What learning processes are really driving our personal development and growth?

Time to Learn

Of course, taken literally, the answer for most of us to when we last learnt something new will be sometime in the last few minutes or hours of our wake time as we are continually receiving new information, be it conversations, meetings, broadcast media or online content.

But that’s not the point of this question. I pose the question to challenge our thinking about when we learn the really important stuff in our lives and to reflect on the learning processes that are driving our personal development and growth. As learning professionals there is good merit in investing an hour of our time to think both deeply and truthfully about this question.

Challenging myself with this question I came up with the following three most memorable and important learnings in my recent personal learning journey:

  • Online media – watching a 15 minute TED Talk by Simon Sinek on How Great Leaders Inspire Action has had a profound effect on my thinking as a business professional.
  • Conversation with an expert – meeting with an expert on eating disorders for one hour has been a significant help to me in dealing with mental health issues within my close family.
  • eLearning – studying a short 30 minute eLearning module based on Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Effective People has radically changed the way I organise and manage my time and my life.

In the same period, I attended several workshops, events and conferences, read books and articles, and participated in many business meetings with colleagues, peers and clients, all of whom possess expert knowledge of interest and value to me.

So why did these three learning events and outcomes stick out in my mind?

  • In all cases there was a deep and real personal resonance at the time with the learning subject matter. Active learning requires that we invest ourselves in the process both mentally and physically and we need strong motivation to learn and adapt based on our learning.
  • Simplicity of message is also a common factor in all three cases. We respond best to learning messages that sit easily within our contextual understanding of the subject domain.
  • Inspirational and credible delivery was a key factor with Simon Sinek’s TED Talk.
  • Depth of experience of the challenge at hand and the ability to offer practical guidance was crucial for my learning about eating disorders.
  • Engaging instructional design was a key success factor for the eLearning module.
  • In all cases the amount of time I invested in the learning was very short in comparison to the long-term value I gained and yet I had no way of knowing at the time that these small investments of time would have the positive impacts that transpired.

The conclusions I reached from this self-reflection are several and important:

  • The length of time spent learning does not correlate with its value and long- term impact. In fact, the opposite is often the case. You need to be open to learn from anything and at any time.
  • Explore every avenue of learning and not just those that are the most obvious, easiest or planned activities.
  • It is important to build serendipity into our learning mindset. By this I mean that the more you allow yourself exposure to learning opportunities then the more likely it is that learning will come your way.

There is no rocket science here I know, but I hope these simple messages may resonate with you in some ways that will help you in your thinking about improving the learning experiences in your organisation, as well as for you personally.