5 Steps for Driving Your Own Learning

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Let’s face it. Whether we like it or not, we’re all learning designers. We have to be.

Why? Because it’s becoming harder to find, keep, or advance in a job without learning new skills. Frankly, it’s becoming just as hard in everyday life.

While that’s exciting, it’s also daunting. As we take on new learning challenges, we need a strategy, and we need to put it in place before we dive in. It’s one of the best ways to ensure success. So, what are the key steps?

Set the stage: Be crystal clear about the outcomes you want to achieve. You’re trading time for learning with other things you could be doing, so know why you’re making this trade-off. It means you may need to rethink other obligations and to say no to new opportunities as they come in. By focusing on what you most want to achieve, you’re setting the stage for learning success.

Personalize resources: Do you want the umbrella after you’re wet? Nope. You want it on hand before you need it. Same with learning resources. So track down the podcasts, the blogs, the Pinterest boards, the Twitter chats, the LinkedIn, Facebook, and meetup groups you’ll need. Set up the Google alerts and Scoop.it and Academia.edu curation feeds you’ll want. Download the apps that’ll provide the most support as you dive in. There’ll be a snowball effect, so expect to find more resources as you go.

Build in feedback: You’ll want to establish check-in points to get feedback on your understanding or the products of what you’re creating. That means setting milestones along the way that include deadlines, time with experts, and expectations for deliverables. You’ll be more likely to keep working – even when it gets hard – when you know you’ve asked someone else to give up their time.

Get organized: Don’t wait until project kick-off to get organized. Determine which tools you’ll be using and set them up before you start. You can always edit them along the way. Set up your Google doc folders and files. Organize your social bookmarking site (try Diigo). Set up your Drobox folders, your Evernote notebooks and notes, your tagging system. Thinking through the organizational methods you’ll use will save you time and will lessen the anxiety you may feel about taking on a new challenge.

Ensure achievement: Take a scrum approach (check out Jeff Sutherland’s new book). You know your outcomes and your timelines, so break them down into manageable one- to two-week sprints. What will you need to accomplish every 1-2 weeks, in order to ensure success? Employe daily stand ups – establish a daily 5-10 minute meeting (could be a Google hangout) with someone who’s either learning with you or willing to support you. At each standup share what you worked on yesterday to achieve your sprint goals, what you plan to work on today, and any blockers to the work you need to do next. This ensures accountability and support. Be sure to include end-of-sprint retrospectives – opportunities for you to reflect on how things are going, so that you can make adjustments quickly.

Big learning requires a well-designed strategy. Sure, details may vary, but each step in this approach ensures success. Give the plan a test drive, and then let me know how it goes. If you’ve got steps to add, please share. Have fun driving your own learning!

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  1. Jon P on November 16, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    Gayle this is excellent. I have been thinking a lot about this topic over the past few weeks. I am incredibly interested in the different approaches, routines, and flows people use to drive their own learning. I really like how you laid this out. It is a very clear approach that just makes sense.

    I plan to use the information you shared to improve my own learning routines. Hoping to comment later to share how I am personally applying some of the things you mentioned. Thank you for your insight and inspiration!

  2. Gayle on November 16, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    Jon, thanks for the feedback. Seems like there are becoming more and more ways – through some terrific online resources – for learners to support themselves in the learning process in a personalized way. So glad this resonated! Do let me know how it goes! I’ve got a few big, hairy projects I’m working and am applying these steps to them, too.