Self-managed learning – Is it engage or go?

It’s no secret that most people find it difficult to self-learn. It is not easy.

Regardless of this, organisations increasingly expect employees to do even more learning in their own time, often in addition to their normal daily workload.

Unfortunately many businesses set themselves up for immediate failure by spending more time thinking about the content of the learning programmes and not enough on supporting and nurturing the culture of the business and the individuals who are expected to complete it.

Many people will have convinced themselves that they don’t need to learn, or that they don’t really want to, so why should they complete a programme off their own back if they don’t believe it will benefit them? 

Food for thought, but in reality the trend is towards self-managed learning direction. Here are some hints and tips to help individuals make the most of self-managed learning

Some common scenarios

“I’ve been given more self-managed learning to do but my company never seems to provide any kind of support or advice in terms of what I might need to do differently to juggle my workload with learning.”

This is a common complaint but doesn’t detract from the fact that individuals are expected to manage their own learning. How do they make space in their day to day job to allow time for this? 

Diarise your learning.  It sounds obvious, but planning time to complete learning (perhaps on the same day or time each week) helps. 

Making a commitment to someone else also helps. “I’m completing my learning on Tuesday between 3pm and 4pm”.  Even highlighting the fact that you are telling someone will alert others to respect your space. 

Know your learning limits.  Try to organise your learning in small chunks of around 20 minutes per session as it will be much easier for your brain to digest.  Ploughing through reams of material for hours on end will have little benefit.

Why is this module mandatory? I don’t need to know this, or I already know this so it is a complete waste of my time.”

Unfortunately many businesses become so absorbed in the content of the learning programme that they overlook the fact that they may be teaching people things they already know or don’t necessarily need to know. 

As a learner you have a responsibility to give feedback on your learning in terms of exactly what learning is being given to you.  This gives you the opportunity to say “This is, or isn’t working for me”. 

It is very unlikely that every learning module you complete needs to be mandatory so don’t be afraid to ask why. 

If your organisation has put in place the tools to encourage you to give feedback, use them.  Some businesses will implement a mechanism by which you can provide feedback in a controlled way.  If they haven’t, we live in a digital age – so use email instead.  Find out who is responsible for the learning programme and contact them directly to give feedback.

Be active in the process.  Liken this to any other form of electronic transaction and you will usually receive an automated email requesting feedback on your experience.  Businesses rely on this feedback to develop and grow in the same way a training manager should welcome feedback, to help improve learning programmes.

“Why am I learning online?  Why not in a classroom?” 

This is an argument that in the current climate, would be hard to win.  Organisations have long realised and universally accepted the benefits and efficiency of online learning. 

Besides, there will always be people who complain about learning and development regardless of where or how it takes place.  This is usually because learning involves change, and they probably don’t want to change.

You could also stop to ask yourself why e-learning might be better than traditional learning methods and that there may in fact be something in it for you.  For instance, online learning enables you to work at your own pace, you don’t have to spend time travelling to and from different locations.

Unless you want to be categorised as a learner who is resistant to change (which in the modern business world is not the best place to be), projecting a dynamic attitude towards your learning, even if you don’t agree with the medium, can only be a good thing for your own personal career progression.

Some organisations are also becoming much stricter when it comes to learning.  In many cases they are actually pulling people off of a course if they haven’t completed the pre-work for the training.  Then your line manager is notified (which doesn’t look good) and this sort of thing spreads like wildfire across the organisation. 

Of course, this all goes completely against the grain in terms of getting people to engage with self-managed learning, but it is happening more and more so it is probably wise to take it seriously or at least show an interest.

“I’ve completed my learning.  Now what?”

Do something with what you have learned, even if all you do is explain it to someone else.  You need to use your new-found knowledge quickly to consolidate and reinforce it.  If you don’t, it will just become something you looked up (that you will need to look up again).  But the likelihood is you won’t, because you’ll believe you’ve already learned it.  So you’ll carry on regardless doing it in a half-remembered way or worse case, you’ll revert to doing it the way you always did it in the past. 

The conclusion?

Sadly, most individuals do nothing to demonstrate that they have the ability to suggest change.  The general consensus is you either accept it or become a resistor, but you can actually be positive about change and give worthy feedback that helps the business you work in to improve. 

To generate real results you need to be clever about it and prove that you appreciate what the business is trying to do (think about how it is trying to achieve more with less resource, for instance). 

The sad truth is that many learners believe it is a case of ‘engage or die’ when they could actually become active consumers of their learning and create a better experience for everyone.  The other route that you could take (and many do) is to ensure you do enough learning not to be the individual who hasn’t done it. 

Learners must understand that it is a financial and economic reality for businesses to use online self-managed learning – and it is going to happen more.  So rather than fight it, rise to the challenge, understand, recognise and embrace change via the process of providing feedback, because if you play your cards right, some of the change could come from you. 

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