as soon as they’re delivered.”

“Perhaps shockingly, all our skills have a shelf-life. If we’re not constantly learning, our knowledge and skills decline over time.

“Indeed, without a commitment to continuous learning, it’s possible to go to sleep and wake up knowing less than you did when you went to bed!

“You must stay on top of what’s happening – especially if you’re worried about the growing application of artificial intelligence, and robots taking over your job.” But, he adds, “Thankfully, humans can learn better than machines do.”

How to Become a Learn-it-All

Sometimes, you may feel as though you’re forever playing catch up with your learning. As soon as you learn something new, that knowledge gets replaced with even newer trends, research and thinking. So, how do we stay on top of it all?

Walsh suggests that we need to become “learn-it-alls” rather than “know-it-alls.” (After all, no one likes a “know-it-all.”)

But, he warns, “You can’t do this for every subject.” Some, such as finance or science, will still require formal education and learning. So instead, he recommends that “…you should be a continual learner in all the subjects that interest you.”

The first step in achieving this is to take responsibility for your own learning. You can do this in a number of ways. For instance:

  • Challenge assumptions by asking more questions.
  • Ask for feedback or advice from more experienced co-workers.
  • Learn by observing more experienced colleagues or practitioners.
  • Use relevant online learning materials or resources.
  • Apply lessons that you’ve learned from past experiences to new situations.
  • Be creative by trying new ways to solve problems.
  • Maintain and develop your skills by applying them to real-life situations.

Social Learning

Social media can also help us here. Most of us use social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn nowadays. But, we can use these sites for more than just our daily news fix, or for catching up with friends.

Its ease of use, global reach, and “always on” status, means that it is an excellent place to stay ahead of the latest trends, knowledge and insight. For example, by following people or businesses that inspire you. Or signing up to a work-related group or company news feed that can deliver new knowledge on your industry or career.

 Moving Away From Formal Learning

The move toward continuous learning also marks a counter move away from formal learning.

According to Towards Maturity’s ‘2016-2017 Learning Benchmark Report,’ 60 percent of people believed that they learned more from external sources than formal courses, and 91 percent like being able to learn at their own pace.

“Moreover, IDC figures show that knowledge workers spend, on average, 9.5 hours a week looking for data,” reveals Walsh. “Some 25 percent say they can’t find what they’re looking for – but, to combat this issue, only 14 percent of organizations have a curation strategy in place.

“So, there’s a mismatch between what learners want and what they can get.”

This has implications for L&D professionals. How can they ensure that this demand for regular, new and engaging learning content is being met?

Heroes of Curation

One way is to become an expert curator. That is, pulling together learning content that is relevant to the company’s goals and its people’s career goals.

As Walsh explains, “…L&D professionals should be the heroes of curation – giving learners what they want and need,” Walsh adds.

“Formal courses can’t keep pace with the change going on today – and curating learning content is easier and quicker than creating course content from scratch…

“Furthermore, by curating content you’re ‘adding to the awesome’ by adding value – and showing that you’re being responsive to people’s learning needs.

“You’re also creating a lasting, dynamic resource and, thereby, supporting continuous learning – as well as helping learners and their organizations to be, or remain, competitive.

“Then you’re adding value to existing platforms and content – and developing yourself into the bargain,” he says.

The Secrets of Successful Curation

According to Walsh, there are two key ingredients to successful curation:

1. Understand your audience. Who’re you curating content for, and why? Which sources do they trust and distrust? What subjects are they interested in? How and when do they want to access content?

2. Use Harold Jarche’s Seek Sense Share Model. This involves finding content (“Seek”), adding context and personality to what you’ve found (“Sense”), and finding and serving your audience (“Share”).

Beware of Filter Failure and Fake News

Luckily for curators, we live in the age of information. Want to learn more about the top ten most valuable skills businesses will be looking for in 2018? Hello, Internet! What about the latest thinking on creative problem solving processes? Just Google it!

If you do, you’re certain to get heaps upon heaps of online articles and reviews, ranging from the helpful and interesting, to the wacky, weird and just plain wrong!

“The curator’s problem is the volume of extant content,” Walsh points out. “It’s estimated that the internet’s content will increase by 500 percent from now until 2022. Moreover, you can’t curate content purely by surfing the internet!

So how can L&D professionals ensure that they find and curate only quality content? How can they avoid what Walsh calls “filter failure?”

“It’s important to be diverse about the content sources you use – and, especially, to reduce or, hopefully, eradicate the effects of ‘fake news’,” says Walsh. “Fake news can proliferate if you only look at sources, and for topics, that you already know and like.”

Walsh argues that, “Algorithms can help filter content but only humans can curate.

“So, it’s important for curators to add a commentary to the content,” he says. “For each piece of content, curators need to explain such things as, ‘what do I learn from this?’, ‘what can it help?’, ‘why is this important – and to whom?’

“The curator must make a connection, build a narrative and provoke a response.

The next issue for the curator is where this content should  be shared.

“The answer is on whichever platform where your audience will make the best use of it,” responds Walsh. “Then, as a curator, you must find the most appropriate rhythm to release this information. For example, should it be so many times a day, or a week, and so on?”

 

Are you a “learn-it-all”? How do you stay on top of continuous learning in your organization? And, how do you ensure that the content you look at and curate is of real value? Share your tips in the Comments section below…

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