Continuous Learning – Old Paradigm

Continuous learning became a buzz word in the 90s for working professionals. And rightfully so. Who can argue with always learning and finding ways to be better at whatever it is that you do?  It gave birth to an explosion of professional development and learning services like mega conferences, coaching, eLearning, webinars, LMS systems, and the like. But things changed in the last decade that I’ve discussed in previous blogs.

The amount of information and accessibility to it grew exponentially. The number of devices and apps customized to very specific learning also grew. The change occurred not just in the workplace, but in fact, was initiated outside the workplace as people began to use some form of technology to access knowledge and people with similar hobbies, activities, and causes. All this begs the question – is continuous learning still a viable paradigm?

I think it is, with a very important addendum. First, adults learn best when they get to apply what they have learned as soon as they have learned it. In other words, the longer the lag time between learning something and applying that learning, the less relevant that learning becomes no matter how powerful that learning was. Second, if that learning needs to translate to behavioral change, as often is the case in life and professional settings, then the learning needs to be repeated for a full year within real-world context.

For example, if you are trying to be a better listener, then practicing active and passive listening skills for a full year repeatedly is a great way to learn to be a better listener. Even better to do it in a contextual situation, where you are required to exhibit the new behavior (with consequences at stake). Learning it and successfully applying it for a week or month and then “letting it happen without being proactive” invariably leads to forgetting the learning and reversion to old habits, especially when stressful situations arise.

So, it is time to modify the continuous learning paradigm to one that includes immediate and repeated application to get the most out of the scarce time we all have. If you keep learning without these two qualifiers, it would be like taking good books and putting them on a shelf or filing cabinet after you have read them, never again to be opened or reviewed. After a while of reading so many of them, you begin to forget what was in them no matter how powerful or insightful the knowledge. This week, look at how you learn and what you need to learn. Apply these two parameters to important learning. You and others around you will see a dramatic rise in results of that learning.

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