There’s been a lot of talk lately in the training and development world about harnessing the power of informal learning. Informal learning is the type of day-to-day learning that occurs often when we mean to be doing something else. It’s learning by play, by exploring, by impromptu conversation, by paying attention, and by kismet, sort of. It’s how we learned some of our basic skills as children, and it’s also how we do a great deal of learning as adults. Informal learning is dependent on the tenet that we never stop learning.
This is all true. But I’ve been thinking lately about being intentional in my learning, and planning for it. Learning on purpose.
What I remember most about being in college is the feeling of thriving. I was learning things that were fascinating to me, and I was charting my own course of growth and development.
I don’t really think I figured this all out, though, until the semester after I graduated, when many of my friends were heading back to school, and I wasn’t. I had taken an entry-level job answering phones, opening mail, and filing. That’s when I decided that if there were any money in it, I’d be a professional student. (Actually, there is money in it, but it’s going the wrong direction.)
As it turns out, you don’t have to be a professional student to learn with intentionality. I’m happy to have found that whenever I start a new learning venture – whether it be new software, a new language, or even a new sport – there’s that familiar series of events: first, there’s the pop in my brain when I start in. I want to soak up everything I can about what I’m learning. Then, there’s the hard stretch. That’s when I realize how much I don’t know, and how much effort it might take to learn it. Finally, there’s that steady growth. That’s when I look back and realize that I’m now equipped with more than I was, and I find myself applying the knowledge in new and different areas of my life.
Taking the time to learn might mean something different for you than it does for me or the person sitting next to you. It could be taking a class. It might be meeting weekly with a business mentor. It could be picking up an instrument and soaking up tips from people who are better at it than you are. At the office, we’ve decided to get intentional about learning and continuous improvement as a group. Every week, we get together for about 30 minutes for a session we call “Get Your Learn On,” (or GYLO, as it’s come to be called). We rotate who presents, and what we’re learning about, and sometimes we even have a guest come in to teach us something. It isn’t a huge time commitment, but the point is, it’s become a priority to learn at work. I guess that stands to reason – the word “Learning” is right there in our name. But even if we were a different business – even if our jobs were to answer calls, open mail, and file things all day long, I’d like to think we’d take the time to learn.