In Pursuit of Lifelong Learning

Ultimately, it’s up to the learners to trace a plan from where they are to where they want to be. What is the best way to learn?

Ultimately, it’s up to the learners to trace a plan from where they are to where they want to be.

What is the best way to learn?

  • Formal learning
  • On-the-job learning
  • Informal learning

The answer is: none of the above. There is no one best way to learn. The best way to learn is a very personal, circumstantial subject that depends on multiple factors, such as goals, objectives, the learner’s preferences, and context (including the learner’s level of experience, the environment in which he or she is learning, and work or personal situations that may interfere with aptitude, attitude toward learning, and ability to retain knowledge, to name a few).

Learning is not just a classroom event. It is a continuum—a lifelong experience comprising mentoring, apprenticeship, peering over the shoulder of an experienced colleague, experimenting, attending mandatory training, stumbling upon a book on the shelf, or reaching out to a colleague or someone in your network who has the expertise you want to attain.

As such, it is crucial to offer differentiated learning methods for key strategic topics such as leadership principles, keeping in mind a 70-20-10 approach to learning:

  • 70 percent learning from on-the-job, practical experiences
  • 20 percent learning from others in your network
  • 10 percent from formal training

From an organizational perspective, this means creating a work environment that supports learning 100 percent of the time, From a learner’s standpoint, this invokes a specific set of skills and mindset for optimal learning. Within this framework, you can, for instance, offer Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in a learning management system that can be accessed by anyone, any time. Typically, these courses feature videos, quizzes, articles, job aids, discussions, and more.

Another learning methodology that supports this design mindset is the flipped classroom in which learners cover the foundational knowledge at their own pace and then have live interactions and discussions with colleagues and a facilitator in face-to-face or virtual check-in meetings.

A Different Set of Skills
Self-paced and flipped classroom approaches to learning require learners to have different skills to succeed:

  • Time management. Adult learners need to be given opportunities to learn autonomously, at their own pace. This requires proper planning on the student’s part, so videos, quizzes, discussions, and other activities are completed on time.
  • Authenticity. Students need to identify ways of applying what they learn in a course immediately on the job. Better yet, whether the course states it explicitly or not, from the moment the learner starts it until it is completed, he or she should have a specific problem or project in mind and try to apply it to the agenda.
  • A can-do attitude. Anything that is different from what we normally do may feel challenging at times. That requires perseverance and a positive attitude to adapt to new ways of doing things, making the best of it, and sharing unique insights with others in the team and organization. Learning should be part of work, a routine, a mindset.
  • A shared mindset and accountability through partners. It is often a good practice to find a course partner within the organization who has similar goals and is willing to be a “study buddy” throughout the course. This encourages learners to hold discussions beyond what is covered in training materials and live meetings. Learners should challenge each others’ perspectives and encourage and hold each other accountable to keep moving toward the conclusion of the learning experience.
  • Feedback. Honest feedback from learners is an essential tool to ensure the organization is providing experiences that help learners advance their careers.

It’s Up to the Learners
I encourage all learners to view learning as a lifelong effort that will require a lot of commitment and perseverance. Learning professionals are here to support learners in making decisions as they plan their careers and lives. But ultimately, it’s up to the learners to trace a plan from where they are to where they want to be, taking advantage of their network and unsurpassed amount of information out there.

So learners, now’s the time. Set your goals, be prepared, and continue learning.

Enzo Silva is a Learning strategist and instructional designer at SAP. He joined the company through the acquisition of SuccessFactors, which won multiple awards for programs to which he contributed. In 2010, Silva was selected as one of the Masie Center 30 Under 30 in Learning.