Where your learning fails

Why learning failsPay-off: learn where your learning falls down

Investment: 3.5 minutes

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Unfortunately, most people fail to benefit from most of what they learn. Where does your learning fall down along the ‘learning pipeline’? This article should help you bridge the gaps.

Unstrategic learning

To start with, most people aren’t strategic enough at picking what to learn next (the one thing that will make the most impact on their work or life). (Hint, knowing clearly what to learn next is often a blind spot and many people benefit from support to think that through).

Of those who do, many don’t strategically pick the right medium for learning effectively (they might pick a book, for example, just because someone recommended it when really, they’re not that into reading. And that book might be from an author who they can’t relate to or even trust.) Then they face the frustration of trying to get a square peg into a round hole.

Narcissistic learning

Of those who pick the right content and medium (and therefore actually make it through the content in its entirety), most don’t dig deep enough to notice the useful ideas – the ideas that cause friction and contradict their expectations (right where ‘learning’ occurs).

Instead, their cognitive biases have them enjoying learning the ideas that support their existing beliefs and knowledge; the stuff they already know! They think they’re learning but they’re just reaffirming what they know, and patting themselves on the back for being as super-smart as the author.

One dimensional learning

Of those who do dig deep to find unexpected ideas, most don’t chew them over enough.

They don’t have enough curiosity to see what the ideas look like from enough different angles. They don’t think critically enough. They don’t try to deconstruct it or pull out analogies. Or if they do disagree with what they learn, they write it off too quickly without asking which parts of it might hold true in their relevant context.

Unactionable learning

Of those who do explore what they learn thoroughly enough, most don’t work out specifically how to turn what they have learned into actionable steps or activities.

They don’t ask questions like:

  • How can I leverage this?
  • What’s the cause and effect?
  • How can I leverage it in other less obvious areas of my life?
  • Which part of my life could I use to practice this, so that the skills transfer to my work?

Unmemorable learning

And most don’t take steps to retain the usable parts so that they can recall and apply them at the point of need. Most just let the accepted 80% of what you learn disappear within 24 hours (or, I’d argue these days, 24 minutes – no that’s not backed by science, but it’s probably useful to consider).

Of those who do work to retain it, most don’t practice recalling often enough (using spaced repetition) so that the muscle builds and won’t fail them when they really need to get this right (in front of the boss or the customer, or during that all important career-changing interview.)


To learn more about squeezing more value from anything you learn, you might like: How to get 10 times more out of what you learn


Disconnected learning

Of those who do (and by now, there are not many people left in our sorry looking sample), most don’t put something in their path ahead that practically forces them to apply the right things in the right ways at the right times. It might mean scheduling actions or having a checklist or job aid that springs up at the point of need because you planted it there. Think: red boxing glove springing out and walloping you in the face.

But, of those who do support themselves to apply, not all of them use what they planned to and decide instead to ‘wing it’. Because it appears to be an easier option.

Unmindful learning

But of those who do actively apply what they learned, most fail to pay full attention to the outcomes of their efforts. Most don’t measure how successful what they learned actually was (a personal ROI, if you like). And so they don’t reinforce the benefits of learning in the way they do. Learn, apply, measure, tie it back to what you learned. I always recall myself applying a sales technique years ago from a book that cost me £3, that I believe got me a significant sale. Obviously, I learned who to go to next for more learning).

One-off learning

Of those who do, many don’t repeat and build on what they learned. They often do it once, then get sidetracked and fail to support themselves to turn it into a habit.

Unshared learning

Of those who do, most don’t share what they just learned and proved with their colleagues (even those on the same team facing the same forces in the same environment where this stuff works!)

High-performance self-directed learning

But of those who do, well…they’re probably doing rather well I’d imagine. And enjoying all the rewards that come with that. You should hang on to them, treat them well, promote them. They’re going places.

Your business needs more people like that.

Upgrade your organisation’s learning power

If you want to help your people upgrade their performance in any area of their work, they could probably benefit from learning how to learn fast and effectively, and even more importantly, learn how to help each other learn effectively. They are themselves, learnable skills.

If you want to talk about how that might work, here’s my learning site: www.HelpPeopleLearn.com.  And you can contact me here.

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