by Melanie Greene

In a nutshell

1. Why keep on learning?

The reasons for keeping on learning, over and above what you might subconsciously be doing, are many:

  • To keep ahead of the game, if you want promotions and bonuses
  • To keep up with technological or organisational changes
  • To keep motivated and have a sense of satisfaction at work
  • To make life easier by being more effective and efficient.

As the world of work tends to be constantly changing, it requires us to change and learn; by gaining a deeper understanding of the process of learning, you will be able to make the process easier and more enjoyable.


2. Making learning easy and enjoyable

The more you are actively involved in the learning process, the easier it will be to learn and to retain the learning. You can make your learning easier, even if the way in which it is being delivered is not involving you enough:

  • If you are attending a talk, lecture or demonstration, ask questions
  • Take notes if you are reading, or during a training courses
  • Use a learning buddy to help you to explore how you can apply your learning and to share your experiences
  • Share your learning with your manager, asking them to coach you after a training course to help you to put your learning into practice
  • Offer to make a presentation or write a paper for your colleagues to share what you have learned.


3. Where do I start to change?

What often happens when we are learning something new is that we make changes at the wrong level of understanding or fail to recognise that we need to make changes at several levels. This results in change being very difficult or slow to take place. You can use the Logical Levels of Change model to identify where you might have blockages and need to make changes in yourself when you are learning something new or developing new skills.

  • Is the environment suitable for learning?
  • Do you need to learn specific actions or behaviours?
  • How competent are you around the subject?
  • What are your beliefs around the subject?
  • Who are you with regard to the subject?
  • What connects you with others in a wider context?


4. The learning cycle

People have particular preferences as to how they like to learn and how they would approach learning something, if left to their own devices. Understanding your learning style preferences can assist you when you are learning, because you can take action to ensure that you complete the learning cycle to maximise your learning in any situation.

  • Activists enjoy doing things
  • Reflectors like to review what happened
  • Theorists prefer to draw some conclusions
  • Pragmatists want to plan what to do next time.


5. Identify your learning style preferences

There is considerable variation in the ways in which different people prefer to learn:

  • A moderate preference for two styles means that you can probably accept either of these styles as preferred learning styles.
  • A low preference for a style means that you probably actively dislike and avoid using that style.
  • Those with no strong preferences tend to be people who have never given much thought to the mechanics of learning and what suits them best.
  • High scores on all four styles means that you use all four styles according to the situation which you are in and that you are an all-round learner.


6. Become an all-round learner

You can enhance the way in which you learn by developing a learning style that might be the opposite to your preferred way of learning. To do this, you need to start by identifying what might be blocking you from using certain learning styles and then consider what you could do to support yourself in developing new ways of learning.

  • Low activist preference – perhaps you lack confidence or are a perfectionist; try volunteering and consciously treat new activities as learning experiences.
  • Low reflector preference – maybe you are too keen to move on to fresh experiences; get used to asking yourself questions to review what happened and learn from experiences.
  • Low theorist preference – perhaps you fear intellectualising or want to take things at face value; ask further questions to arrive at new insights.
  • Low pragmatist preference – you might want to spend too long analysing things or you don’t like committing yourself; look at what you have learned and consider when you can next put it into practice.


7. Planning and learning logs

Planning and/or learning logs can assist you in completing the learning cycle. You can use them in a number of different ways:

  • Before or after important activities (such as an important presentation, a meeting, carrying out an appraisal and so on)
  • When you have faced a particular challenge and you want to make sure that you learn from it so that you can handle such a situation well in the future
  • When you have made a mistake and you want to make sure that you learn from it and don’t make it again
  • When you have had a success and want to learn from it so you can repeat it in the future.


8. Learning from feedback

It’s essential to receive feedback if we are to know how we are progressing. Very few of us find it easy to take on board feedback from others – even when it is positive.

  • Good feedback is constructive, not destructive, and focuses on behaviour, not personality.
  • Change feedback focuses on what you could change or do differently in future.
  • Reinforcing feedback focuses on behaviours you could repeat.
  • When asking for feedback, be specific.
  • Be aware of barriers, such as feeling threatened, lacking respect for the other person, feeling foolish, believing ‘it was a one off’, and hitting back.
  • Learn from successes as well as less-than-successful outcomes.


9. The role of mistakes in learning

We grow up thinking that mistakes are bad, but that is not necessarily so – it just depends on what you are learning:

  • When it comes to learning things that need to be memorised, we need to avoid making mistakes
  • When you learn physical skills and techniques, you need to minimise the chances of mistakes happening or picking up bad habits, as they too are difficult to unlearn
  • When we are required to understand a concept or process – or when we are learning something which requires us to make decisions or solve problems - mistakes can, if learned from, increase our understanding.


10. MUD: the different ways of learning

In order to select the right way of going about learning something, you need to identify first whether you need to memorise it, understand it or involve yourself in physically doing something (MUD). An exercise will help to demonstrate the system.


11. Memorising strategies

There is a range of techniques that people find useful when learning to memorise things. It’s usually best to practise each technique a couple of times and find what works for you:

  • Associate things, verbally or visually
  • Repetition – writing, speaking, reading or listening over and over again
  • Test yourself
  • Break it into chunks
  • Use rhymes and other techniques to excite your sense of fun


12 Learning by doing

When we are learning to do something, we tend to go through the following stages, but if we don’t understand these stages we can falter and even give up trying to learn whatever it is.

  • Unconscious incompetence – when we don’t even know what we don’t know
  • Conscious incompetence – when we are aware how much we don’t know and can become discouraged and give up
  • Conscious competence – when we still have to concentrate on what we are doing and may give up, feeling that it will never be easy
  • Unconscious competence – when it is second nature to us


13. Key questions to assist understanding

Asking questions is often the key to understanding something. The more questions you ask, even if they are supposedly simple or slightly off the wall, the more it will assist you in understanding something. Ask questions concerning the purpose of whatever it is, how it compares with other things, how different people view it and what problems might occur. Ask them

  • Before you observe someone who is training, coaching or mentoring you
  • During a de-brief coaching session
  • When you are coaching yourself
  • When you are engaged in peer coaching.


14. How will you know you have learned?

When it comes to a skill or behavioural change, you need to be clear at the beginning about what you are expecting from the learning process. You might find it useful to consider the following questions:

  • What do I want? What skill or behaviour do I want to adopt?
  • When I have been successful in learning this, what will it be like?
  • What will the benefits of making these changes be, both for me and for others around me?


15. Encouraging others to learn

There are a number of ways you can go about this, either on a team or individual basis.

  • Complete the learning styles questionnaire
  • Bear in mind their learning styles when setting tasks or coaching
  • Using planning and learning logs
  • Share lessons learned within the team or department
  • Consider MUD – help them to identify what and therefore how they need to learn
  • Coach others