Learning through uncertainty and maintaining momentum when we return to ‘normal’ – what we can do as individuals and as organisations to create a culture of lifelong learning
Let’s start with a question. What did you achieve during lockdown?
Did you take time out to master new skills, get fit or finish all those tasks that they’ve been meaning to do for years, or was it the case of toughing it out and simply getting through each day?
By the way, both of these are achievements and are to be celebrated.
During the lockdown period, social media was awash with people dusting off old musical instruments and starting to learn how to play. Foreign languages from our school days were revisited. Paint pallets, brushes and easels were cleaned, set up and all manner of landscape and doggy portraits created. Let’s not forget the cakes…there were some beauties! In fact, hobbies of all descriptions were remembered, resurrected, renewed and more importantly, enjoyed once again.
Many people also learnt new skills in their work and home lives. Conducting meetings over Zoom, running their business online rather than face to face, how to motivate children of all ages to do their lessons at home. The list of new things we have learnt is endless.
So the question is, will this appetite for learning last and how can we sustain momentum?
Maintaining learning momentum
It would be nice to think that all this new found enthusiasm for learning will continue unabated. Perhaps the reality is that when we are time poor, our capacity and motivation for learning wanes and we slip into a more familiar and comfortable routine – we return to our old life maps.
So as individuals, how do we maintain this renewed enthusiasm for learning? Perhaps a starting point would be to understand the long held idea of “Lifelong Learning”. This is where we accept the idea that as individuals, we have a personal responsibility to ensure that we invest in ourselves by learning new skills and knowledge and that this, in some way will be advantageous to us. And if we subscribe to the idea of lifelong learning, this love of learning should continue throughout our adult lives.
The fundamental philosophy of lifelong learning is to prepare people for uncertainty. Recent events have certainly created lots of uncertainty for many and it still hasn’t abated. Learning new skills, applying new knowledge, challenging our old behaviours and adopting new ones will all help us cope with uncertainty, and for many of us doing this during lockdown has helped us to feel more in control.
The years we have spent both in learning for ourselves and supporting others has taught us that patience, perseverance and a good supply of pens are vital elements for success. However, the most important element for learning success is that of personal motivation. The “why” am I doing this? If we don’t have a good why, we often fall short of our goals.
So perhaps our “why” here is that investing in ourselves through learning helps us to deal with uncertainty?
The learning journey
Learning is a journey of discovery and it takes effort, but the rewards can be great. As with any journey, the starting point is deciding on a destination. This approach is no different for any individual thinking about learning. We must start by setting a destination, then creating directions and finding our own map. This responsibility lie in our hands alone, and not in the hands of others.
Many people travel with assumptions based on personal experiences and other people’s comments or actions. School is the starting point for many people’s learning journey; experiences here lay the foundation for personal attitudes towards learning that can dictate the future boundaries in which people live and work. For many, school appears to do little in the way of engendering people to an attitude of continual personal or professional development. It’s important that the starting point is in the dismantling of these boundaries. Discarding old maps, models and ideas, will free the person from the need to be dependent on others and will be the first step in them becoming independent learners.
But, what if an individual does not have the necessary level of confidence or ability to deal with this on their own? In this case, there is a role for a learning coach. This is an individual that we choose to work with and who we can trust and who has the desire to support a person on their learning journey.
The role of a learning coach
The role of the learning coach is to provide the necessary support when appropriate without making it too easy for the learner. Learning anything new is a process that involves effort. Effort that some are often unwilling or unable to give. For the coach, supporting a person embarking on a journey of learning can be a challenge. This is because each individual is just that, an individual, each person having different expectations, experience and motivations for changing the world in which they live. The coach must always be aware that they are acting as a catalyst in changing the person’s skills, knowledge and above all attitudes to learning, work and life.
From personal experience and through the observation of people encountered in a professional capacity, we have noted that there is a great deal of hesitation and some reluctance in the early stages of a person’s learning journey. The uncertainty of “what am I getting into and where will it take me” is enough to stop many people’s learning in its tracks.
At an early stage, the role of a learning coach is in helping individuals construct their own framework for learning that could help them explore some of the values and beliefs that form part of their identity (and which might be constraining them), or simply to help them navigate and understand the practical requirements of engaging in the learning process.
How to be a life long learner
All too often, we see individuals who have a vast amount of experience, but little in the way of formal development that would enable them to move easily to a different role if required. The next few months are highly likely to see a negative shift in the workforce as it responds to the pressures placed on the economy by this recent events. There may be little that someone feels they can do to secure their future in this relatively short space of time. One simple approach would be to take time to review our skills in an objective and honest manner and in doing so ask ourselves the question – what if?
Start by taking any google job search and assess the requirements for your job role on the open jobs market. Ask the question – “What if I needed to find a role of a comparable level to the one I currently have. Am I in a position to secure it? How do I compare?”
If it is favourable, then great, you are some way to being prepared for future uncertainty. However, if you fall short, then you might need to start to create a plan of action to close the gaols.
This is where a learning coach can help provide that objective and rational analysis of your skill set and approach to the future. So if you have the time and head space at the moment to consider this, it’s well worth the investment in your future.
How to create a culture of lifelong learning in your organisation
It is widely recognised that in order to be competitive there is a need to have a competent, flexible, adaptable and motivated work force. There is a real desire within organisations to embrace the need to continually change, adapt and improve, but also a lack of understanding of how to achieve this.
The coach’s role within the organisation is to understand the strategy and objectives of the organisation and how to align the learning strategy with these. In an ideal world, organisations would prepare for uncertainty by developing their people prior to any uncertainty taking place. But, this is precisely the time when organisations think least of developing its people to meet future challenges. Where organisations have active coaches, either in their in house Training teams or from senior leaders, they can help the management team to forge practical links from business plans to people development needs.
There are a number of actions that organisations can take to create this culture:
Be clear about the learning requirements for your organisation, in particular the skills, expertise and behaviours required to thrive through uncertainty.
Decide on what support is needed. Be this an in-house team or external providers, ensure you establish a good working relationship that enables you to build on the key elements of trust and honesty.
Create a plan that gives structure and purpose to any learning initiative and that will provide all of your people with access to this learning
Think beyond formal training and create opportunities for on the job learning. The model of 70:20:10 is well used in training to create an ideal balance between on the job learning, coaching and mentoring relationships and formal training. This is a topic that we will return to in future articles.
Find individuals who want to and can act as learning coaches in your organisation. Whilst an existing training department may take this role, it is actually useful to have this role carried out by line managers so that they can support their teams in their learning and development goals. This may require the development of an in-house resource, but one that will prove invaluable.
Ensure that all line managers have the necessary skills and desire to support their teams in achieving their learning goals and ensure that learning is on the agenda in team meetings and at the highest level in the organisation.
Encourage a learning community with an appetite for lifelong learning and curiosity by offering support to learners within your organisation. Make learning part of business as usual and encourage individuals to support their colleagues and share learning from any learning experiences that they have.
There are many resources available to support your understanding of what these requirements might be for your organisation.
It is more important now than ever for organisations and individuals to be proactive about development, to enable them to be successful in this new future that we find ourselves in.
Contact us for a free initial conversation about your own or your organisation’s learning needs.