Don’t Leave Learning on the Table with This Simple Trick

Learning…it’s the holy grail to maintaining competitive advantage, for individuals and organizations alike. Billions of dollars (yes, with a “B”) are spent each year by consumers and creators of learning systems, arguably with little to show for it.

Heroic efforts are underway to shift the corporate focus away from formal to informal learning: from programmatic, top-down, scheduled “events” to just-in-time, socially-connected, employee-driven development chunks. The goal of these efforts is to create a learning culture for the organization as a whole. But what does that mean exactly?

Simply put, the intention is to create an organization wherein its very ecosystem encourages and enables perpetual learning. Organizations often focus on upgrading their collaboration platforms, increasing the availability of online learning tools, infusing gamification into more formalized learning development attempts or scaffolding peer-to-peer networks…important steps, to be sure. Yet there is a very simple and underestimated tool that can go a long way towards making sure that learning is not left on the table.

Before discussing it, however, tell me if any of this sounds familiar:

  • You spend a significant proportion of your day in back to back meetings; you wrap one up while realizing you’re already running late for your next, trying desperately to capture the to-dos from the first and focus on the objectives of the second.

  • Weeks go by in the blink of an eye, before you even realize that there are new co-workers on your floor.

  • You just finished reading this amazing article and by the end of the day you already either a) forgot you read it, or b) don’t remember what it was really about.

  • You spent a whole day in a leadership offsite and a week later you have no idea what you got out of it (funny, it seemed so fantastic at the time).

If you’ve said yes to any (or all) of the above, you’re not alone. It’s remarkably difficult to slow down and reflect on what you’ve learned, actually taking the time to put into words the insights you’ve garnered. And yet that’s the very action that makes a difference. It’s the debrief, to yourself and others. And it needs to be explicit (actually saying it or writing it, not just thinking it); it needs its own time and space, in the immediate aftermath of the experience.

That’s the trick:

  • The 1 minute reflection of what you learned from a particular meeting, about yourself or others, and the implications on what you’ll do and how you’ll do it going forward

  • The 10 minute weekly reflection of how your beliefs may have been challenged this past week and what you took away

  • The 30 second pause at the end of the article before jumping on to the next, to summarize and assess conclusions

  • The quick 5 minutes at the end of a seminar when people share their “aha” moments

“What good does this do,” you might ask, “to just rehash stuff I’ve learned?” Aye – there’s the rub: the very articulation of your learning actually creates that learning. (Pause. Re-read.) The mechanism of externalizing it, specifically, gives it life and shape. It’s akin to having all the different ingredients of a cake batter measured and laid out, versus actually combining them, thereby making the batter. The debrief actually makes the batter so you can actually bake something with it. Before that, they’re just ingredients…little tidbits of stuff that could be learning but aren’t, as they’re left on the table (or apron, or bowl).

If you’re a skeptic or a learning-addict like I am, you can check out proof-points hereherehere and here. So the next time you finish a great conversation with a colleague, or as you wrap up your nth meeting of the day…pause and articulate the answer to the question “What was my greatest learning from that…and why does it matter?” Ask others to do the same and watch the results that follow.


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