Learnability or learning skills are critical to keeping up with today’s rapid development and remain employable. According to the World Economic Forum, we need to spend an average of 4-5 hours a week on actively learning new skills. This is a big increase from the current situation demanding greater learning skills from all of us.
But what does learnability really mean? How does the employee (or yourself) make this practical? In the article, I outline how we can increase our ability to learn from our experiences, from others, from the flow of knowledge and from training.
We need to accelerate our learning
The accelerating technological development means that we all need to gear up our ability to learn. On average 40% of the skills needed today will have changed within 5 years according to the World Economic Forum. The half-life of skills are just getting shorter and we will change jobs and skills more and more times during our working life.
We therefore need to spend much more time learning new skills. In recent years, according to ATD, we have spent an average of 25 minutes on “intentional” learning. The World Economic Forum now believes that on average we will need to spend 5 hours a week. This is a major change that requires a new view of how we learn and develop. Learnability becomes one of the most important abilities of employees.
How to develop learnability?
We all have a slightly different style of learning. I like to read a lot and to experiment at work, others learn better from collaborating or talking to others and others prefer going on course. We simply prefer different “learning channels”. To further develop our learnability, we can learn how to:
- take advantage of all learning channels.
- master the learning from a learning channel, e.g. “experiences” far more than we do today.
Learning more requires knowledge about how to learn from education, from experience, from information/environment, from others, how to motivate ourselves and how to plan learning. The picture below is a model for how we can work with our learning.
I will continue by describing the areas we need to work on to develop our learning skills more. In brief:
- Motivation – attitude and motivation to learn and develop.
- Planning – to interpret trends, translate into development needs and plan how to make development happen.
- Experience – ability to learn from experiences.
- Social – ability to collaborate with networks and learn from others.
- Information/environment – ability to find and apply information at work or from the “information-flow”.
- Education– ability to find and apply relevant training resources at work.
- Evaluation – to continuously evaluate your own progress and growth.
The table provides examples of learning methods that can be used within each learning channel. Later in the article, I offer an overview of each learning channel.
If we are not sufficiently motivated, we will probably constantly down-prioritize further development for more urgent tasks. There is a lot to read about how we work with our motivation, e.g. to reflect on:
- Our driving forces, what is important to us? Why?
- Our long-term goals, where do we want to be in a few years?
- How we can surround ourselves with motivating and supportive people.
It is also about the attitude towards our own ability to develop. To have a “Growth mindset”, i.e. that we can learn anything as long as we make more effort. Which is to be contrasted to “Fixed mindset” where we feel that we do not have the ability to and therefore avoid the challenge.
We can all work on developing our Growth Mindset. Some habits I myself reflect on are:
- To dare to fail and see it as an opportunity to learn something.
- Dare to take personal risks, not avoid the hard part.
- Dare to ask questions, ask for feedback and be inspired by others.
That was very short on motivation. The point is that we succeed better with our learning if we start by addressing our motivation and drive to learn. Working with Growth Mindset is therefore one of the most important factors in creating a learning culture.
Planning gives us priority and focus on the right things, such as achieving long-term goals.
Understanding the outside world
The first step is to understand the outside world. Where’s my job going? What jobs would I want and be able to take?
We need to find out what skills are demanded in the future. Many professions will need more social skills such as communication in combination with digital skills like data analysis. Other skills we may stop developing, such as skills for administrative and repetitive tasks.
Prioritize the goals
We can’t learn everything right away. Time is the biggest obstacle. A good way to prioritize is to compare the benefits of future skills to the time it takes to develop them.
Breaking down goals into behaviors makes it easier to follow up. For example, my goal “Better on Communication” can be broken down to me giving a talk to a group. It can also be data regarding visitors on a webinar or traffic on my blog. Learn more about creating motivational and results-oriented goals.
A sustainable plan for your development
To create a sustainable plan, it helps to understand how new capabilities develop. The picture below is an example of appropriate learning methods at different stages of your development of an capability.
If I want to get better at, for example, Design Thinking, I initially attend a course via a MOOC. Next, I’m looking for opportunities to apply what I learned. Maybe I’ll assist a colleague during a workshop. Probably I’m looking for more information and best practice before I take the next step and run a workshop independently.
