One of the marks of a good leader is that they don’t think they know everything. In fact, they are humble enough to admit that they don’t. When they don’t know an answer to something, they find out for you. If they’re overwhelmed, they ask for help. When they’re not sure about the newest technology, they do some research. The best leaders are committed to lifelong learning. They aren’t afraid to learn and are always seeking to advance their knowledge and skills. They know the many benefits of investing in their professional development.
What is Continuous Learning or Lifelong Learning?
Lifelong learning is the neurocognitive ability to continuously gain new knowledge and skills. The old saying that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” isn’t true for dogs, and it sure isn’t the case for humans. Everyone is capable of learning new knowledge and skills, regardless of what stage of life or career you are in. Being open and willing to learn is the only prerequisite.
One of the key aspects of continuous learning is sharing. One of the best ways to learn something new is by teaching it. Researching, practicing, and then teaching helps to reinforce it. Just the process of talking through what you have learned helps ingrain the knowledge. With dedication and practice, you can master new skills by committing to lifelong learning.
- The best leaders are continually learning and sharing their knowledge with others
- Continuous learning in the workplace can earn you respect from your staff, inspire change, and create a culture of learning
- You can take part in continuous learning at your workplace by attending courses, workshops, and conferences
- The combination of e-learning, traditional learning, and experiential learning can lead to greater mastery of the subject matter
4 Reasons to Embrace Continuous Learning in the Workplace:
1. Earn Respect From Your Staff
Participating in courses, workshops, and conferences are excellent ways to show your commitment to the team. It shows them that you are willing to learn new things. Leaders that are knowledgeable in their field are more likely to gain respect from their staff. They can also inspire their staff by sharing this knowledge.
2. Inspire Your Staff
While you are away from the workplace it’s important that your staff feels supported. Otherwise, they may feel like you are skirting your responsibilities at work for a week-long conference at a lake-side retreat. One of the ways to ensure this doesn’t happen, and flip the coin, is to always share your learning’s when you return. At the next staff meeting, share a highlight or run your team through an activity you found inspiring at a workshop or conference. You may be surprised at how receptive your staff is to learn what you’ve been up to.
3. Create a Culture of Learning
Laughing is contagious and so is learning. If you role-model for your team how rewarding learning new skills can be, they’ll want to try it out too. Before long you’ll have staff members asking you if they can take a course or join you at the next conference. Embrace these opportunities. Investing in your employees’ education is an investment in your company, and it’s an important part of succession planning.
4. Learn to Change
In this day and age, we should be more than aware of how quickly things become outdated. Our cell phones, our TVs, our cars, the pasta in our fridge, our computers, our apps. They all need to be updated or replaced, and our knowledge and skills are no different. If we aren’t continually learning as human beings and leaders, then we are stagnant. It’s surprising how easily we accept that we need to update our apps almost daily, but we don’t often think about updating our work knowledge. The world is constantly changing around us and we have to adapt and change with it.
If you are new to a leadership role, perhaps you are wondering how to invest in your professional development. You can do this in a variety of ways depending on your industry and career path.
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3 Ways to Participate in Continuous Learning in the Workplace:
Courses are an excellent way to increase your knowledge and skills in your industry. First, check with Human Resources to see whether they have a list of recommended courses for your position or succession pathway. You can also check the governing bodies for the field you are in to see if they offer courses or workshops. When in doubt, a Google search with your field or position title and ‘course’ should display some results for you.
Be sure to do your research and see what you will get out of the course. Are there competitor courses? If so, check and compare. How long is the course? What topics will be covered? What resources are provided? Who is teaching the course and what are their qualifications? Do you receive a certificate at the end of the course? This last one is important, especially for employers. If you are looking for financial support from your employer, or for this course to go on your resume, then you should always get a certificate.
Looking for leadership courses for professionals from all industries? Check out these online leadership course offerings.
Workshops are another fantastic way to increase your knowledge in your field. You can find them in much the same way that you find courses. They may also provide an opportunity for networking as they are often more hands-on than a course. Soft skills, are being placed in higher value as essential skills in the workplace. These include proficiencies such as leadership, problem-solving, and teamwork. Since workshops are more hands-on, they are fantastic opportunities to practice these skills.
Since workshops don’t usually teach specific skills, you don’t often receive a certificate at the end. However, sometimes certificates are handed out for attendance purposes, so it’s always a good idea to double-check. Although this may not hold as much weight on a resume as a certificate course, it shows your commitment to continued learning. It’s also a great way to stay up-to-date in your field.
Conferences are a great way to network with other industry professionals. They often span multiple days, but can also be run in a single day. In many ways, they can combine the benefits of courses and workshops into one. The lineup of presentations usually includes key-note speakers, lectures, and workshops. There are even sometimes certificate courses that are attached or affiliated with the conference.
One of the special benefits of conferences is the opportunity to network. Discussing problems and solutions with other industry professionals can be as rewarding as taking a course or workshop. There are also sometimes trade shows at conferences, so this is a great opportunity to check out new tech. Bringing back ideas to your boss on how you can increase efficiency at work is a sure way to ensure you go to the conference again the following year.
3 Types of Continuous Learning that Happen at Work
In recent years, e-learning has become more of a necessity than a convenience. Courses, workshops, and conferences are now all possible virtually. With increasing advances in technology, these e-learning options are more accessible and more user-friendly than ever before. From the comfort of your home, you can upgrade your knowledge and skills, network with colleagues, and attain certifications.
- Accessible for more individuals
- Efficient use of time
- Allows collaboration with those in a different geographic region
- Not accessible in areas with poor or limited internet connection
- Not as personable
- Can promote a sedentary lifestyle
With the move to e-learning, traditional in-person learning has taken a back seat. While e-learning options are increasing in popularity, traditional learning certainly has its benefits. One of the biggest advantages of in-person learning is the ability to connect with others without the barrier of screens. The ability to readily see and read body language is a crucial part of communication. In-person learning generally provides a better opportunity to network.
- More personable
- Ability to readily see and read body language
- Usually more opportunity to ask questions and network
- May not be accessible in rural regions
- Can be harder to adapt to a variety of learning speeds
- Doesn’t allow for collaboration with as many people, unless combined with virtual methods
Learning from Experience
Experimental learning is the concept of learning through doing. Watching and learning from others can be an important part of learning, but at some point, you have to try out the skill on your own. The sooner you try it, the better. One of the best ways to learn is by teaching, and the same idea is true of learning from experience. When you enter the budget into the spreadsheet by yourself or lead the team through a busy shift for the first time, you are gaining valuable life experience. Making mistakes is normal. That’s part of the process of experimental learning, but it can also help to ingrain the information or skill.
Kolb’s Cycle of Experiential Learning is a well-known model in education which explains the concept of learning through doing as a cyclical process that has four steps. The cycle begins with an experience, followed by a reflection on that experience. Next, conclusions are made as a result of the reflection. This leads to further experiments which repeat the cycle.
The reflection step is an important part of the process. It may include analysis, further research, diagrams, and drawings, for example. The most valuable part of reflection in the workplace is the opportunity to discuss and network with your colleagues. Doing this before making a conclusion may lead to better success when you try a new experiment. This is an opportunity to include others and broaden your database of knowledge and skills. Kolb also proposed that depending on individuals’ learning types, they may prefer certain steps of this process. In the workplace, it may be prudent to assign tasks based on the step that the individual most relates to. When you are engaged in the learning process, then you are more likely to grasp the concepts.
- Increases retention
- Easier to apply theoretical concepts in real life
- Can be combined with e-learning or traditional teaching methods
- Sometimes jumping right in means making more mistakes
- It can be difficult
- Can be less structured for those that thrive on order and routine
Final Thoughts on Continuous Learning
Embracing lifelong learning in the workplace shows that you aren’t afraid to learn new skills. The best leaders are always learning, investing in their professional development, and encouraging others to do the same. They share their knowledge, role-model a culture of learning, and adapt to change. Learning through teaching and learning through doing can help you apply theory in real life and increase retention. In combination with traditional and/or e-learning options, the learner is provided with the opportunity for greater mastery of the subject matter.
Courses, conferences, and workshops are great ways to adopt continual learning in your life. They provide the opportunity to network, increase your knowledge and skills, and earn certificates. I encourage you to create one learning goal for yourself this year, even if it’s just reading a leadership book.
“I am still learning.” Michelangelo