Establishing a Habit of Learning

In 5 Steps

Establishing a Habit of Learning

5 Ideas for Supporting Employee Learning

to Empower Your Learners

5 Ideas for Supporting Employee Learning

6 Ways to Learn When Your Interests Are Always Changing

6 Ways to Learn When Your Interests Are Always Changing

Habits are routine, subconscious behaviors – actions you do not necessarily need to put a lot of thought into. Many of our daily actions are a combination of habits, both good and bad. Creating positive habits is important, according to Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit.” He reports about 40% to 45% of what we do every day feels like a decision but is actually habit. That’s nearly ½ of all our actions!

At the organizational level, habits and culture are closely related. How do people behave, work, grow, interact, and learn when they have the environment or flexibility to make decisions on their own. More than a numbers game, workplace and organizational habits contribute to the bottom line. “A huge amount of whether a company succeeds or fails is based not on sort of the big strategy decisions that people make, but on the habits that emerge within the organization,” added Duhigg.

If you think about your own organization’s practices, much of what we do as employees is the result of history – “that’s the way we’ve always done it” – also known as organizational habits. But what if you had the power to change the status quo?

Ryan Seamons, a Product Manager at Degreed, recently spoke on the value of habits during a presentation at Puget Sound. Here are 6 recommendations he made for things you can do to jump start new habits.

  1.     Start small

Dream big, but start small when picking new habits. If the goal itself is too lofty at the beginning, it easily becomes hard or too time consuming to achieve. A couple examples of starting small include doing two pushups, flossing one tooth, reading to the bottom of the page. These small actions can seem inconsequential, but set the foundation to keep growing the habit bigger and bigger.

  1.     Change your environment

Start fresh. If you want to read more, move the book onto your pillow instead of your nightstand. If you want to take walk at lunch, ask a friend to go with you to hold you accountable and mark the time off on your calendar.

  1.     Reflect

Take the time to evaluate where you currently stand. Ask yourself things like: what do I want to achieve, what has gone well in the past, and what hasn’t, what reward would be the most powerful? It also helps to document your reflections. Set 15 minutes of time apart on your calendar specifically for thinking and write down your thoughts in a dedicated document.

  1.     Find “domino” habits

Find habits you currently do that can propel your new habit in the right direction. A good example is working out. Typically, when someone makes the decision to go to the gym, that sets up the desire to also eat healthy. Try identifying well-established habits to which you could anchor your new habit.

  1.     Reward

Pick a small but meaningful incentive to reward yourself with when you complete the action.

  1.     Remind

Create a trigger, a queue that brings your desired habit to mind. Like ‘domino’ habits, a trigger can help you start the action needed to develop a habit.

Employees have a way they naturally respond to problems and allocate time during their work day. Being more aware of current habits and setting aside time to make an impact on your organization is a key to positively changing culture.

Training is a core function of many organizations, as employees need to be taught a few standard things to help them effectively work within a company, and best perform their role. But how many organizations put the learner first  when thinking about what needs to be taught?

This is the main differentiator between training and learning.

Historically, training is very business centric versus learner centric. We are all familiar with the transactional model of training: attend a lecture or class, and take a test. It’s easy to assume that because this style of training is common and widely used, it’s successful. Don’t fix something that’s not broken, right?

Wrong. In a recent presentation at Puget Sound, Degreed’s CLO Kelly Palmer shared some findings that suggest we might want to rethink our current methods. “Traditional training really hasn’t worked,” said Palmer. “$160 billion dollars a year is spent on training but 80% of what is taught is forgotten within 30 days. Even more astonishing is less than 15% of that learning is applied on the job.”

With less than 15% of trainees applying their learning to their positions, perhaps it’s time we re-evaluate.

Big shifts occur when we put the focus on learning and the individual instead of the old model of formal training and getting a “completed” mark in the LMS. Digital technology gives us instant access to learning, anytime, anywhere. Even if we think about our own personal habits, the internal LMS or formal training classroom is likely not the first place you look for an answer.

According to Degreed research, when people need to learn something new, around 47% search the Internet and 43% browse specific resources. But just 28% search their employers’ learning systems and only 21% rely on their L&D or HR departments. This tells us that employees go beyond what L&D is providing, and take matters into their own hands to find the learning they want in their time of need.

