Reflections on #lrnchat: Self-Learning

Each week that I am able to participate in #lrnchat discussion I post a summary of the discussion to my blog. I do this both for my personal development as well as sharing with the Learning and Development Profession at large. This summary is based on my own interpretations of the chat; others who participated may have differing opinions or interpretations of the discussion. I welcome those that do to add your ideas to the comments.

The topic of this week’s #lrnchat session was “Self-Learning”. 

I always find looking at the questions that are used to loosely guide the chat as a nice way to see the overall theme of the chat. Here are the discussion questions that were presented to the group:

Q1) How to do you prefer to learn at work, and why?
Q2) What gaps do you have in how you learn?
Q3) What “learning to learn” tricks can you share?
Q4) How does your organization encourage self-learning (or not)?
Q5) How could your organization encourage self-learning?

Key Learning Points

This week’s #lrnchat discussion focused on self-learning. This discussion enabled us to explore two major components of self learning: What work and what challenges we may have personally with our learning, and what success and failures organizations have in the way the encourage self-learning.

The discussion started with an examination of how we prefer to learn, and more importantly, why we prefer it.  There were a number of common themes shared by the group, including:
·         Using all resources to pull learning as needed
·         Sharing ideas and concepts
·         Learning by actually doing
·         Learning by making mistakes
It seems that there was a common theme to many responses, in that the best learning at work is integrated with the work.  It echoes a simple but true quote from Harold Jarche – “Work is Learning, Learning work”.  As the examples from the group show, learning is often best when it is part of the framework of the work.
Also interesting, as Jay Cross pointed out during the chat, was what was missing from the responses.  Despite how common their usage is in workplace learning, no one was mentioning workshops, courses, or other traditional ‘push’ methods of learning.  We don’t prefer to learn that way, yet very often, it’s the default for how many organizations offer learning opportunities.
For me, how I prefer to learn varies greatly based on what I need to learn.  For example, if I need to learn about the needs of an audience, I prefer to learn by living their experience as much as I can, preferably by shadowing or working their role for a shift.  However, if I’m doing research on something, the last place I want to be is the workplace.  I’d prefer to be someplace completely isolated from the distractions of my office, usually the local Starbucks.
The discussion then moved towards what gaps we have in the way we learn.  The number one answer?
(Sorry, but as I write these reflection pieces each week, I use phrases like “The most popular answer was” often.  Each time I do, I have this vision of Richard Dawson shouting it out, and well, it’s starting to creep me out.  I’m hoping getting the image out of my head and onto the blog will help.)
There were a number of different perspectives to the ‘time’ response. In some cases it was not having the time to learn what we need to learn. In other cases time was represented in the quantity of books we accumulate as compared to the number of books we can read in the same timeframe.  When it comes to learning, there seemed to be consensus that there isn’t enough time to learn all we want to learn.
That leads me to the second common theme in the responses: Focus.  Focus also represented itself in different ways.  In some cases it was remaining focused on the learning at hand.  In other cases it was simply not allowing yourself to be distracted while you are trying to focus on learning.
For me, focus is a big gap, and I associate priorities as part of it.  Very often, I find myself conflicted between what I NEED to be learning about and what I might WANT to be learning about.  In addition, the SOS issue I described last week (Shiny Object Syndrome) is also a gap.  I don’t know where it originated, but the joke that often creeps into the tweet stream exists in my learning…
“I’m really enjoying reading about this topic. It’s so interesting and engaging and… Oh, look! SQUIRREL!”
From there the discussion moved on to sharing ‘learning to learn’ tips.  These types of direct sharing opportunities are some of my most valued #lrnchat moments. Here are some of the ideas that were shared:

  • Filter, Focus, filter some more (via @britz)
  • Learn how to find stuff out, nolt learn stuff. (via @C4LPT)
  • Start a Blog and write specifically about what you are learning… (via @dtssmithers)
  • Look outside your comfort zone, tolerate “some” contrarianism, look for lateral inputs
  • Have a destination.  Have a goal you’re aspiring to.  Everything falls in place if you can orient yourself (via mrch0mp3rs)
  • Learn the vocabulary of your discipline. Then use it to search… everything for answers (via gminks)
  • Draw a picture of what you are trying to learn (via weisblatt)
  • Identify the “exemplary performaers” watch them, listen to them, take them to lunch, tweet them, etc. (via @kelly_smith01)
  • Don’t be afraid to ask (via tmiket)
  • Expect Failure. Expect to fail.  Keep a box of bandaids handy. If not, don’t expect to learn very much. (via LearnNuggets)
  • Use a blog to help articulate your thinking.  If you can write simply, you’ll be able to say it too. (via summet_moghe)
One of my favorite learning techniques has to do with language.  I try not to allow myself to use any form of the phrase “I’m sorry, I don’t know”.  If someone asks me a question I don’t know the answer to, I say something like “Let me check on that for you”.  In a work environment, I’ll usually find the answer, contact the asker, and then share the answer with them, as well as how I found it.
This refusal to use the “I don’t know” phrase extends into every part of life.  As a simple example, I walk from Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn to my office just about every day.  At least two or three times a week, someone will stop me and ask if they know where XYZ street is.  Usually, I have no idea; I take the same walking route almost every day.  But you know what?  My iPhone always knows the answer, and now I know a lot more about the streets of Brooklyn.
I also like to look for learning from the least likely sources.  I often challenge myself connect two completely unrelated things.  As an example, I may be watching a 49’ers game, and since the ultimate outcome of those games is unfortunately decided before the end of the first half, I might spend some of the second half exploring a thought like “How might I approach the leadership workshop I’m developing differently if I had to deliver it to the 49’ers football players”.  The scenario isn’t likely to come up anytime soon, but the ideas from the thought process often open doors that I might never have realized existed.
The discussion concluded by shifting our sights away from the individual and on to the organizations individuals work for, and how they can effectively support self-learning.  Part of the questions asked how organizations fail in doing this, and unfortunately there were a great number of examples shared that show that many organizations struggle in this area.  That obviously represents an opportunity, so for the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on sharing the examples and ideas of how organizations can effectively promote and support self-learning.
One of the common ideas and examples was also very simple: open the floodgates.  The ‘gate’ in question here would be the IT Firewall.  It has its purpose from a security standpoint, but if you want to promote self-learning, you need to allow access to the infinite knowledge base found on the other side of the wall.  This includes almost all social media sites – which are often blocked under the heading of ‘lost productivity’. 
Another common theme of the responses was that if an organization is going to support self-learning, it must do so from the top.  Management must be on board with such a change, as supporting self-learning isn’t about a policy or a procedure.  It’s something that needs to be an active part of an organization’s culture.
Overall, the consistent factor in both the examples and ideas of effective self-learning support seemed to be trust.  The organization needs to see the value in promoting self-learning.  If they don’t support it, or worse, block it, there is some level of trust missing.  There was a Dilbert comic strip shared during the chat that represents this lack of trust very well.

For me, the most thought provoking tweet of the chat came from Jane Hart (@C4LPT): Learn how to find stuff out, not learn stuff.
This ties very much into my previous point of not allowing myself to use the phrase “I Don’t Know”.  Learning for me continues to shift.  It’s no longer about what I know; it’s about what I am able to find out when I need to. 
Until next week #lrnchat-ers!