Developing a Learning Strategy

May 31, 2018

One of the biggest career mistakes professionals make is focusing on their current job, doing the best job they can with the responsibilities assigned to them. If you’re not growing in your career by taking on more important responsibilities and constantly finding ways to do things better you’ll end up in a job that becomes redundant as market forces change the way we work.  

 

No more is change present than in the technology where trends form in months! While I was an undergraduate at the University of Waterloo in 2006, the topics being taught to students included Operating Systems, Compilers, and Networking. How many of these topics are as relevant today as they were back then? Similarly, when I joined Maluuba in 2012, smartphones apps were still in their infancy. Now everyone has a smartphone they use every hour!  Learning doesn't end when you finish your academic studies. It must continue throughout your career to adapt to a constantly changing world. 

 

A major misconception of learning is it can be done organically, reading blogs and listening to podcast in your free time. However, this strategy is ineffective as you end up consuming content that pulls attention away from the things you’re passionate about. It's much better to have a process and plan for learning.

 

 

The first step in the process is to identify what your passion is. Passion comes from both your work and what you do in your free along with careful reflection of your life experience so far. An approach to learning is to understand what you’ll be doing in the long run (i.e. 5 or 10 years out) working backwards to determine the essential things you need to do in the interim both professionally and personally to get you to that dream career. If you’ve spent enough time in the field you’ll also have an understanding of your work and can classify it into one of several categories below. Look at what your successful and failures in your career and ask yourself, was there any gap in knowledge which if it wasn’t there would have changed the outcome of the project/task/item? You should also ask your clients, colleagues, friends and even your boss to give you honest feedback on your strengths and weaknesses to avoid any personal blindspots you may have. This analysis applies not only to your professional goals but also your personal goals since a meaningful life has both professional and personal wins.

 

Now that you’ve built a 360 degree view of your life, it’s time to catalog the items you want to learn and prioritize the level of learning required for each. Create a spreadsheet with the categories of knowledge you want to learn assigning each item a priority of either Low, Medium or High based on how relevant the skill is to your long term goals and your relative strength in each category. You should have at most 3 categorieslisted as high priority. Your spreadsheet should end up looking something like this:

 

 

Understanding the high level goals we want to achieve both personally and professional is the easy part. Now we must identify the relevant material that will provide the knowledge to effectively achieve these goals. Create a new worksheet to track the books/articles/videos you want to consume. Perform a web search around the topics you’ve prioritized (i.e. I searched for “top user research blogs” and “user research thought leaders” and came up with a wealth of resources). Review the results featured on various websites/blogs. If they seem relevant to a goal, add it to the spreadsheet along with its length, category, media type and review if it’s a talk or book. You should also assign a priority to each item based on the category and the relevance to the category. By the time you’re done, you should have a long list (at least 300) of books, articles, videos of talks and other resources you can learn. This process will take a couple days so it’s best to spend a weekend on this. In the end, you’ll have a worksheet that looks something like this:

 

 

Once you’ve identified the articles worth visiting you now need to come up with a day by day plan for the items you want to learn. Everyone has the time to spend an hour or two everyday learning new skills. If you’ve got an hour to spend learning I’d recommend reading about 20 pages worth of articles and another 30 minutes on talks.  Create another worksheet to plan out the day by day articles and videos you want to consume. Move items from the previous worksheet that you want to consume based on the length of the items and priority (i.e. shorter high priority items have more importance than long low priority items). Continue this process until you’ve got a week’s worth of content to consume. Follow this plan closely in the first week, tracking the time it takes for you to consume these items. Once the week of content is over, repeat this process for the subsequent weeks. Your day by day learning plan should look something like this:

 

 

A detailed learning plan is essential to remain relevant in today’s workforce. This plan should not static, it must adjust as your life and career ambitions change, as market forces change the way you work and our understanding of the world improves. A complaint I hear from avid learners is the challenge in applying the skills/knowledge learned through books, articles and videos to their work practice. This issue will be discussed in detail in the next article along with strategies for turning knowledge into power. Finally, I’d like to thank Activia Training for supporting me in the next phase in my professional career (details to follow in the coming days).

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j2simpso[at]uwaterloo[point]ca

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