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Expert Learning

“Don’t be a know-it-all, be a learn-it-all.” — Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft

“Don’t be a know-it-all, be a learn-it-all.”

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft.

Learning is a survival school in the ever-changing world in which we live and work. And the nature of learning, like work, has changed over time. According to Bersin by Deloitte[i], modern learners are:

  1. Untethered: Modern learners are increasingly working remotely or in hybrid environments, creating challenges for organizations to effectively support their development.

  2. Collaborative: Modern learners build and use personal and professional networks to keep up with changes in their work and their industries.

  3. In need of on-demand support: Modern learners routinely use the internet via online courses and search engines to solve problems in real time.

  4. Empowered: Modern learners know they need to continuously improve, and they aren’t content to wait for their organizations to support their reskilling and upskilling.

  5. Pressed for time: Modern learners report having less than 1% of time (24 minutes of a 40-hour week) available on a typical week to devote to training and development.

Sound familiar?

Though we cannot assume that most learners exhibit these modern traits, or that most modern learners exhibit some or all of them, these characteristics are helpful guidance because they allow us to anticipate barriers to learning as well as opportunities to leverage strengths. Bersin paints the picture of learners who face barriers of time and distance, but also possess some key strengths – they’re driven to improve, and they do so by seeking out likely sources of information and partnership.

Self-directed learning is when learners take initiative to improve their performance, seek out resources, and more or less continually assess their own progress. They have the will, but do they have the skill? Those who do are expert learners.

Expert learners not only take initiative – they are strategic in selecting their areas where they wish to improve. They can identify, access, and leverage appropriate knowledge and skills. Finally, they learn to create and carry out plans to learn and improve, monitoring their own progress and adjusting plans and efforts as needed to meet the goal in the face of changing conditions.

If we can help all our learners to become experts in how and why they learn, to own their own improvement, to guide their information-seeking and sharing, and to provide clear value and direction for their pursuit for improvement, we can have learning cultures where individuals, the teams, and the organization all perform better. Barriers to learning and belonging are removed. Everyone wins.

To achieve a culture of expert learning, we have to address two key elements:

Capacity: Expert learners are not born, they are made. Many of our people may have the capacity to operate as expert learners, but we can’t assume that all will show up with the requisite skill and will. We need to enhance their understanding of how and why to learn and improve.

Context: The environment influences the impact of our learners’ skill and will. Skills can only be leveraged through opportunity and support. Will takes a culture that values learning, improvement, and innovation. We need to foster environments that are accessible, inclusive, and psychologically safe.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a research-based framework that supports expert learning in any context. Using UDL, you can tap into the science of how people learn to build the capacity and context necessary for expert learning so that everyone can innovate and improve.

I’ll be diving deeper into UDL in future posts and in my upcoming book, Upskill, Reskill, Thrive!, due out in January, 2023.

[i] (Bersin by Deloitte)

James McKenna

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Until next time,

James McKenna

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I'm James

I love to learn, and l love to help others do the same. I write, I appear on podcasts, and sometimes speak at conferences. I share content here and hope you'll find it helpful. 

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