Learning is a continuous process; whether it is formal or informal. So is skill development. Learning is inevitable to keep pace with changing workplace requirements but do we really know if it is contributing to our performance? Learning can be active or passive depending on the context and the purpose. Learning on the job is the most common way of acquiring new knowledge and skills, exploring new topics and trying out new things at the workplace. Learning can occur outside the job as well – think about how much we learn by observing and interacting with people, sharing ideas and knowledge. How do we ensure that informal learning and skilling that is not planned, fragmented and serendipitous, helps us in improved performance? Let’s look at the five simple ways that can turn your learning into tangible outcomes and rewarding performance.
Channelize your learning: You may not be aware of how much you know, subconsciously you might have picked up interesting stuff while reading books, browsing the Web, while interacting with colleagues or while listening to stories and being a part of conversations. Some of this learning can directly feed into your job. It can help you in completing a critical task or dealing with your demanding boss. Or, it may help you in approaching your routine jobs differently or managing your time efficiently. It is important to create channels to process the information and after a while you automatically get tuned to absorbing and retrieving the information to complete a variety of tasks.
Maintain a learning log: Isn’t it highly impractical to organize loads of information and recollect the right thing at the most critical moment? Don’t try to bookmark your brain! It’d be better to create a log on your mobile device or computer or a note book. Think of a learning diary that you regularly update online or in a book. Save URLs, documents, presentations, ebooks, pictures, slides, videos and other material neatly classified under different categories mapped with your job. Better still, make notes alongside that can list your questions, observations, doubts that emerge from efforts to apply the knowledge on the job.
Derive practical insights: Turn information into knowledge by applying it in the context of present job or an anticipated need. Let’s assume you have been watching videos on YouTube to learn new skills. If the videos are demonstrating a process, you’ve already experienced the practical value from this learning event. You can go back and try out the same process while you are working. However, this is not the case with most of what we learn through reading, listening and watching. We have to make a conscious effort to derive practical insights in the form of tips, tricks and workarounds that close the performance gaps. What we know may be good, but being able to show it and do it is definitely better.
Follow up training with learning: Most training programs focus on specific and time bound learning goals. Hence, what you accomplish at the end of your training will not sustain your performance for long. Nevertheless, training should be viewed as a trigger for further learning through exploration, trial and error and group activities. If training has increased curiosity and kindled your interest new subjects, don’t let it die as soon as the session is over. Take it forward through continued questioning and seek answers and widen your knowledge horizons. Use social media to network with fellow trainees and subject experts, share updates and participate in online discussions.
Align learning with your career path: Look beyond your present job while mapping what you learn with what you aspire to do and where you desire to be. It is always gratifying to learn in anticipation and be focused on what you want to achieve. Cluttering your brain with all kinds of information will lead to chaotic performance and muddled thoughts about your career. It’s critical to assess your current situation and keep preparing for better opportunities through targeted learning and self-development. This will also make sure that you are updating yourself with new developments in your field and building on your knowledge base.
Today, lifelong learning is a natural extension of our being, facilitated with the ubiquitous digital devices and connectivity. The challenge is to find the right route to reach the right destination in our careers. Successful performance is the key to professional growth and development and it is closely tied up with how we apply our learning at workplace. Training is an intervention with short term performance goals, but learning is never limited to training, right? Star performers rarely wait for training, they go ahead and learn!