Do you have a learning mind?

How often do you finish a training course, and find that the information - though interesting - just hasn't gone in? And how about a week later - do you remember anything? If that's the case, it could be you're not engaging your mind to embrace your learning experience. Author and learning strategist Bill Lucas reveals his three-step plan to learning success.

By Bill Lucas

Office professionals today are keen learners - and they have to be! Working in an environment of seemingly constant change, it's vital to keep skills up to date. And as belt-tightening on budgets means training can be tricky to come by, what's equally vital is to maximise that precious learning experience.

Your starting point is to change the way you perceive training. Think of it not as one element on its own, but as the central component of a three-part model. I call this model 'Ready, Go, Steady'. The 'Ready' stage is your preparation for learning, the 'Go' is the training itself, while the 'Steady' is the period after your training, where you put into practice your new-found skills.

Stage One: Ready

To learn effectively, you need to engage your mind. Sounds simple enough, but what does it mean? On a practical level, it means arriving for your training in the right frame of mind. Turning up late, flustered, embarrassed and stressed is disastrous - so get organised beforehand. Ideally, you'll be relaxed but alert. Not so relaxed you're nodding off, but not so alert that you're hyper and jumpy.

You also need to be in the right frame of mind emotionally. We all have different histories, and our history affects our approach to learning. If you did well at school or college, you're likely to be highly motivated to tackle a training course in a new subject. However, if your learning history was not pleasant - if, for example, you failed your exams, had a teacher who continually humiliated you, or a lecturer who didn't bother to ask your name during your whole course - your attitude will probably be more negative.

You may even worry about how vulnerable you feel on a training course, dreading being asked to stand up and speak. Negative feelings, such as anger and fear, will obstruct your ability to learn - as will stresses and worries associated with problems in your daily life.

If this sounds like you, talk to someone. It could be a friend, a colleague, a family member - it doesn't matter who as long as they will understand. The very act of verbalising your fears may help you to minimise them in your mind, and together you can begin to try out solutions. Perhaps you need to role play introducing yourself to a group of people, or to discuss how you feel about your education. This is all part of preparing - getting Ready - for your training, to ensure that your mind is open and free from distraction.

Stage Two: Go!

Today there are more techniques for learning than ever before, and the aim of the professional learner is to develop a full toolkit of methods. Don't rely only on what you have always done - seek out new ways to learn, and find out which suit you best. Try them all - individual research, online learning, small group work, note-making, mind maps, etc.

With training, as with everything else, practice makes perfect. As you try and use different techniques, your confidence grows, and you become a more effective learner, knowing where to find the answers you seek. For instance, you may not need a full day's training to discover techniques to manage your boss better - it could be that a little research into emotional intelligence will help you to choose the best moment for making requests.

Stage Three: Steady

The part which often gets forgotten, but it's crucial to the success of your training, for this is where you start logging some of the gains you have made. The difference between living and learning is the moment of reflection. We live, and we do certain things every day. But it is only when we stop, and reflect on an action, and change that action to produce a better outcome, that we are learning.

So once we've been exposed to learning, we have to try to make changes to accommodate that learning. Ask yourself, after your training, what you are going to do about what you've learnt? How will you implement those changes? Work out some short personal plans to put what you've learnt into practice, step by step.

Involve your manager, to let him or her know how this is helping you to do your job better - and thus benefit the business. By showing that you've gained from your training, and so has the organisation, you'll get the senior buy-in which gives you vital support.

Work can be hectic, and with the pressure of deadlines and urgent tasks it's easy to forget all about your training until you open the handout booklet at the beginning of the course and remind yourself what it is that you're attending. But this is wasting an important learning opportunity. Make time to use the Ready, Go, Steady model and you'll be amazed how much more productive your learning becomes.

You can read more about Bill Lucas's guidance in "Power up your mind: learn faster, work smarter" (published by Nicholas Brealey, price £14.99) and in his brand new title "Be creative", co-authored with Guy Craxton (published by BBC Books, price £7.99), out this month.

Bill Lucas will be delivering a Masterclass Seminar, called 'The Mind of the Learner', at the HRD Conference on 20 April. For details of the HRD Conference and Exhibition, see our Forthcoming Events.

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