I’m an advocate of meta-learning, that is: learning to learn. Not just because it’s personally empowering, but because it can and should be organizationally empowering. The problem is, little is talked about how to develop it. And I have to say that what I do see, seems inadequate. So I thought I’d rant, for a post, on what is involved in developing learning to learn skills.
First, of course, you have to identify what they are! What are learning to learn skills? Harold Jarche’s PKM is a good start, talking about seek > sense > share. Obviously, there’s more to it than just that, so it’s about seeking actively but also setting up systems to continually feed you new, potentially tangential thoughts. And how to evaluate what you get. Then, it’s about being able to process the inputs in ways that help you understand, or do, something new. What does it mean, in practice? Finally, of course, it’s about sharing, in two ways. For one, contributing to others’ questions and work. Then it’s also sharing your own thoughts and work.
That’s (largely) working alone, but there are also specifics about how you work and play well with others. Do you know how to best manage the process of solving a problem together? How can you ask questions, and answer them, in ways that people will recognize and participate? People need models and frameworks that guide performance.
Of course, just knowing this isn’t enough. There are some necessary additional steps. The first is evangelizing and sharing the best principles for working together. So, people have to know about the principles, and be encouraged to use them. And even be rewarded, whether just with praise or actual promotion of their successes. There should also be models, examples. So L&D should be practicing what they preach, and working and learning ‘out loud’. Show, and narrate, your own work! And, this is still not enough.
Most importantly, you have to develop the skills. Actively. So, content about them, and examples are good. But learning is, at core, about mentored practice. And it can’t be in the abstract, it’s about doing it with real tasks. You can set up such opportunities in your formal learning (and should), but you should also be coaching around real work.
At least, you should be facilitating proper approaches in public forums, like social media. You can quietly coach individuals about good practices if they’re off target. You can point out, as a meta-discussion, when people are learning effectively. Annotate the thinking behind what learners can and should be doing.
The worst thing is to leave it to chance, or assume your learners are effective self-learners. The evidence is that they’re not. Sadly, our education system doesn’t do a good job of this. Nor do our organizations. But we could. This is about more effective innovation, really. Learning manifests as new ways of doing things. Innovation is about better ways of doing things. If we evaluate our learnings and apply the ones that are improvements, we’re innovating. Both for specific needs and as a ongoing background process. And if indeed innovation is the only sustainable differentiator, this is the best investment you can make for the organization.
And, if you’re truly contributing to the central success factor in the organization, you’re becoming essential to the organization. As you should be. So seize the opportunity, and make meta-learning a priority. Develop learning to learn skills consciously, and conscientiously. It’s an innovative, and valuable, thing to do :).