I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught – Winston Churchill
I want you to close your eyes for a moment and think back to your school days.
Oops. Shouldn’t type with my eyes shut.
OK. Back at school, every day was a learning day. Now, I don’t know about you but I can’t recall everything I learned back then. Back when every day was a learning day. I can recall the games we played in the playground. I can remember a very particular Hulk trading card I won from a friend. I can remember bunking off to have a sneaky ciggie down the road. I can remember the yolk on the front of Mr Frampton’s tie. I can remember the pretty French supply teacher. I can remember people trying to teach me stuff I didn’t think I’d need and them being unable to articulate why what we were being taught was important. And when I ask my kids what they did at school as we walk home in the afternoon they often can’t recall specifics about the lessons. They tell me about the same sort of stuff I’ve described above. The stuff that sticks. The stuff they remember when they were supposed to be learning about improper fractions and plate tectonics. When all day every day is stuffed full of people trying to stuff you full of stuff.
Going to work is not like going to school (well, not too much). So, can every day be a learning day? The dictionary definition of learning is “the acquisition of knowledge or skills through study, experience, or being taught”. Well, every day is full of experiences so you’d have thought it was impossible not to have every day be a learning day, right? The experiences of working life are so repetitive that they’d possibly qualify for the 10,000 hours of practice required for mastery (there’s some interesting learning on that subject here). But I bet you’ve got at least one pointless meeting in your diary for this week. Experience is only learning if we heed the lessons. What about teaching at work? In certain L&D circles teaching is something of a dirty word. It has a whiff of chalk dust about it. Where do we see it? Most commonly where the learning and development professional acts in loco parentis (a Latin term I learnt at school but not in Latin lessons) for a regulatory body to fulfil a legal requirement. Compliance. Like we often see in Financial Services. To make sure we don’t see the LIBOR rate get rigged. Oh. Hang on a mo. Then there’s study. Some L&D professionals become such devoted students of a particular philosophy, technique or model that they are able to build successful businesses around it. Trouble is, when your business is built on such specific foundations challenges to your thinking are that much harder to take. It seems personal (there’s some interesting learning on personality types here).
It’s one thing that learning most definitely is, though. Personal. It is possible to learn every day. But does it matter if it doesn’t happen? I’ve heard L&D professionals talk of people who don’t want to learn. That’s a generalisation that misses the point. I don’t think there are people who don’t want to learn. I think there are people who don’t want to learn what you think they need to learn, or who don’t want to learn when you’re trying to have them learn it, or who don’t want to learn where they have to learn it. Learning every day is about openness. Open to the signals. Having your antennae tuned in. Noticing. Being curious. Staying curious. Getting curiouser and curiouser.