How to take control of your learning…at work | #AUABlog

Monica Mihai
Digital Marketing Manager
Association of University Administrators

We all have an incredible ability to learn and absorb new information. The problem, however, is not retention, as one might believe. It is motivation. Our motivation to learn more tends to decrease with age, to the point where we begin to resist any information and data that challenges our already set views and opinions. The capacity to keep an open mind, to stay curious and still experience the freedom that we had in our childhood, to explore the world around us, can seem lost to most of us once we enter modern working life.

In this context, it is unsurprising that those professionals who demonstrate high levels of “learnability” find it easier to remain employable during their entire working life as they maintain their desire to grow and adapt their skill set.

In the age of digital commodities and easy access to information, it is no wonder that our willpower to learn a new skill from scratch is depleted. If we know what we are looking for and have access to the internet, we can find the answer to anything… to the detriment of our career progression, as our knowledge and expertise have been devalued. As a result, what you know is less relevant than what you can learn: it is not a question of having the right expertise NOW, as it is having the right expertise in the future.

The question is not “Do you know?”. The question is “Can you learn?”.

In an increasingly competitive job market, with roles that often jeopardise our ability to learn by demanding consistent levels of high-performance, it is easy for the busy HE professional to lose track of the importance of learning. It is up to us to not only proactively take charge of our learning at work, but also to lead by example and foster a culture of learning for our colleagues and employees.

Are you really good at something? Good. Ignore it.

It’s very convenient to pick assignments that are a good fit for our strength, but we can only develop new strengths by addressing our weaknesses. If you’d like to acquire skills you don’t have or develop new expertise in a particular field, you will have to inevitably face what you don’t know. Not only does the prospect of self introspection seem daunting, it is also very difficult to do without support from your line manager.

To bridge the gap, you could take a look at adjacent skills that would complement your current workload. This would translate into leveraging some of your existing skills to acquire knowledge and experience in a new area.

Pick the right HE organisation

For professionals working in higher education, it might seem obvious that job hunting criteria would include “learning potential” as a prerequisite for a job, but for most people other factors will come first, such as security, prestige or salary. Your desire to learn will be strongly influenced by the type of role, career and organisation you pick. If you choose an institution that provides an enriching learning environment, this will play a critical role in helping you develop new knowledge.

Does your current employer unlock your curiosity? As a manager, do you recognise and reward both formal and informal learning? 

Set aside time for learning

Time is one the biggest barriers to learning, as we are all focused on delivering an excellent performance and accomplishing our tasks well and to the deadline. Chances are, your line manager may be in the same predicament as you, which is why a proactive approach to learning is mandatory. Own your learning.  It is up to you to set aside the necessary time to learn.

Learn from others

Contrary to popular belief, learning does not equal formal training or education. Some of the biggest learning opportunities are organic or spontaneous, and they involve learning from others, such as peers, colleagues, managers or mentors. These social types of learning not only boost the acquisition of subject matter expertise, but also help form new habits and practical behaviours. This form of adaptive learning is more suited towards everyday working life in higher education administration, as most of the issues we encounter are rarely well-structured, and the knowledge we gain from formal training might not be easy to apply in this context.

An important step in this process is seeking feedback and being open to suggestions and criticism. So much of modern working life relies on us demonstrating our competence and avoiding acknowledging or flagging our mistakes to others. This is severely detrimental to our professional development: asking for suggestions is not a sign of weakness, and criticism is what you make of it. You can choose to learn from it or to ignore it, and only one of these courses of action will yield positive results in the long term.

Ultimately, as higher education moves forward, a foolproof way of surviving and rising to the challenges of change is to be constantly learning and adapting. This is the safest way to ensure that, as professionals, we remain relevant and in demand.

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