There’s a lot of chat around at the moment about continuous professional development and lifelong learning. Not in the sense that it’s a new thing, but that it’s increasingly seen as essential for everyone who wants to be up-to-date and remain relevant in their field. Even to the extent that we need to ensure we actually remain employed in the future during rapid change, uncertainty, digital transformation, automation and probably job losses, an increase in freelancers working in the gig economy and a global workforce working remotely.
Exactly what we’re all going to be doing and how we’ll be doing it in 5 years seems to be up for debate.
What I think is certain is that there is a definite need, in particular for freelancers, to be flexible and proactive in seeking knowledge and learning opportunities and developing new skills.
But it isn’t just critical for freelancers. To keep up with change, anyone can benefit from paying greater attention to staying in touch in their field, getting ideas by engaging in networks. And by monitoring what others are sharing you can see what you know and what you don’t which leads to finding opportunities to learn.
Self-directed, informal learning and online networking are things I’ve been thinking about and banging on about (if you’ve been lucky enough to tempt me) for years. I was really into blogging and Twitter groups as an English language teacher back in the early days of ‘web 2.0’ and I still think it’s all fascinating and powerful, but also an under-appreciated and under-utilised learning strategy.
Incidentally, I think the field of ELT (English Language Teaching) was ahead of the game on this, mainly because it’s a globally distributed ‘industry’ with a focus on autonomy in terms of professional development, i.e. there’s always been a lack of support for teachers in language academies.
I was prompted to write this post by thinking about the people I’m currently developing courses for. I’m working on some content for managers at a global drinks retailer. It’s all about e-commerce: the marketplace, the players, and the potential. The thing is, it feels a bit remedial. In 2020, I’d have expected these people to already know this! But I suspect this kind of thing is true of many companies. Everyone is just focused on getting things done, head to the ground, with little time or space to look up and take stock of the world around them.
Let’s face it, lots of companies want maximum productivity from their employees and there isn’t much time for reflection, learning, or innovative change. Getting things done is paramount – on time, on budget. And freelancers can spare even less time, often we just need to get project work done as fast as possible and keep the invoice payments coming in.
Accepting (to an extent… try harder!) issues of time and effort, as an individual, do you want to be more in touch, or even ahead of the curve – aware of conversations in your field so that you can be better prepared for change?
As a company, do you want your people to be curious and connected? If your people are connected, have time and space to learn, and are recognised for bringing knowledge in-house and innovating, then I suspect it’ll benefit the company more than another raft of e-learning for the LMS that everyone ignores. Companies should recognise that learning, more than ever before, is part of work, not an added extra. After all, there’s 70:20:10 to think about.
The current situation makes this even important, as lots of people are missing the chance encounters, coffee chats and overheard conversations of a ‘normal’ workplace. Tapping into online content and conversation can go a small way to covering these missing experiences, and further if you make an effort to interact. A lot of the benefits come from the networking (as part of a PLN – Personal/Professional Learning Network) side of things, but today I’m thinking about the content and filtering incoming information. There’s a lot of knowledge out there, an ocean of content full of rubbish, so we need to fish for the good stuff.
In terms of staying connected to information and organising myself for informal learning, rather than wasting time skimming through social media feeds or getting lost in an internet rabbit hole, my strategy is to arrange for the content to come to me. So I thought I’d share some techniques I use, now that I’ve finished the build up. 😉
If you really want to geek out on this, find some stuff on Personal Knowledge Management. In this post I’m just proposing a starting point, really.
“Capturing knowledge, as crudely as we do, is just a first step.”Harold Jarche
5 ideas for sorting out your informal online learning
1. Sign up to newsletters
Not the heavy-on-marketing ones from businesses (although some are OK), useful newsletters that curate quality, relevant content. There are experts out there who take time to organise and share their knowledge or things that they’ve found, and deliver it to your inbox. Somebody else is doing the hard work for you! Watch out for the newsletter subscription info on websites you visit and consider signing up. Remember that it’s easy to unsubscribe if it doesn’t end up being useful.
2. Use Feedly
Feedly is a tool/app that uses RSS feeds. Known as a ‘Feed reader’ or ‘news aggregator’. Remember Google Reader? Years ago, I was gutted when it was discontinued. Then I found Feedly! RSS is underrated and forgotten, or never known, by many people, but it’s the cornerstone of any good system of self-organised content. Get stuff to come to you. Set up feeds to sites you like and every new post will arrive in Feedly. Read via the app on any device.
3. Use social media wisely
Yes, it’s a potential hellhole of addiction, psychological pain, wasted time, and all kinds of negativity. But that’s mainly the wider world of social media: the politics, the abuse and the nonsense, the self-congratulatory bragging and carefully branded (fake) personas.
By taking a deliberately focused approach and putting some controls on things – the tools and ourselves – we can make social media the best way to access serendipitous info, knowledge and informal learning experiences. For remote workers it can be a good way to fill the void of missing coffee chats, overheard conversations and chance encounters – as long as you’re active in a network. Or if you don’t fancy that, just lurk and see what’s going on!
TOP TIPS – set up a Twitter list of useful people to follow and just focus on their posts. that way you can avoid diving into the murky waters of Twitter! Beware echo chambers – include in your list people you might disagree with or people from different fields of work.
On LinkedIn, if you want to avoid the potentially uncomfortable ‘Connecting’ experience, just ‘Follow’ people instead. You’ll see their content without having to interact (although interacting is the best bit).
4. Listen to work-related podcasts
Taking a step back, this could sound a bit bonkers.
“Podcasts about work, you say?” 🤔
But hey, just about everyone and their dog has one these days. There are loads of podcasts aimed at professionals who want to learn, whether it’s productivity, L&D, education, marketing or whatever. Learn on the move or while you’re doing the washing up. It’s more considered, curated content from people who know stuff, talking about the stuff they know. Sometimes they’re even capable of presenting quite professionally.
Find some podcasts you like and subscribe using whichever podcast app you prefer (e.g. iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher), I’m a PocketCasts man, myself. Listen to a couple of episodes a week and you’re away. Note to podcast creators: any more than 30 mins and you’re pushing it, no matter how interesting you think you are, or how well-known you are – especially if it’s a weekly release.
5. Curate your own content – When you do find something randomly on social media, what do you do? Put it in your Pocket, as it were. Save it. Tag it. Read/Watch/Listen later. Or try to! Now you’re creating your own content library, to be searched later if you’re in need of “that thing about wotsit” you remember reading last year.
By doing this you’re starting to create your own personal learning environment and engaging in a network. Even if you only have time for about 10 minutes of reading/listening to professional content per day, that’s nearly an hour a week, 4 hours a month.
Once you’ve got yourself sorted, you can start sharing stuff and being a useful presence in your network (PLN – personal learning network). But more on that another day.
My discovery of the week is the Learning Science Weekly Newsletter which I found out about via the Emerald Works podcast. This podcast itself is worth listening to, I discovered it when someone shared a link on Twitter, so I subscribed in PocketCasts and listen regularly. See what I did there?
The team at LSW promise to “deliver research-backed, evidence-informed best practices” to help us learn and create better learning content and experiences. Great idea, I reckon.