Planning your learning is key to success

In the first article in our lifelong learning series, we looked at what lifelong learning is and why it is important. We also noted that there are many different ways of learning, both formal and informal. While it’s crucial to learn from situations in life as they happen, we cannot rely solely on an ad hoc approach, especially when it comes to job and career-related learning. By putting a plan in place, you will be able to focus and prioritize your learning activities to be as effective as possible. In this article, we will consider a simple way of developing an effective learning plan specifically to support job and career-related learning. Time to grab a paper and pencil!

  1. Start by considering your current role. Write down a list of the knowledge and skills needed in your position (you should be able to find this information very quickly in your position description). Then, beside each one, jot down how effectively you currently meet those needs and what gaps exist. If you have a mentor or trusted colleague(s), ask them to assess you as well. It is always helpful to get another perspective.
  2. Work through the same exercise for the job or role you would like to move to next.
  3. Now, you should have quite an extensive list of knowledge and skills, along with a picture of how well you currently meet those requirements. The next step is to prioritize where to focus your efforts.
    • If there are any learning-related gaps that are negatively impacting your performance in your current role, those areas should be your top priority.
    • Next, look carefully through the remaining list to identify transferrable skills – those skills that are not only specific to your current job, but would also be relevant to your next or future roles. This might include soft skills like teamwork, problem-solving, creativity, etc., and/or hard skills such as project management, budgeting, analyzing data, etc. Select the three that you believe will be of greatest overall value to your success and most likely to help you get the job(s) you want.
  4. You now have a prioritized list of specific areas for your learning plan. It’s time to think about how you can best develop those skills. While there is no single way to approach this, the following tips may be helpful:
    • Is the skill highly specific to your company (e.g. a particular process)? If so, consider asking your manager or a colleague to teach you.
    • Do you need any type of external accreditation/recognition for the learning, or is it time-sensitive? In either case, a course would likely be most appropriate. Courses are also appropriate when you need expertise that is not readily available within your company, or when you want to get external perspectives for fresh ideas.
    • Is the learning time-sensitive? If not, consider volunteering for a project, either at work or in a volunteer organization, that will help you develop that knowledge/skill.
    • Are you trying to improve upon your application of a soft skill (e.g. improving your problem-solving abilities)? It could be helpful to work with a mentor who can provide guidance and suggestions on real-work situations.
    • Do you need a very short piece of learning (e.g. how to create a pivot table in Excel)? If so, consider online resources such as videos.

Once you’ve chosen an appropriate method of learning, be sure to set a realistic timeline for completion. Without this, it’s likely that other priorities will push your learning back, and it may eventually fall off your radar completely. Being flexible with your learning deadlines is important, but by maintaining the discipline of working towards deadlines, your abilities will grow continuously.

Learn how Durham College’s Centre for Professional and Part-time Learning can help you achieve your lifelong learning goals.