Learning from experience
Experience is the main source of learning. It is the new challenging tasks that drive learning and enable the application of knowledge, for example, something you read in an article or viewed in a video.
There are many methods for learning from experience (see picture). No matter what methods we use, there are a few things we can think about to get the most out of our experiences.
Search actively for challenges
Seeking new experiences creates more development than doing the same thing every day. I learn less the 10th time I help a customer procure a LMS than when I do a project in a completely new area.
It’s not just about major changes like a new job or project. We can also ask for new smaller tasks, such as taking care of a new customer or arranging this year’s customer meeting.
We learn more by experimenting, trying different approaches, asking for other people’s perspectives, etc. We create meaning from the experience when we understand why the results or consequences of the work turned out as they became.
An important source of learning is mistakes. If we dare to experiment and try new things we will also make mistakes.
Taking ownership of your mistake, talking about them with others and analyzing what went wrong reduces the risk of making the same mistake again. Read more about how we can learn from mistakes.
Reflecting on the work provides a basis for improvements. I myself reflect daily on the way home from work. I try to answer the questions: “What did I want to achieve today?”, “How did I do?”, “What did I do well/bad?”, “What have I learned?”.
Reflecting enables continuous improvements. In new situations, we can now search for what has worked in the past, try new approaches, take small steps and then evaluate again.
Learn from others
We learn by interacting with others. This may, for example, be about observing someone performing a task, collaboration or receiving feedback. You’ll see examples of methods on the left.
Below I offer some examples of how we can use others in our development.
Without feedback, we don´t know what works and what we can improve. In order to develop and improve, we therefore need to develop the habit and courage to ask for feedback. Ask those who have insight into your work, such as colleagues, your manager or the customer. Some advice:
- Ask directly when the experience is fresh.
- Ask for specific feedback instead of “how do you think I did”?. For example, “how did my needs questions work with the customer”?
- Asking about feedback is more effective than providing feedback because the latter activates defense mechanisms.
Collaboration gives us the ability to solve problems faster and gives us new perspectives. It is becoming increasingly important in an increasingly volatile environment.
We can contribute to collaboration ourselves by “working out loud” which means that we often share the content of our work and comment on it ourselves, ask for ideas, comments or advice.
“Working out Loud” becomes easier when your company uses a collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams or Slack. By publishing our work, commenting and asking for opinions on it, we also create transparency and openness that are both fundamental for learning teams.
A professional network outside your own organization provides additional access to ideas and knowledge, faster answers to questions, wider perspectives and support in your future development.
It is important to plan which networks and which people contribute most to our work and our long-term ambitions. Where are those people? On which social platforms and in which groups do they act?
Since it takes time to create quality relationships and time is limited, we benefit on focusing. By selecting the 2-3 most important platforms, e.g. LinkedIn and Twitter and add contacts with care, we have time to network and build relationships with quality. Also, do not forget the “physical” networks, such as professional associations. Some advice:
- Start by just following and exploring the discussions. What are they all about?
- Comment and answer questions before you post to build trust.
- Add value when publishing links, e.g. summarise the most important points.
- Give more than you get. Contribute with facts and knowledge.
Learning from information/ the environment
With 40% of the skills needed today changing within the next 5 years, information/environment becomes an extra important learning channel.
The picture shows examples of ways in which we can learn from the information/environment. Below I give examples of how to navigate and learn from the large amount of information and knowledge found mainly on the internet.
Leverage the knowledge flow
There are many reasons to follow the constant flow of knowledge:
- Develop new capabilities.
- Increase understanding of your industry, the market, technological development, etc.
- Get new perspectives.
Examples of sources can include searches on Google, blogs, youtube, and social networks. I myself also follow several magazines (e.g.Harvard Business Review), books (e.g. GetAbstract), videos (e.g TED talk) and podcasts on (e.g.Player.fm).
“Curating” means finding the articles, videos etc that are most relevant and valuable to our needs. It can be a significant task and demand support. A good advice is to follow other people who themselves curate good resources in our area. Examples within learning are Josh Bersin and Jane Hart. A good professional network also provides recommendations for information sources to follow.