This is not to say that formal training isn’t important, just that the investments and priorities need to be rebalanced to include many individual-focused learning opportunities. “What I’ve learned over time is that it’s not so much the classroom training experience that employees still ask for,” said Palmer. “When together, that’s where employees get to network with peers, collaborate and actually interact with other people from the company. I think in-person training still has a huge part to play, especially when you’re trying to encourage peer-to-peer knowledge transfer.”

The best learning organizations are focused on learner needs and finding a balance between formal training, and individual, learner-driven opportunities that create a thriving learning culture.

To learn how you can better meet the needs of your learner, check out Degreed’s How The Workforce Learns Report.

Technology is transforming almost every aspect of our lives, from how we get groceries, to how we get around our cities, to how we get answers to everyday questions. People who are in the business of providing information–like L&D training organizations–probably feel this disruption more than others.

Learners are now empowered to find answers on their own, without the help of L&D. According to 2016 Degreed research, almost 85% of workers said they learn weekly by searching online, and nearly 70% learn from peers or by reading articles and blogs. Think about much things have changes, how far we have come, even in just the last 10 years!

It might surprise you that 45 percent of companies report that digital disruption is not being taken seriously by senior management and only 38% of learning and development professionals think they’re ready to meet the needs of tomorrow’s learners. What’s holding everyone up?

It’s important to begin by understanding digital disruption. When talking about the changes in technology, the term is commonly interpreted to mean the impact technology has on the way we conduct ourselves and our businesses everyday.

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iScoop takes it a step further, defining digital transformation as,“the profound transformation of business activities, processes, competencies and models to fully leverage the changes and opportunities of digital technologies and their impact across society in a strategic and prioritized way.”

The key here is the word “opportunity” and the ability for organizations to fully leverage the possibilities that new technology brings: quicker delivery, more personalized information, more content. To learn more about the current state of digital disruption and how it might affect  businesses  the Global Center for Digital Business Transformation surveyed 941 business leaders around the world in 12 industries.

The study showed 43 percent of leaders fail to see the risks associated with not taking a more modern digital approach, and don’t have strategies in place to address the issue. When this mindset is applied to the learning functions in our companies, it stunts the growth of both employees and the organization . As mentioned above, learners rely heavily on themselves and easy sources of information; and without guidance or facilitation on the systems and sources from which they are getting the content, they are choosing sources outside the purview of L&D systems, such as Google or YouTube.

Author and business leader Daniel Newman is well known for his take on digital transformation. He offers this analysis: “Digital disruptors and tech innovators are emerging in different industry sectors, threatening to overthrow conventional business models faster than ever. The implications are clear—you either embrace digital transformation or stagnate and perish.”

Bersin by Deloitte quantifies digital tools for the learning space, adding, “HR leaders and learning must adapt to a world where employees demand continuous learning opportunities through innovative platforms tailored to their individual schedules.”

The most successful CLOs know embracing digital disruption in today’s always-on economy takes more than just investing in the newest technology. “What separates the disruptors from the disrupted is how you put those new tools to work,” adds Todd Tauber, VP of Product Marketing at Degreed.

For CLOs and learning leaders, overcoming digital disruption includes a strategy that shares responsibility with L&D, managers and employees. This new strategy also includes an investment in tools and systems that empower: continuous growth, informal and self-driven learning, curation, collaboration, and behavioral data.

Embracing digital learning solutions that mirror the way the workforce already gets their information is no longer a luxury, it’s a marker of success. Our diverse talent market and competitive business landscape makes “learning an essential tool for engaging employees, attracting and retaining top talent, and developing long-term leadership for the company.”

It’s time to embrace digital with a learning solution that curates and tracks all learning experiences. Find out more about what this could look like at your organization at get.degreed.com

Digital technology has become the gateway to smarter work, learning and play. For Learning and Development and HR leaders, it has fundamentally changed not only our roles and organizations; but our goals and how we accomplish them, as well.

Our roles have expanded. We’re still responsible for education and development, but now add  compliance, performance, restructuring, change management, and culture to the list. All of this is accompanied by technology; but is it really helping us keep up? How can we really utilize technology to enact change and engagement within our organizations?

