Learning to learn

(I recently read Agile Learning:  Thriving in the New Normal written by Timothy R. ClarkConrad A. Gottfredson. As a side note, I would recommend the article for anyone seeking to better understand the challenges that lie ahead in business.)

In this article, use the term learning agility which they defined as the ability of an organization to learn at or above the speed of change. They then outline the 5 primary factors that can promote or hinder learning agility within an organization (which I would recommend reading).  The core of their message is that leaders are going to need to adopt a new role as we move into the future.  That role will be the one of “Chief Learner”.  They will be setting the tone for all others within their organization when it comes developing the core competency of learning.

Believe it or not, learning is not something that comes naturally to us as human beings.  Well, I take that back.  It does come naturally in the form of inquisitiveness and wonder with the world around us.  We all possess that until the tender age of 5 or 6 when we begin to attend school.  There is a great quote by Albert Einstein that goes, “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.”  This is story of our lives.  After attending school for anywhere from 12+ years, we begin to think that learning is something that can only be done with a teacher, books, and classroom.  This is the problem businesses face today.  With the pace of change today, it is dizzying to imagine trying to continually develop a curriculum that would enable individuals to stay abreast of everything they would need to achieve the organization’s goals and objectives.

Clark & Gottfredson use the term dynamic learning which is defined as .rapid, adaptive, collaborative and self-directed learning at the moment of need. I believe the most important work in that sentence is self-directed.  What we need to do is completely change the paradigm in training & development and put it in the hands of those who need it.  We can no longer take the responsibility for creating the courses & materials for others because they are practically out of date the moment they are printed.  We need to shift the decision-making of what is to be learned to those who will put it into practice.

The old T&D people will need to create curriculum for only one subject from this point out and that is learning how to learn. We all need to throw off the ropes of learned helplessness and take the lead in our own education.  Learning cannot stop at any time for any reason.  It is a scientific fact that once an organism stops growing, it begins dying.  I can see the commercial now, “This is your brain when you stop learning”.  We must voraciously consume information that we deem relevant to us and technology has made that more than just an idea.  You can now connect with communities of practice in your selected area(s) of interest from all over the world and engage in meaningful discourse anytime you choose.

To close, I will return the leaders I mentioned in the 2nd paragraph because the shift these C-level people need to make is quite seismic.  There are 2 underlying implications in learning:

  1. The admission that you do not know everything
  2. The willingness to fail (initially) because there is no learning without failure of some degree

This is why the leader’s role is critical.  They need to exemplify to the organization that this is behavior we have to embrace in order to move forward.  It has to be acceptable to admit there are things we do not know because that is the step to greater knowledge.

For the last 5 years I have had the privilege of teaching courses in an MBA program and can tell you first-hand that many of these students (ages 25-65) still bear the scars of their education.  They are afraid to speak up for fear of being told they are wrong.  I can tell you with certainty that more than 90% of do not how to learn nor do they know what to do with their new knowledge at their workplace.  These are people who are really beginning to “get it” and yet there is no real outlet for them when they return to work.  Not only do we not know how to learn efficiently, we also don’t know how to constructively leverage the knowledge once we gain it.

I guess we should take one step at a time.

I will leave you with this question “What do you need to learn today?”


1 Comment

Filed under Leadership, Learning

One response to “Learning to learn

  1. This is a brilliant call to action Perry and reminds me of a TED talk I saw by Sir Ken Robinson on how the education system kills creativity.


    We are in a time where technology is constantly changing the way we consume information and learn. We all need to learn how to learn, and that will be an on going process.

    Dynamic Learning should be the new standard, in fact, over time it’s probably going to be whether people like it or not…

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