Career Coach: Continual learning: Why it’s more important than ever before


(Mike Shapiro/For Capital Business)
July 15, 2012

I spent the past two weeks in Beijing teaching and coaching executives in the Robert H. Smith School of Business’s executive MBA program there.

I was impressed by how these talented executives from around the world have made learning a priority in their lives. Juggling family, work, travel and school is no easy feat, and yet more and more of them choose to make these sacrifices to keep current with new knowledge and to enhance their understanding of the best practices in business today.

All around the world, people are going back to school, taking online courses, mastering additional languages, etc. — all in the spirit of growth and continual learning.

With today’s more complex business environment, learning is not just a nice thing to do — it is essential for staying on top of things. Especially during times of recession, it is important for people to learn new skills and enhance their marketability.

None of us can afford to remain stagnant in our knowledge. Organizations need to ensure that individuals keep learning. To do this, they must create a culture of self-directed learners who are excited about learning and incentivized to advance knowledge and skills.

We can no longer view learning as a one-time event where we attend a college or university, get a degree and are then “done” learning. Instead, learning should be an ongoing process. We have to keep enhancing our skills in critical thinking, creativity and innovation, analytics, people and leadership and networking, among other knowledge and skills.

To do this, create a continual learning development plan and identify personal and professional goals and a realistic timeline for achieving those goals.

For companies to be considered learning organizations, they need to ensure that there is learning at the individual, team and organizational levels.

At the individual level, they need to make sure there are plenty of learning opportunities available. These could include encouraging employees to read books, enroll in seminars and workshops, be part of mentoring programs, hold informal brown bag lunch sessions where individuals can talk about specific topics, bring in speakers to talk on current issues and go back to school.

Because so much work is done within project teams, organizations also need to make sure teams have the ability to diagnose the types of knowledge and skills they need to improve their work processes, and then access to actually acquire that knowledge through formal or informal training.

At the organizational level, there have to be systems in place to analyze the current learning climate, what opportunities are desired and how to bridge the discovered gaps. Clients, employees and customers can offer critical feedback to pinpoint areas of growth and change and what new learning is needed.

People who make learning a priority will often identify the numerous benefits of investing in continual learning. These include:

Being able to keep current with trends and developments in an industry.

Building a knowledge base to identify problems and generate solutions.

Being more resilient to market changes and fluctuations (i.e., being more marketable, especially during recessions).

Stimulating the mind to keep inspired and excited.

Enhancing self-confidence about a topic or issue.

So, the question is: What are you doing today to expand your knowledge and skills so you will be better prepared for tomorrow?

Adopting a learning mind-set where you look for opportunities to grow, whether in your personal life (such as learning a new sport, hobby or traveling) or professional life (learning a new subject area, skill or taking on a new job) will keep you stimulated and prepared for the changing world around you. In addition, you might just have fun in the process.

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