During the Degreed Lens event in New York, learning analyst Josh Bersin shared 5 things all HR and learning leaders need to know.

Structure needs to account for cross-functional connection.

According to Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends 2016 report, 92 percent of survey participants rate redesigning their organization as a critical priority. This tells us that the number one thing on people’s minds in medium to large organizations is structure. Our org charts are no longer reflective of how work is done. Thanks to technology we operate cross-functionally, with specific people that have the expertise needed to inform specific projects. When a project is complete, we move on to the next network of people for the next deliverable.

Not all digital helps productivity.

Today’s worker has hundreds of thousands of apps and websites at their disposal, many of them making promises of improving time management and streamlining work and life. But they’re doing just the opposite; enticing us to lose focus every second. Deloitte reported that U.S workers check their cell phones, in aggregate, eight billion times a day. The productivity lost is almost unfathomable. By carefully curating what technologies you choose to use with your L&D initiatives, you can engage employees by utilizing the apps and websites they learn from organically.

If employees don’t have opportunities to grow, they will leave.

What’s the biggest predictor of economic growth for an individual? According to Economist Thomas Piketty, it’s skills; the more quality and in-demand skills you have as an individual, the better. For L&D leaders, this means we need to provide diverse, meaningful opportunities for every employee to learn and fuel their career, or they’re going to find it elsewhere.

Learning is key to individual and business growth.

Learning is important for employee growth and engagement, and it’s also critical to the success of your business. At the Degreed Lens Event in New York City, Josh Bersin said, “you want people to have enough skills to move to new assignments, to move away from business areas that are shrinking. You don’t want to have a business area that’s going out of business where no one wants to quit or switch. That just makes it even more impossible to transform your organization. So we have to build infrastructure and tools and reward systems and culture programs that facilitate development.” Mobilizing upward growth within your company is key.

Learners need the right mix of formal and informal learning.

The percentage of money spent on traditional formal training is dropping every year.

According to Bersin’s Corporate Learning FactBook, from 2009- 2015, investment in instructor-led training dropped from 77 percent to only 32 percent.  While formal training is never going to disappear, it’s not enough to create a true learning culture. We’re learning every day in a variety of ways, on and offline. As an L&D professional, you need a way to bring the best of that content to your organization through curation.

The right learning architecture will create an ecosystem in which learners know where and how to find content.  Most course catalogs contain thousands of pieces of content, so curating becomes crucial. Bersin explains, “you know what happens when you give people ten choices? They don’t pick anything. When you give them a hundred choices, they just shut down the browser completely and don’t even look anymore. But if you give them three choices, they’ll pick one.”

While technology has fundamentally and permanently changed our roles, We can embrace the change by using technology to empower our employees to learn in better, more engaging ways that will benefit their careers and our organizations as a whole.

Want to be live at the next Degreed Lens event happening in November in San Francisco? Request an invitation here.

By now, you’re no stranger to the concept that employees want learning to be on their time, on their device, and personalized to their individual position and needs. Delivering a customizable and fluid experience requires unique tools, and the list shouldn’t be limited to your intranet.

Content on the intranet is often disorganized, scattered, and out of date. Yet we see many companies directing their employees to their intranet to find learning content. Typically, companies use intranets to manage corporate news, information and general resources, and you might notice those types of information are usually a one-way dissemination as opposed to interactive.

Learning shouldn’t be a one-way conversation or delivered in one modality or style. A manual, laborious process is only going to drive your learners away, which is bad for engagement and therefore your organization and the bottom line.

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In case you aren’t convinced already, here are 8 more reasons why your intranet shouldn’t be the only place for learning.

  1. Intranets do not personalize and curate learning. These are both key tenants to meeting the needs of the modern learner.
  2. Intranets to do not create high rates of employee engagement around learning resources because there is not much in the way of associating groups, pathways, goals, competencies, collaboration, profile or transcript ownership/portability, etc.
  3. Managing learning resources (i.e. adding, updating, and removing learning resources from multiple sources) on an intranet can be a very manual, time consuming process.
  4. Intranets are hard pressed to provide any type of insights and analytics around how your employees are utilizing, benefiting from, and engaging with the learning provided by your organization.
  5. Intranet solutions typically don’t provide learning content, they just allow you to manually upload and manage content.
  6. Social and collaborative learning communities are not typically found in general intranet solutions.
  7. Intranets do not usually integrate with 3rd party content vendors, LMS systems, etc. nor manage those resources dynamically.
  8. Intranets are not built to include sophisticated searching algorithms to make learning easy to find.

Learning is happening all the time, across many different mediums. To be as effective as possible, organizations need to be good curators of engaging content. Your goal should to be to make learning as easy as possible; don’t make it harder by making them use tools that make success nearly impossible or even worse, drive them away from wanting to learn at all.

Many learning leaders are re-thinking their strategy and want to incorporate more digital components to what they are doing with learning.  This means thinking beyond traditional models of classroom training, e-learning, and the limited functionality of an LMS. The reality is that people have information available at their fingertips and there is an abundance of tools to choose from.

The key is relevance, context and helping your learners effectively navigate the explosion of content. As you are thinking about creating your digital learning strategy and incorporating digital learning assets and tools into what you offer your employees, it’s imperative you consider and are able to answer the following three questions:

  1. What is our digital learning strategy?

A digital learning strategy means that you are going to incorporate digital learning assets (videos, online learning, courses, blogs, articles, books) into how you help people learn. But, it’s really more than that – it’s actually thinking about learning differently.  There is so much content for learning available to people now, and the rate of change is so fast, that we can’t be bound by old models of learning to satisfy how quickly people need to keep up on the required skills today.

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In the old model, a central learning group would get requirements for what people needed to learn (say Java programming), design and develop the “training,” and then set up classrooms, register people, and have them leave their job to attend a class.  That process takes time (sometimes a lot of time) and by the time all that happens, your company has moved on and now needs Python programming skills instead.

Instead, embrace a digital learning strategy. Now you can use the over-abundance of available content to your advantage.  You can help direct people to digital assets that you have developed, or that already exist, and give them on-demand access.  Having a variety of digital asset types also takes into account all the different ways people like to learn – I personally love to read books or listen to podcasts, but others may like to take a multi-week online course.  A digital learning strategy is your plan for how you want to conveniently offer all these digital learning assets to your employees.

  1. Why do we need a digital learning strategy?

One of the reasons it’s so valuable to have a digital learning strategy is that you can provide learning to all your employees – not just the chosen few.

When a digital learning strategy is deployed, it is instantly a global, scalable benefit for all of your people.  So if you have employees around the globe, or across the country, a digital strategy can help show all employees you are investing in them and in their skill development – all the time – which is key to employee engagement, especially millennials. Workers will have all types of learning assets at their fingertips whenever they need them.  So instead of asking the learning department to develop a particular type of learning, people can access thousands of learning assets that can help them right away.

Many companies spend the majority of their budgets on leaders and managers or high-performing employees and leave the rest of their employees to fend for themselves.  But how can “the rest” succeed without support and guidance, too? Having a digital strategy can help you reach all of your employees and help you have a competitive advantage in terms of retaining people. Employees want to build their skills and want you to invest in them, so if they feel your company will do that and others won’t, that gives you an edge.

  1. Which digital content should we include?

Here’s where a little analysis as well as iteration comes into play. At my last company when we were trying to decide which content to include in our digital strategy, we had just begun creating the learning organization, so we didn’t have any of our own content yet. In order to get learning to people quickly, we partnered with a few leading content providers that have libraries of digital content (examples include Plural Sight, BigThink, SkillSoft, Lynda.com, Safari Books, and Harvard Publishing, although there are hundreds out there).

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We chose three content partners and tracked the usage of providers content to see what our employees were needing and using.  We also included some of the free content out there (such as Ted Talks and YouTube videos).  That worked well for creating our first digital strategy, but over time, we dropped some providers and partners and added some of our own company-specific digital content into the mix as we learned what was working best for our employees.

Unfortunately, many online learning strategies start with buying technology – generally an LMS – and then people build the digital strategy around the technology.  To be really successful, though, you need to create your strategy first and then see what technology will support what you really want it to do. New technology is making new things possible.  The key is just to make sure you know what problems you are trying to solve and then you can make the magic happen.

 

Before you read any further, indulge me for a moment. Tuck your phone away (unless you happen to be reading this on your phone). If you’re reading this on your computer, close the other 10 tabs you have open. Shut down your email. Now, take a few deep breaths. Are you with me?

Ok. Remember this feeling. Let’s begin.

At Degreed, we often talk about how learning happens all the time. I certainly believe that to be true. Given our infinite access to information these days, there is no shortage of opportunities to be learning something at any moment of the day. However, with the daily grind of our jobs, family activities, and continuous digital connection, it can be tough to pinpoint those exact moments in our lives where true learning happens.

Linda Stone refers to a behavior called continuous partial attention. Perhaps you steal a few minutes in your day to peruse Facebook where you come across a Nifty video on how to remove permanent marker from your skin. Or maybe you’re in Flipboard and you come across This Cheat Sheet Full of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube Shortcut Keys. Our lives are full of these serendipitous nuggets of learning.

The problem is, when we rely solely upon serendipity, we lose focus of our true personal learning objectives. Not that serendipity is bad, but relying upon it as your only method of learning can serve as a hindrance to retention.

These constant distractions and competing priorities in our lives have powered a movement around mindfulness in the workplace. The benefits of mindfulness, as it relates to productivity, are well documented. It’s time that we pause and consider the benefits of being a mindful learner.

Taking time to learn is often thought of as an indulgence. Instead, consider learning as a necessity in order to acquire knowledge to complete a task, solve a problem, or generate new ideas. To gain these benefits requires a more mindful approach to the time we invest to learn.

When I refer to being a mindful learner, I’m referring to creating the conditions by which our mind can focus on the present learning opportunity. Mindful learning is about creating conditions by which your mind can focus on deep learning and comprehension.

Here are 4 ways you can begin creating optimal conditions to learn:

  1. Setup your physical space. Figure out where you learn best. Ideally, some place where you can remove yourself from as many distractions as possible. Turn off your phone or anything else that might steal your attention. If you are going to be using your mobile device as your learning tool, consider turning off  notifications. If you’re going to read a book, set it out so that it’s staring at you when you’re ready.
  2. Plan your learning time. Schedule it on your calendar and honor the time. Don’t ignore it, don’t let someone else schedule over top of it. Remember, this time is an investment in you. Invest a little time in yourself now, in order to grow later. If you think you can’t commit 30 minutes or an hour, start with 10 minutes. Split this time between spending 5 minutes reading on a subject that interests you or watching a video. Use the other 5 minutes to capture what you learned. Speaking of capturing what you learned…
  3. Reflect on your experience. This part is important. Jot your learnings down in a notebook or write post about it on Twitter or LinkedIn. If you’re using a Kindle, use the Notes function to highlight and capture your thoughts. Do something that will cause you to take a moment to reflect on the time you just invested to learn.
  4. Take a cue from Google’s “20% Time.” If you’re a in a leadership position at your company, you have the ability to set the tone for what behaviors take place. Google is well known for giving their employees time to work on side projects they believe could benefit Google. This, in part, is successful because they actively promote the effort, give people the time, and have given people the permission to do it. You should do the same for allocating time and space for people to learn. Perhaps consider a “Study Hall” campaign where the entire company blocks a day to learn. Encourage people who are interested in similar topics to Meetup and share their learnings.

So, now that you’ve spent  a few minutes learning about how to be a more mindful learner, what are your takeaways? While you’re thinking of it, jot them down. Tell someone else about what you learned. If you took the steps I recommended at the start, congratulations! Remember how it felt to give yourself permission to focus. Remember to give yourself that same permission the next time you invest the time to be a more mindful learner.

 

 

To start, a glimpse into my family’s daily learning ritual. 

My family has a daily learning ritual that started when my kids were very young. I was in a graduate program, so everyday, I would come home from school and tell my kids what I had learned that day. They soon anticipated this conversation and started asking me, “What did you learn at school today?”

I progressed through the program, graduated and got a job. As I sat down at the dinner table after my first day of work, my 4 year old daughter asked, “What did you learn at school today, Dad?” I told her that I didn’t go to school anymore – I now go to work. She responded, “Oh … so … what did you learn at work today?”

Her question caught me off-guard. I thought to myself, “Well, it was work, so I worked … I’m not really learning anymore, I’m producing.” But then I realized I’d learned more at my first day of work than any single day in school. I ended up sharing what I learned about being a new employee, about company culture, about my new coworkers, and about the job I would be doing.

Every day at dinner since then, my children have asked “Dad, what did you learn at work today?”

I love two things about this ritual:

  1. I pay more attention to my learning because because I know I’ll be asked about it at dinner
  2. I am able to share some good lessons with my children

Using Degreed to Supercharge your Learning

Degreed helps you record your answer to the question: “What did you learn?”

You can add a learning note when you complete an item on the site:

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Or when you complete through the Degreed browser button:

 

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When your peers add takeaways, you can see what others are learning.

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So, why take note of what you learned?

Takeaways help you learn more

Real learning is driven by questions. Reviewing is a powerful concept in learning, as is personal application. Thinking about what you learn(ed) provides space for both.

Takeaways support retention

It’s sad to me how many times I think about what I learned after I read an article and I come up blank. I have to scan the article again, extract a meaningful quote or theme. Write down something I’m going to do differently or research more. And when I see that article again in the future, I have a wonderful summary of an important insight.

Takeaways improve collaboration

When I see articles and videos with a takeaway from someone I know, it fuels my learning. I have a chance to see a trusted review of what I’m about to learn. Sometimes that is enough, and I choose to move on. Other times it makes me want to learn more, so I dig in. This isn’t just about a summary. It’s getting to the essence of learning.

So, what did you learn? Click the button below to add this article to Degreed!

What are you curious about right now? What frame of reference are you currently using to interpret the world?

To understand what I’m asking, think about what you would notice in an outdoor plaza on a busy summer day.

Would you notice the art installments? What about the strip of grass that is dead because everyone cuts across it? Would you notice the names and logos of the stores or the types of businesses that are operating?

What about the people? Would you notice the homeless person on the corner? The books that people are reading? Or would your focus be trained on the clothes that people are wearing?

At any given moment, the things you are curious about frame the way you see everything.If you’re starting a business, you would probably notice the businesses. If you are an aspiring artist, you would notice the art. If you love to skateboard, you would notice which rails don’t have knots on them.

For the lifelong learner, every day presents itself with an infinite amount of opportunities. Way too many, in fact, to focus on more than even a few at at time. This presents somewhat of a quandary.

Though a common mantra for success is “Don’t quit,” that may not always be the best advice. For years I felt bad about quitting, even if I hated something. I thought quitting was the easy way out, and that if I quit, I wasn’t pushing myself hard enough. I once spent two years too long in a job that I hated, and I became quite apathetic to progression in general because of that. It took awhile to get back on my feet, but from that, I learned that quitting is often necessary for progression.

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Rotating Curiosity

My curiosities and interests are constantly changing. The things I train my focus on today are not the same things that I trained my focus on a year ago. I like to call this phenomenon, rotating curiosity.

My curiosities rotate every six months or so, which makes things difficult as I make education and career decisions. One minute I feel like I’ve found my dream major or job, then six months later it no longer holds my interest. At that point I try to wring out every last drop of curiosity I have left, because I feel like something is wrong with me. How do I go from all-in to all-out in such a short time?

Though rotating curiosity has caused me some struggle in life, I wouldn’t change a thing. I have learned so many different things because of it. Honestly, I think it’s in everyone’s best interest to have at least a mild case of rotating curiosity. In fact, the winningest player on Jeopardy! encourages it.

During one of my many phases of curiosity back in 2013, I decided I was going to learn more about the human condition and talk to a stranger every day for a year (if I were in a plaza then, my focus would have been trained on the homeless person). I used an app called Lift (now coach.me) to log my daily interactions and to help establish the habit.

While I was using the app, a girl named Karen Cheng was also using it to help her learn to dance. She made a pretty rad video about it. Fast forward a few years, I came across another Karen Cheng video that reminded me of her original dance video. I wanted to interview her about how she she taught herself to dance to see if I could glean some insights for a blog post about self-taught learning. However, after I talked with her for a few minutes, it became very apparent that Karen also lives with rotating curiosity. Karen is no longer as interested in dance. She now runs a consulting company where she creates viral videos. Her client list is pretty impressive.

So here are the six most vital things I learned in my interview with Karen about self-taught learning, curiosity, finding success and knowing when to quit.

 

Feed your hunger

It was a long time before Karen actually jumped in and decided to learn to dance. She says, “I wanted to learn how to dance for a long time, but I just didn’t think I would ever be able to get that good. But I always had a nagging feeling.”

Karen refers to this nagging feeling on her website as a hunger. “If I didn’t have this raw hunger, there’s no way I would’ve had the discipline to practice every day.” Once Karen finally decided to feed that hunger, it grew into an obsession so strong that dancing became her life. Her doubts could no longer control her.

 

If you don’t love it, quit

Since Karen is no longer obsessed with dance, I was curious what her thoughts were on pushing through something once the newness of learning has worn off. Her response was straightforward and powerful, “Here’s what I do: I just quit, and I learn something else. It’s worn off for dancing, and now I’m doing video editing.”

It makes sense. Why waste time pursuing something if you don’t enjoy it anymore? Lots of professional athletes use that logic to decide when they retire. There are so many other things out there you could be learning that bring you more joy.

When I pushed further and asked how long Karen thought she would be curious about video editing, her response was, “Everything is temporary. I think it will hold my interest for awhile. It’s like 20 arts combined into one. Getting better at editing, and copywriting, and camera and lighting and marketing . . . It will take me longer to get tired of this than others.”

Karen also shed some light on career possibilities for those of us who suffer from rotating curiosity. “Every job, after 6–9 months, I get tired of it. So am I doomed? For my life? Getting jobs every year? That’s not feasible. Then I started my own business consulting, and I run my own agency now. What’s great about it is that I don’t have a job that I show up to everyday. I have clients that change day by day and month by month. It’s always new projects. And I can change the nature of what I’m offering. I have finally—after many years—figured out a way to find a career that works for this novelty seeking personality type.”

 

Track your progress

Karen tracked her progress extensively. As she learned to dance, she recorded herself on video so she could watch the video over and over to identify where she still needed to improve. She also kept an intense dance journal so she knew how long she had practiced and what she still needed to work on.

Though Karen no longer tracks her dancing, she still keeps track of everything she does. “I have a lot of spreadsheets. I like to see progress. By tracking it, you can understand how you’re progressing. I track how much time I’m putting into projects.”

he even tracks things like her sugar consumption. “I was hopelessly addicted to sugar, and I didn’t want to give it up because I want to still enjoy my life. But I wanted to have less of it. And I don’t do well with hard rules like, ‘you can only have X on Y days.’”

So Karen began tracking her sugar consumption, “I had to take a picture of every dessert that I ate, and I put it in a Photo 365 calendar. . . . What gets measured gets improved.” If she saw that she had eaten seven desserts in seven days, she knew to slow it down on the eighth day. And after three months, she kicked her habit!

“That has been really effective. So effective that now I feel like I’m no longer addicted to sugar. I’ve actually just recently stopped using the calendar. I don’t need it anymore. But it was such a useful tool for the three months when I was using it.”

 

Coach yourself

When Karen was learning to dance, she learned to effectively coach herself. That got me curious about how she was able to be an effective coach. It seems like a difficult challenge. For example, I have no idea how to dance, and I couldn’t tell you what I need to do to get better. I just don’t have that understanding of the mechanics of dance. I don’t have the skills to coach myself on those things.

I asked Karen about that. At first, Karen wasn’t the best coach. She just learned to imitate dancers from videos on YouTube. She began looking at every part of the body individually, comparing small pieces of her dances to people like Michael Jackson.

Then she began to notice how physiological differences in male and female dancers made certain moves look better or worse. Eventually, she took a ballet class because she wanted to create her own style, a more elegant style of popping and robot dancing. That is a decision that took her two years to realize. Coaching yourself takes time, but if you’re dedicated, it will pay off.

