Learning to Learn

The ‘pandemic pause’ has created much interest in online education when what we need is real learning.

Many of us might be looking to boost our skills and knowledge base as work slows down for many sectors (or stops altogether). The term ‘learning’ is popping up everywhere as education institutions, corporate services, and professional associations all seek to provide some form of content to those who now find themselves working remotely.

The intent and interest in learning may be genuine, but it might not always be what we think it is.

As I’ve argued before, we need to be clear about what we mean when we speak of learning. It’s much easier to talk about learning than it is to do it. Education — certification, training, structured classes – is simple (but not easy) to do, but it’s also based on a set of systemic structures and mindsets that have little to do with learning.

Education + Learning

As one who’s spent his career as an educator and professional working to support innovation – which is about learning and design at its root — I can say that the former is far more difficult than the latter (design). We like to create and produce things, we are often terrible at learning.

This is largely about having poor systems to support learning, not learner capability. It’s also about a fear of failure and the expectations we have about what it means to innovate, adapt, and create — expectations that lead us away from actual learning to more ‘performance theatre’.

Learning is largely about context: our needs, experiences, mindset, and opportunities. We will spend money on education when what’s really worth the investment is learning, which is social, takes time, and difficult to predict.

Starter Questions

Consider this when approaching a course or webinar:

  • Will I create the time to review, integrate or reflect on what I am exposed to?
  • Is the delivery of this course suited to the ways in which I make sense of the world and develop new skills?
  • Am I invested in the product — a certificate, degree, or outcome — or the process?
  • Am I engaged with this program (course, webinar, tutorial) to escape from asking myself difficult questions about my work?
  • Do I have a system in place to revisit, re-work, and apply what I’ve learned in place before I start?

These will tell you whether it’s worth investing the energy in a course. Right now there is so much going on for so many, we might not have the focus, attention, or resources to take what we’ve learned and apply it. For those looking for recognition like grades, certifications, and status, the world is changing to the degree (no pun intended) that these markers of significance might not matter in the way they once did.

Seth Godin points to one of the reasons people sign up in the first place and why our traditional educational models don’t facilitate real learning:

The artist rarely says, “I’d like to do less.” Instead, she wonders how to contribute more, because the very act of creativity is the point of the work.

Seth Godin

He adds:

We talk about ‘learning’ as though it’s as easy and natural as shopping or watching or doing errands. But it’s not. It’s a commitment, one that we regularly make up excuses to avoid.

Seth Godin

Now has never been a better time to find and make a commitment to something important. That commitment could be to following what’s been done before or to create something new, something for the world we’re shaping now (and not the one we’re quickly leaving).

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