As technologies continue to advance and the amount of information grows, “keeping up” can feel overwhelming. This is not going to change, in fact, it will worsen as technologies and work environments continue to evolve. An employees’ learning agility is a critical factor of success, and should be a key competency in recruitment. Someone’s willingness to learn is partly intrinsic, as some people are more curious and explorative. However, there are also learning systems that anyone can put in place to help sift through complexity. Technology advancement is both the cause of the problem and the solution. Here are some tips on how to setup your learning system:
- Cut out white noise. When trying to read news and interesting articles, a big time saver is learning how to focus your attention on what is relevant. Google Alerts is a great tool for this, it allows you to use boolean search functionality to ask Google to send you relevant articles. This can be particularly useful when tracking updates on companies or topics. Twitter is often a big offender of white noise, so creating listsof people that share relevant content is a good time-saving technique (it helps to separate work posts from the funny-dog tweets). You may even want to use Tweetdeck which is a self-constructed dashboard of your lists to allow for a quick sweep of anything new.
- Deliberate practice. Strategic and systematic repetition of a task with integrated feedback is beneficial if you want to learn a particular skill. Chatbot nudges can systematically remind you to practice the key elements needed to build this skill (e.g. setting up reminders using Slackbot). Setting up reminders or checklists using smart-home devises (e.g. Alexa) or even traditional calendars can also be useful.
- Read widely and map themes. We have surpassed the age where you gain expertise in one field and attach all of your learning to this. An expert in the 21st century is someone who reads across many fields and can discover the mental models and links between them. To do this, one must take notes when you read/listen/watch and then brainstorm the links. If you are reading on Kindle, they have a good note taker functionality. I personally cannot tear myself away from a hard copy so use online note tools (e.g. Evernote, OneNote etc.) to track key points. Pocket (with a Chrome extension) is useful to store relevant online articles you may want to return to (just make sure to tag them effectively). There are also many online tools for brainstorming (Connected Mind, Mindmeister or just Drawing tools on iPad).
- Share learnings. An easy shortcut when working on a team is for you to share your relevant articles or learnings with others. It might take you time to write up or send a link but it exponentially increases the value of your learning. The tools to share depend on what technology stack exists in your workplace. We have a channel on Slack, but you could do the same in any real-time chat tool. There are also tools that help you automate this process. Zapier or IFTTT (If this then that) are web services that connect applications. When I am saving an interesting article onto Pocket, if I tag ‘Postshift’, Zapier automatically posts it to our shared Slack channel.
- Participate in communities of practice. As an extension of sharing learning with the team, it is also critical to find learning communities that help you explore ideas in more detail. You may find some internally on your company’s ESN – if not, start one! Or, you can also join external learning communities such as those on LinkedIn.
This may sound like a lot, but after the initial setup time, you will ready to learn in an effective and efficient way.
Here are some additional reads on learning in the 21st century: