Believe it or not, one of the most important skills to master in today’s digital world is the ability to learn.
The need for professionals and organizations to invest in learning and development has never been more crucial. The urgency to adopt new skills and knowledge is heightened by the pandemic, leading individuals and organizations to focus on keeping up with the rapidly changing environment and processes.
According to the World Economic Forum, half of the world’s workforce will need to reskill by 2025 as the result of COVID-19 and the ever-increasing automation of different jobs.
Despite understanding the importance and urgency of upskilling, many people struggle to learn new and unfamiliar skills effectively. Especially when they need to do it on top of their own day-to-day tasks and responsibilities. So how can someone as busy as a leader find the time to learn and develop themselves?
“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. ”
– Shunryu Suzuki
Learning is a skill
What some people fail to understand is that learning itself is a skill. Unfortunately, there are few adults that have been trained in the core practices and mindsets of becoming an effective learner. Those who have mastered learning as a skill, find that they learn and develop at a much faster pace compared to their peers and are able to reap more benefits because of it.
These people are often referred to as intentional learners. Today, you will learn how you can become an intentional learner and use this skill for the benefit of your career and your company.
What is intentional learning?
Intentional learning is the mindset of seeing every experience as an opportunity to learn something new.
While intentional learners experience the same daily moments like everyone else, they see each of those experiences as a learning opportunity and gain more out of every conversation or event. There’s a certain purpose behind it and this drives the person to absorb more and internalize it so they can apply those learnings to their lives.
In order for leaders to lead effectively and set an example for their team, they need to become intentional learners who continuously pursue growth and improvement — inspiring others to do the same.
Although intentional learning is mainly fueled by a growth mindset and active curiosity, it is also important for leaders to develop and practice their learning muscles so that they can direct their efforts effectively. To help you achieve that, here are 5 things you can practice to become an intentional learner.
1. Set attainable goals
Intentional learners will focus their curiosity and effort on small and tangible goals, ensuring that they will not be distracted by other things while pursuing their learning goals.
Here are a few things to keep in mind during goal-setting:
- Choose a goal that matters to you: In order for knowledge to be retained effectively, you need to focus your effort and attention on accomplishing something you care about and something that you find interesting. Or else, you will find it challenging to find the motivation and perseverance needed to see it through.
- Be specific: Take the time to specify what you are going to do and why this is important for you. Although learning for learning’s sake can also be fun, having a concrete goal can provide a source of motivation and focused direction that will help you work towards achieving your goal.
- Adopt a once-in-a-career mindset: There will be certain moments in your career when you might be forced to learn something that you might not be too excited about. It can happen because of unprecedented circumstances or even a crisis. A once-in-a-career mindset can help you reframe your thoughts to see this as a unique opportunity and the only moment in your career where you can learn this particular skill — a skill that you might find useful in the future. As a result, you can gain more out of even the most challenging circumstances.
2. Eliminate distractions
Just like everyone else, intentional learners also have to deal with countless distractions and different responsibilities. The difference is, they will specifically allocate and protect their learning time, ensuring that they will not be disturbed or distracted from their goal.
Although there are no clear formulas on how to make your learning time more efficient and focused amidst all the responsibilities and expectations, here are a few tips you can try:
- Conduct a self-evaluation: To create the most effective learning environment and schedule, first, you need to analyze how you usually operate. You can do that by asking questions like: How do you prioritize your tasks? How do you allocate your time and energy? Do your choices align with your most important goals? During this self-evaluation, keep an eye out for things you need to change or eliminate in your process.
- Be in the moment: When it is time for you to start learning, try your best to minimize distractions in your environment. You can do that by keeping your phone on silent or removing it from your room entirely, taking a walk to reset your mind, or organizing your workspace so that it is clean and clutter-free.
- Experiment and be flexible: Finding what works for you might take some time. However, it is important to experiment with different approaches and reflect on which one actually helps your learning journey. Keep in mind that your process may work now, but there may come a time when you have to readjust it again according to your current needs and circumstances.
3. Actively seek feedback
To help you keep track of your learning and development progress, be sure to actively seek feedback (or feedforward) from others. One of the things that make intentional learners different is how they will greedily pursue feedback as they realize that other people can help point out the things they might have missed in their blind spots.
When seeking feedback, keep in mind the following:
- Prime the person beforehand: To get the most valuable and insightful feedback, it is important that you inform the person you want to ask about the things they need to keep an eye on. For example: instead of asking a general “How did I do?” after a presentation, you can start by telling them “I’m currently working on my presentation skills, can you help me point out the things I can improve on?”
- Ask for details: To help you on your journey towards improvement, it is crucial that you ask for details and examples when receiving feedback. For example: “When you say that my presentation was unclear, was it my volume? My intonation? Or the way I explained things?” Tailored and detailed feedback allows you to point out all the things that you can do differently, enabling you to improve your skills at a much faster rate.
- Consider each feedback: Actively seeking feedback is great, however, you do not have to act on or believe every single one. Collecting feedback is like a data collection process; it helps you understand more about your progress. However, it is up to you what you choose to do with that information.
Note: Although valuable feedback and insights can come from anyone, it can be useful to seek feedback from experts in the particular field you are interested in learning more about. Field experts can give you insights that your peers simply cannot provide.
4. Practice with focus
Practice is the key to acquiring new skills. The pattern of experimenting, failing, refining the approach, and trying again is the core of learning and building behavioral skills.
However, to build expertise in a certain skill, your practice should be deliberate and focused. You need to ensure that you are not practicing the same repetitive aspects of learning that you have already mastered. You need to uncover new aspects that will challenge you at the right level and help you upgrade your skills and understanding.
5. Conduct regular reflections
Lastly, to help you evaluate yourself and determine your learning needs and progress, you need to conduct regular reflection. Reflection can help you unpack your actions, refine your processes, and help you come up with the best course of action to improve your performance.
Reflection helps build self-confidence
Reflection is related to self-efficacy and confidence building. The belief that you can learn, improve, and put in the effort to achieve the desired level of performance is at the heart of learning. Confidence fosters the determination to face increasingly difficult challenges, strengthening existing skills and fostering the development of new ones. Reflecting on those challenges will then breed even more confidence—and so on and so forth.
Reflection makes you more flexible and adaptable
In addition to that, reflection also lowers a person’s resistance to change. When old strategies no longer work, the best problem solvers try new ones. In a fast-paced world, being comfortable with change and flexibility is crucial.
A reflection that promotes learning occurs three times: before, during, and after a task.
Forecasting a task requires looking ahead — how we will approach a task, approach a problem, or what we will say during a difficult conversation ahead of time. This forecasting process prepares us for learning.
When we reflect during an event, we can correct our course and make adjustments. We notice what is going on and can learn and experiment in real-time.
Finally, retrospective reflection enables us to consider how effective our previous actions were and then project forward to how we would approach a similar event in the future.
Learning is the most fundamental skill that anyone can learn
The level of dedication we bring to developing and improving our skills prepares us for different challenges. Intentional learning is an investment not only in oneself, but also in one’s profession, family, community, organization, and the world at large. In that sense, it may be the most fundamental skill that leaders and professionals can learn.
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