Are you too busy working to take time to learn? That’s the No. 1 reason employees say they don’t take advantage of workplace learning, according to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report. Executives and managers feel employees’ pain. The No. 1 challenge for talent development is getting employees to set aside time for learning, says this same report. Yet, learning is necessary to thrive in our fast-changing VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) work environment. We all need to keep our skills fresh – especially soft skills – to stay relevant.
To optimize your adult learning, try these five tips that many of my clients and I have adopted:
1. Make learning a habit, ideally daily.
Set learning goals for yourself for a period, such as a quarter, six months, a year or even longer. Then set a daily intention for trying to learn something that day (or week) that will keep you advancing toward your goals. For example, you can make it a routine to ask yourself these three questions:
• What can I learn from this person or experience?
• What can I learn about this person?
• What can I do with these insights?
The first question focuses you on learning new content in a specific context. The second question helps you build deeper work relationships. The third question keeps you oriented toward achieving your learning goals.
2. Go for quality, not quantity.
For adults, your goal is not to cram volumes of new information into your brain. Instead, you want to get strong insights, which neuroscientists consider the active ingredient in learning. When you have “aha” moments, your brain literally makes new neural connections that cause you to think differently. The insights often spur you into action as well.
3. Mix up your learning content.
Alternate between learning a variety of technical and soft skills to strengthen your curiosity muscles as well as make you a more flexible learner and thinker. When you do this, you go for both depth and breadth to become a “T-shaped person,” as advocated by the IDEO CEO Tim Brown. As you build your technical skill set, you’re deepening the roots on the trunk of the T. And then when you expose yourself to other skills, especially those that will help you collaborate with colleagues across disciplines, you’re building out the horizontal limb of the T.
4. Experiment to find out what’s best for your brain.
Every person’s brain is unique, so one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to learning. You need to figure out the best way you learn today — which may be different from your college years — and honor that. For instance, the social experience of learning in a classroom with fellow students may stimulate you. Or you may prefer self-paced and self-directed experiences, whether audio, video or reading. Some people enjoy working with learning buddies. Your partner helps you make sense of what you’re learning as well as keeps you on track.
5. Take time to reflect.
Set aside time to think about the benefits and value you’re getting as you learn. You can then fine-tune your processes to improve your return on your investment. If you don’t take this step, you’re shortchanging yourself. This was my eureka moment while studying adult learning in my neuroscience program. Until then, I had been treasuring my newly acquired knowledge (the outputs) and determining how I would use it (the outcomes). I wasn’t paying attention to the impact I could have on my clients, the students I mentor and myself. Now I’m more focused and intentional on how to help myself and others create more favorable environments to think more clearly, collaboratively and creatively.