Feedly serves me a selection of articles and videos every morning, from my approxomitaley 40 different sources. I can save content for later, share with others, add my own notes, or save to notebooks like “Pocket” or “Evernote”.
To learn from the flow of information, we need to create meaning from what we absorb. Examples include reflecting, commenting and experimenting with the ideas.
I myself read a lot on the subway. When I then go to work or go home, I reflect on what I read. “How can I use this in my work?”, “How does it affect me?”.
Finally, we share the new knowledge. It is a way of testing the conclusions we have made and deepening the learning. It is also important for nourishing our professional network. To give more than we get.
Examples of ways to add value are by curating content that is relevant to a particular audience, summarizing, adapting for a particular business, and presenting, for instance by creating a PowerPoint or a Podcast from the content.
Learn from education
In many organizations, the course catalog is limited to mandatory courses or training for common job roles.
There are probably gaps, areas where the organization cannot help with our development. I will therefore describe what opportunities there are to add training from one of the course libraries available on the Internet.
Find relevant courses
There are today a large number of course libraries in all possible areas. These may include more extensive courses on, for example, Coursera or EdX or shorter courses on e.g. LinkedIn Learning, OpenSesame, Udacity or Pluralsight.
With so many course libraries, the question is how we quickly find courses that are relevant specifically to our development needs.
A place to start looking is ClassCentral that integrates to several of the large course libraries. Jane Hart also has a list of short descriptions over 100 popular course libraries. Your professional network is a great place to ask and get recommendations.
An easy accessible example of course library is also LinkedIn Learning. LinkedIn recommends from its approximately 16,000 courses based on the “skills” we have added to our profile and show the recommendations in our feed.
There are a number of platforms that help with curating. I myself use Degreed that makes it possible to integrate the course libraries I bought. I can then add skills to develop. Degreed uses AI to learn more about what content is relevant to me based on what courses I attend, what I “like”, who I follow etc.
Transfer learning to work
With easy access to video courses, it is easy to undertake many courses without thinking about how knowledge should be applied. I have, for example, listened to LinkedIn courses when I’ve been out walking and then forgotten what I’ve listened to the very next day.
By planning from the outset how to remember and apply what we learn, we increase the effect of the course.
One advice is to use a so-called “Impact Map” (see picture). It helps to plan how to process knowledge, practice and deepen knowledge and finally apply in our work.
We can do a lot of things to make sense from what we learned, such as writing a blog, starting a discussion on a forum, giving a presentation or finding tasks where we apply the knowledge at work.
Continuous evaluation is an important part of achieving the objectives we set. It starts by reflecting on our learning. According to Charles Jennings, reflection is one of the most important habits to develop in a changing world. I make use of, for example, my journey home from work to reflect on what went well and bad during the day.
Documenting learning on a daily basis provides additional benefits by processing experience and making learning more accessible for reuse. Apps such as Evernote or Google Keep makes it easy to take quick notes from your phone or directly from e.g. Chrome.
Your manager, the client, colleagues or a mentor are other sources of feedback. It may also be useful to “benchmark” your learning with people from a different background to create additional perspectives.
Less often, e.g. quarterly, it may be good to make a slightly more thorough evaluation of how far we have reached through the goals and possibly update goals and activities.
We can then also go through the course libraries we use, feeds and subscriptions, professional networks and contacts. What do we need to adjust, remove or add?
Personal Learning Ecosystem
A consistent theme above has been apps and websites that encourage our learning. It is our “personal ecosystem” for development and we need to learn how to take advantage of included apps and tools. They open new doors, simplify and create continuity of learning.
The picture below is of my personal ecosystem. Tools I use more or less often in my development.
Jane Hart is a leading figure in Modern Workplace Learning. She makes a list of the 200 most popular tools for personal development. Feel free to look through the list for new ideas on tools.
How can the organization support?
I have now offered examples for what you and I as individuals can do to develop our learnability. In a learning organization, however, we can do much more than encourage the learnability of employees.
- We can create a culture and a leadership that enables and inspires to learn and develop.
- We can organize and design work for learning.
- We can work with the organization’s IT systems to facilitate and strengthen learning.
- We can create an internal organization with mandates and resources to encourage development.
In future articles, I will describe how your organization can work with the factors above to create a learning organization.