Learning and development is changing so rapidly and so profoundly that you can’t afford to let your own professional development slide. Here are some top tips gleaned by Laura Overton from a workshop of charity L&D professionals, to help keep yourself on the cutting edge.

Learning has to start with the L&D team: we have to get our own house in order if we are to properly help others.

Laura OvertonA workshop led by Laura Overton earlier this year, with 30 L&D professionals who are members of the Charity Learning Consortium, focused on how we can better equip ourselves to support others to learn.

The idea came partly as a result of the findings from Towards Maturity’s 2015-16 Industry Benchmark Report, Embracing Change: Improving Performance for Business, Individuals and the L&D Team. That study unearthed some very exposing statistics:

  • One-in-four L&D leaders have no idea how their teams are keeping skills up to date.
  • Over 90% feel that they need new skills in their teams in order to prepare for the future eg skills such as data analytics, supporting workforce performance and facilitating social and collaborative learning. Fewer than a third think they have those new and necessary skills in-house.
  • 88% want to play a role in helping staff to become more self-directed in their learning.

How L&D learn today

If we, as a profession, want to encourage the wider workforce to become better at self-directed learning, we need to be doing it ourselves! The ability to keep learning and keep applying new learning is essential in order to survive in this current agile business landscape. All professionals, L&D and otherwise, need to be able to learn, unlearn and relearn and to do it continuously. L&D has to be able to do this in a smart, efficient and effective way and help all the other business functions to do the same.

During the workshop we explored practical ways in which L&D can and should accelerate its own personal, professional learning. Four key areas emerged that we think all practitioners should be working towards: having a personal learning plan, building a personal network, seeking out new learning possibilities and taking the time to reflect on learning.

Here are some of the hints and tips that were identified on the day:

Tips for building a personal learning plan

  • Conduct a SWOT analysis on your own skills and capabilities.
  • Identify your short, medium and long term goals, both personal and professional.
  • Identify your motivating factors and drivers.
  • Map out your key networks and contacts.
  • Prioritise goals.
  • Create SMART objectives to help you measure your own progress.
  • Use the Johari Window model – expand your blind spot.
  • Set personal goals and challenges that will inspire you.
  • Inspire yourself through the use of tools such as Pinterest and mood boards.
  • Be a ‘yes’ person – accept a challenge.
  • Seek out regular opportunities to learn more.

Tips for building a personal learning network

  • Keep in touch with colleagues and ex-colleagues.
  • Join online networks as well as linked physical meetings.
  • Exploit networks such as LinkedIn and Pulse. What are people saying? Who is linked to who? Don’t be afraid to connect with industry experts.
  • Use Twitter to find and connect with open-minded people.
  • Check out who to follow (see Jane Hart’s list of L&D influencers).
  • Follow or join in with online chats like #cht2lrn #ldinsight on Twitter.
  • Make the most of free networking at conferences and exhibitions.
  • Collaborate with peers on creating new solutions (Towards Maturity sector groups and CLC member meetings, for example).
  • Identify in-company experts and ask to shadow them – such as experts in marketing, HR or business development.
  • Read more: join book clubs and online discussions.
  • Maintain contact with fellow course participants.

Tips for seeking out new experiences:

  • Find out about new learning experiences by attending networking events and having good links and conversations with internal departments.
  • Identify what is happening in your organisation and what is important to business leaders. Ask to shadow key staff in order to immerse yourself in the priorities of the business.
  • Ask experts in your personal learning networks for advice.
  • Ask your manager to help you identify new opportunities.
  • Coach others.
  • Find ways to share your existing experiences with others, such as through social media, speaking opportunities or by writing for external publications.
  • Actively explore other sectors and disciplines to identify experiences to bring back to your own role.

Tips for making time for reflection

  • Provide yourself with permission to reflect.
  • Provide your team with permission to reflect and share what has been learnt.
  • Challenge preconceived ideas that reflection is lazy.
  • Withdraw to a different place – make the most of flexible working opportunities.
  • Reflect as a team and as individuals. Transparency is essential when reflecting as a team.
  • Use a structured process – what went well? What would I do differently next time?
  • Block out time in the diary, such as at the end of the day.
  • Don’t leave reflection to the end of a project or event – carve out time as part of the process.

If that looks too daunting as a whole, then start small. Take one idea to invest in your own personal development and build on it. Learning has to start with the L&D team: we have to get our own house in order if we are to properly help others.

Laura Overton is the Chief Executive of Towards Maturity
You can read a longer version of this article on the Towards Maturity website – where you can also register for a whole host of hints, tips and free resources.