 

Learn from the best

Karen did everything she could think of to learn how to dance. She went to classes, talked to teachers she really liked, asked for private lessons, watched YouTube videos and practiced everywhere. When I asked her what her favorite way to learn something new is, she said, “I usually find the best person that I can find and ask them to teach me. . . . The fastest way to get good at anything is to find someone who’s really really good at it and learn from them” (Check out how Degreed’s Ryan Baylis is putting this philosophy to work).

curiosity2

 

Don’t get caught up in career ladders

The last thing I asked Karen was, “What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from your experiences? I’ll let her take it from here.

“The most valuable lesson that I’ve learned is not to worry about career ladders. There’s an old-school analogy that we buy into, which is that you pick a major and then you go on that ladder, and you climb that career ladder, and you try to get up as high as possible. That is what makes the idea of switching careers so daunting. You look at the next ladder over and think about starting at the bottom of that ladder. I have changed careers four times now.”

“What I’ve discovered is that you don’t start from the bottom at all. Instead of thinking of it as a career ladder, think of it as a jetpack of skills. You go around and you collect a bunch of skills, and put them in your jetpack. As you learn more skills your jetpack gets stronger, and when you change careers you bring to it a lot of skills that you learned from your previous one. Like I’m in film now and I had a previous career as a designer, that definitely comes in handy. I previously had a career as a project manager, that really helps with coordinating film crews. I previously had a career as a CEO of a tech startup, now I know a lot of tech startups that are my clients. Each of my past careers help in a very significant way with my current one. In a way, if I’d have gone to film school, I wouldn’t have all these advantages.”

The skills gap is a vicious circle: people can’t obtain quality jobs, and companies are struggling to find qualified talent. This goes against the basic principles of economics; if more jobs are opening up (and they are), hiring rates should be increasing as candidates fill the positions. But as the data shows, hiring rates are staying relatively flat.

The Skills Gap

The disparity we’re experiencing is called the skills gap. What does a skills gap mean for organizations and job seekers? How can we create balance in qualified talent and available jobs? And most importantly, how can you work to solve your skills gap internally?

The reality is, there are two skill gaps happening. The first is what Jonathan Munk, General Manager at Degreed, refers to as “the Actual Skills Gap.” By his definition, this is the gap between the needed skills and skills that are present. Both employers and students feel the pain: 82% of employers say it’s difficult to fill positions, while 83% of students have no job lined up after graduation, and 62% of students report that the job search is ‘frustrating’ or ‘very frustrating’.

Actual skills gap data

Alongside the Actual Skills Gap, a second gap exists that is less discussed but just as damaging, called the Perceived Skills Gap. This is the difference between what skills employees think they have, versus the skills the hiring managers think they have. Typically, workers think they are twice as qualified as the hiring manager believes. A job seekers overconfidence, paired with what may be a pessimistic view from hiring managers further perpetuates the cycle.

So how can we close the skills gap internally? In a recent Chief Learning Officer webinar, Munk presented 3 suggestions for improvement:

1) Benchmarking

The reality is, we can’t manage what we aren’t measuring. Degreed recently did a survey of thousands of HR and L&D professionals, and while 87% agreed it’s important to measure skills, less than 15% do so formally. We need a way to tie learning activities to skill development, to track and measure progress, and benchmark skills in order to get an accurate snapshot of progress over time.

2) Empower development

Making time for learning can be difficult, not just because employees are already spread thin, but many organizations aren’t set up to deliver learning in a worker’s moment of need. The learning experience has become fragmented with the explosion of content and digital systems. In turn, employees are turning to Google for the easy answer which is outside the purview of L&D. Learning must be consumable, centralized, accessible, relevant and available in a variety of modalities. This will empower employees to develop the skills they need to move up within an organization.

3) Take responsibility

For development to be successful, everyone has to take responsibility. L&D’s role is to provide easy access to tools and systems, managers are responsible for providing motivation and incentives, and employees need to make time for growth and create daily habits of developing their skills.

James Beesen on skills development forming a competitive advantage

There is power in devoting time to internally solving the skills gap. Benefits include a more skilled and competitive workforce, and employees with longer tenure. Successful CLOs realize that their employees are a competitive advantage, and they deserve the same (if not higher) investment than what we put into our products.

For more on the skills gap, download the recording of “Growing from Within: Evaluating and Cultivating Current Employees.”

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