Learning How to Learn

Unless your learners have experience working in an organization that promotes a positive learning culture, they probably don’t know how to identify areas for their own development and then plan learning to support growth in those areas. In this scenario, you’ll need to help people “learn how to learn” by giving them the proper support.

When people know how to learn well, they’re equipped to take responsibility for their own training, setting their own goals, and seeking answers to the most relevant questions. So it’s important for your learning culture strategy to include a plan that:

  1. understands growth opportunities of the roles you’re targeting,
  2. details how you’re going to help people plan their learning,
  3. identifies what people need to learn, and
  4. motivates by providing reporting on progress.

And like our other posts in this series that use popular shows and movies, we’ll be drawing inspiration from the holiday classic “Home Alone.”

Make a learning plan.

Often, the intent of self-directed learning centers around informal, free-flowing, flexible learning experiences—but that doesn't mean we should exclude the value L&D uniquely brings to learning. Personal learning plans can both allow for the flexibility of self-directed learning while addressing competency gaps that keep people from achieving their goals.

It’s important for L&D to curate what learning content should be offered so learners still have the option to choose but don’t risk wasting time on irrelevant or inaccurate content.

The market is flush with digital tools designed to enable learners to build their own learning plans. You've probably created plenty of these plans inside your organization and implemented them through your LMS.

Learning plans can be as simple as a queue of saved resources for a learner to work through or a complex goal structure complete with target dates, alerts, and checkpoints. Regardless of your intent, these tools still require data to truly serve learners—whether that data is from your team's unique requirement setting and manual observations; industry standards and digital sources; or, more than likely, a healthy combination of “all of the above.”

In addition to a good tool for creating learning plans, you need managers to play a vital role in supporting the creation and use of those learning plans. Specifically, managers can help learners identify areas for:

  • current and future development needs, and
  • promotion opportunities where learning would be beneficial.

Managers will help your learners create time for training and encourage them to stay on track. Moreover, managers and other experienced team members can be great coaches and mentors. (PRO TIP: Remember, not only are coaching and mentoring sessions learning experiences that can be included in learning plans, but they also can be useful for identifying additional training needs.)

Identify what you need to learn.

Moving to a culture of self-directed learning doesn’t necessarily mean doing away with mandatory training altogether. Compliance, for instance, will always be a requirement as will on-the-job fundamentals. The key is to ask yourself, and your peers, if the mandatory training in your plan is actually necessary. You can then scrap what may be redundant or what is simply not required and enhance the mandatory training by providing targeted learning.

Helping learners in this way is known as “scaffolding” because it supports learners by helping them get started with independent learning until they’re experienced enough to take full ownership of their own training.

Many experienced self-directed learners won’t have a problem pinpointing where they should focus their efforts, but those who are used to being spoon-fed mandatory training may need more support to adapt to this less-structured approach.

Map it out and make it theirs.

Job profiles and competency maps are critical when making learning plans—especially when combined with assessments that help learners measure their current standings against relevant competencies. Competency maps help learners identify not only where they have skills gaps in relation to their current goals, but also how they need to develop for future roles.

These catered plans help your learners become enthusiastic about their development by providing clear guidance on what your organization has deemed important for their success.

Learning resources can be featured in several ways, and the most effective learning recommendation systems often use a combination of these:

  • Artificial Intelligence: When personalized learning comes up during a conference webinar, or meeting, you’re sure to hear “AI” dropped throughout the conversation. In the same way Amazon recommends items based on your demographics and purchase history, algorithms use combinations of people’s unique demographics, learning histories, and relevant/applicable learning history of other people to create personalized recommendations. The key here, of course, is data. Observing trends in the data you already have in your learning and performance tracking platforms is a great starting point.
  • Human Intelligence: Human observation and recommendations are essential, especially when relevant learning content and experiences are useful for large populations within the organization. Training related to process change or a new rule, for example, can be promoted to those parts of the organization where it’s relevant. Understanding performance indicators from the lips of those responsible for setting those goals helps with organizational buy-in and clear direction.
  • Crowd-Sourced Recommendations: Suggestions also can come from fellow learners, either in the form of direct recommendations between colleagues or in the form of ratings that can be used to promote top-rated content.

How can learning analytics help create training plans?

In its simplest form, learning analytics gives you visibility into activity taking place across all of your training platforms. When combined with performance data, you’ll begin to see a clearer picture of how successful outliers learn.

L&D is often siloed, kept away from the metrics they’re tasked with addressing. Learning analytics challenges this by exposing data from all training systems and aligning this holistic information to performance. When you have visibility into high performers and can link their training habits to their outcomes, you can help develop their peers by addressing exposed gaps, altering your learning programs, and ultimately providing proven best practices.

Making pinpoint, relevant learning recommendations and altering programs based on data reflecting improvements is a dream state for many L&D organizations. For others, it’s a daily reality. Engaging the learner and truly developing people is, after all, why we got into learning and development in the first place, is it?


Up Next: How to establish a learning culture

Stay tuned for our series finale, which brings together the lessons from each post. We’ll explore the actions you need to take to establish a learning culture in terms of:

  • access and availability,
  • structure and support, and
  • people and processes.

Until then, “Keep the change, you filthy animal.”

Home Alone is used here only to illustrate the examples in this blog post. Watershed is not associated with, sponsored by, or affiliated with Hughes Entertainment and/or Twentieth Century Fox.

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