Cerys explores different learning strategies that can enhance the effectiveness of your personal learning system.

It is great that employees are increasingly being encouraged to shape their own learning and career development. But for those employees suddenly finding themselves in the driving seat of their career and learning paths, there is often a temptation to stick with certified qualifications, mandated learning and undirected reading at random.

We know that more structured approaches to learning produce better results. The McKinsey 3x3x3 approach to intentional learning is one such structure that provides a starting point – three immediate goals, tackled over three months, supported by a network of three people. But there are others.

Beyond offering a suggested structure, we rarely teach people how to learn when they don’t know where to start. It sounds obvious, and we all grow up learning and adapting day-by-day and hour-by-hour. But in the workplace, we sometimes lose sight of the value of learning for the sake of it, and arrive at a place where we are encouraged to ‘create value’ with every action. If something isn’t of direct benefit to the organisation, right now this moment, then we wonder if it should be a priority.

This attitude is changing, thankfully, but for the existing workforce it is perhaps too late to expect them to just pick up the reins of self-driven learning without support.

So where should they start?

Goal setting ≠ Progress

Although goal setting is an important part of starting a new learning journey, the system that you intend to use to get there is more important. One of my favourite interview questions is to ask young consultants what they do when they don’t know … what to do! It is so useful to hear someone describe their standard (often very basic) strategies for getting started – a good early indicator of how comfortable they are with uncertainty.

But what learning strategies can we add to our toolkit to help us build an effective personal learning system?

Here are four under-utilised strategies to try:

Deliberate Practice Strategies – although a popular feature of training for sports, chess and creative disciplines such as music, deliberate practice is rarely found in the workplace. To ensure employees and leaders are ready to tackle work in high pressure, fast-moving situations, chunking work into repeatable processes and practicing them in isolation to build skill strength leads to consistent progress and is a more structured approach than existing continuous improvement efforts.

Unlearning Strategies – especially when embracing learning that involves a mindset shift (affecting the values, attitudes and beliefs we all hold), unlearning is often the first step towards relearning new ways of working and doing. Identifying and challenging the assumptions that we hold about work, leadership and management can provide an opportunity to unlearn some unhelpful, limiting view points. Or engaging with our toughest customers, those who challenge the way we think our products and services should be delivered can produce a deeper understanding of poor CX.

Reflective Strategies – A key approach when going through big changes in responsibility, such as becoming a leader, moving into a more strategic role, self-reflection and creating space to make connections between ideas, people and learning is essential to more intentional ways of working. Journalling, mind-mapping or visualising are all popular techniques for weaving together experiences with net new knowledge to bring it into everyday practice sooner.

Metacognitive Strategies – in the same way that a team needs to make space to work on their own ways of working, individuals also need to make space to thinking about their own thinking & learning approaches. Individuals with strong metacognitive skills are likely to evolve their learning strategies over time, making more effective use of the limited time they have to devote.

Which little used, innovative learning strategies have been the most helpful to you in taking leaps forward in your day-to-day working practices?

How have you woven them into your personal learning system?

I would love to hear about your experiences!