What is Continuous Learning?
Continuous learning is the ability to continually develop and improve knowledge and skills to work better and adapt to changes in work environments. This definition applies to individuals, teams and entire organizations alike. It is important to note the emphasis on the aspect of continuity as opposed to a time-specific period. The question is what can we do to make continuous learning fun, enjoyable, enriching and not onerous in an already time-constrained world and life.
Why is Continuous Learning important?
As time goes by, environments, customers, technology, markets, economies, etc. change significantly. Further, the rate of change has been increasing exponentially. We are forced to re-examine our assumptions, values, principles, policies, methods and practices relating to work. Therefore, individuals and teams must constantly upgrade and adapt their knowledge and skills to stay relevant in the ever-changing world. It is not enough, to have gone to University to have acquired a professional qualification that got us a job. What we learned in the past may not be enough or worse still may not even be useful and relevant anymore to our jobs and roles.
Thirty years ago there was no Internet, twenty years ago there were hardly any websites, ten years ago one could order most goods and services online without physically going to any store. Today, we can experience the world and even complete the advanced education for obtaining a degree through a five-inch mobile phone. It is mind-boggling to think what the future might hold for us. If we do not try to develop ourselves every day to stay in touch with these changes we and the organizations we work for will become irrelevant in the future world. Even though most people know this, very few actually put continuous learning into practice.
3 simple hacks for continuous learning
Here are three simple, real-world, examples of how individuals and teams can drive continuous learning through self-initiative.
TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Talks (www.ted.com) is a fabulous source for insights and experiences from a variety of fields. One team decided to get together and watch TED talks while having lunch. Initially they watched talks from general categories such as Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, etc. Later they started exploring talks in fringe or peripheral areas specifically related to their work. They have been doing it for three years and they look forward to lunchtime as a “food for thought” time. After watching a 20 minute TED talk, team members discuss what they learned and how those concepts could be used at work. This is a great way to not only learn but also to bond with each other in a cognitive environment. All it takes is for one person to take initiative and send out an invite to others.
MOOC’s / Online Courses
MOOCs (Massive open online courses) are studies made available over the Internet, free of charge, to anyone anywhere in the world. The number and types of courses that are available through these MOOC’s is incredible. It is possible to learn entirely new fields or develop advanced knowledge relating to one’s area of work by investing less than one hour per day through these courses. Some of the best MOOC platforms are Alison, Udacity, Coursera, edX, Udemy, MOOC Campus, University of London, Harvard Open Courses, etc. One of the best learning experiences of my life was a 4-course specialization in “Finance and Valuation” by the University of Michigan that I was able to complete in six months on Coursera. I went from a total illiterate in Finance to be reasonably competent in valuation of companies and projects by investing just one hour every day.
One of the best online courses that teaches us how to break through obstacles to learning is called Mindshift and is available to enrol free of cost. (Available on coursera.org)
Informal seminars / workshops / Meetup’s / Podcasts
Another great source for keeping abreast of technology and initiatives are a variety of informal seminars, workshops and meetings (https://www.meetup.com/) that people can attend for free or nominal cost. Meetup’s are usually held once or twice a month in major cities around the world as part of local professional networks or special communities. Speakers and Presenters at these informal events are experts in their field and are usually keen to help people with ideas and suggestions to solve problems. There are several free online seminars that are highly educative and informative. Teams can schedule viewing these on-demand, on-line seminars in relevant areas regularly during lunch breaks or any other time that suits them.
One team regularly conducted informative workshops on various topics that were relevant to their company and business. Team members took turns to identify, prepare and present these workshops that were attended by employees across the company.
Podcasts are another great source of learning for individuals. There are millions of Podcasts in thousands of areas of interest. They are a great way to learn while on the commute from home to work on the train, bus or car.
Overcoming the challenges to continuous learning
While there are thousands of opportunities available to develop ourselves at no cost, it is disappointing to see very few people, teams or organizations take advantage of them.
The four main challenges that we need to overcome are: getting started, finding time, maintaining the discipline to learn and making learning interesting.
When we do it as a team or group activity it is easier to overcome some of the challenges relating to getting started and maintaining the discipline. Learning-related discussions within teams can be stimulating and binding. One way to overcome the time challenge is to schedule these group learning sessions during lunch time, say 2-3 days a week so that it becomes part of our daily work ritual. It is amazing to discover how easy it is to find ourselves 100+ hours / year for continuous improvement by combining lunch time and learning and doing it as a team activity.