When Learning Professionals Learn
“A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning. “
– Brad Henry
In our job as learning (and change) professionals we are sought after to provide expertise on learning in general as well as supporting the changes in employee behaviours through learning. We are good at it. We have built our whole careers around it. Learning is what we do. But how does the learning (and change) professional continue their learning? We too need to continue to learn, to expand our minds and thoughts—so that we can provide our clients the best possible advice, knowledge, and work output possible.
I am an avid reader, podcast listener, Ted Talk watcher, and overall observer of people. I love to passively learn. But sometimes even learning professionals need to take time to go and be active participants in learning. In May of this year, myself and a couple other Harbingers attended the 75th annual ATD National conference in San Diego. This was my first national conference and I can say it was one-hundred percent worth my time.
The ATD National conference is all about training and learning, which of course includes change management, because you cannot learn without some kind of change happening, and all change leads to learning, whether we are aware of it or not.
I attended 13 sessions over the 4 days. My colleagues who also attended the conference also attended many sessions, all of us doing our best to attend different sessions so that we could learn as much as possible and share our newfound information with each other!
Some of the biggest takeaways for me was around micro-learning, telling compelling stories with data, and my favourite topic, the psychology of learning.
I went in to the conference all excited about Micro-Learning, as if it was this new, shiny thing. The reality is it is not new at all; we have been developing and delivering micro-learning for years now. We have been breaking down learning into small, quick, and easy to access formats on a regular basis. The increased use of video does put a new feeling to it, but really the use of quick reference guides, work instructions, and animated or voice-over videos are already part of our learning offerings. What was reinforced for me during the micro-learning sessions was:
If micro-learning is part of the approach—great! But it deserves to be thought through and planned the same as conventional learning
Each micro-session must achieve a discrete and specific outcome—it is not a building block onto other activities. It is not “chunking.”
There is no specific duration! We often hear things like “micro-learning should be ‘x’ seconds long.” The reality is, while these lessons should be short (i.e. micro), it also needs to complete or achieve a specific outcome (see above bullet)
Micro-Learning is not about technology. While some micro-learning sessions are better delivered via technology such as augmented or virtual reality, or video, it does not need to rely heavily on technology platforms to be effective (e.g. quick reference guides or work instructions are often adequate)
Have a clear intention for the learning; is it spaced learning or learning reinforcement / learning support (see first bullet re: planning)
What can I say. Some people love it, some do not. But it is often important when we are trying to convince, sell or improve. So how do we present data so that it is interesting, compelling and not horrifyingly dull? I have often struggled with this and try to avoid using it for fear that my audience’s eyes will glaze over due to the dullness of what I am presenting. But I learned that data does not need to be dull or scary. It can be captivating and thought-provoking when presented right. My goal for continued future learning is to continue perfecting story telling through data.
One session I attended really stuck with me. It was about learner myths, superstitions, and misconceptions. Over the years many books, articles, and even past leaders whom I worked for have taught that people have different learning styles and that we need to cater to them, but this session made me rethink this belief. The big takeaways from this session include:
We should adapt learning to the goal of the learning outcome, and not that of the learner. As a Change Manager and learning professional I believe the primary goal of any training or learning session is to change behaviour, so this myth that learners have different learning styles really resonated with me. Or at least made me rethink how I will approach learning programs in the future.
Training should help the learner focus on the right things—this is so obvious—especially for ERP or other technology training but can be applied to soft-skills learning too.
Problem based learning leads to better long-term memory. This is not always easy to create, especially when training a new technology system, but should be when possible.
If you want to learn more about Learning Myths, Misconceptions and Superstitions, read Clark Quinn’s book Millennials, Goldfish & Other Training Misconceptions, or check out his blog LEARNLETS.
None of these points were actually “aha” moments, but rather, good reminders.
Another interesting takeaway is that motivation is a personal choice. Often, if we fail to achieve the preferred level of change or change buy-in, it is due to a lack of desire or motivation by the stakeholder. As a change manager I have worked tirelessly to help increase a stakeholder’s desire for the change but if they are not motivated how will they have desire for it? And who am I to motivate them? This point above all really stuck with me.
By the end of my 4 days in San Diego, I felt invigorated and inspired. I learned that I too, a professional learning professional, needs to participate in active learning where there is new, refresher, and even controversial or thought-provoking content. I feel what I learned/refreshed makes me a better consultant, so I will serve our clients even better than before. I will continue to read books, listen to podcasts and watch Ted Talks, but attending the ATD National Conference reminded me that this learning professional can always benefit from some formal learning as well.
Next week, some of my learning colleagues will be attending the Institute for Performance and Learning (I4PL) conference here in Toronto. I will be interested to hear about their experiences and any ah-ha moments they take away from the sessions. Perhaps, they will even be so generous as to blog about it.