Friday, June 09, 2006

Developing a Personal Education Program

In my last post I looked at the reasons why people found it so hard to develop personal education and training programs. I suggested that a core reason was that they simply did not know how to do it. In this post I want to make some simple suggestions that may help in developing a personal learning program. But first, a confesion.

Starting with Elementary Latin at University, a subject I did as an extra, I have a long history of paying for but not completing formal training courses! Why is this so? I enrolled because I thought that they were a good idea. I failed to complete because they did not in fact meet my real immediate needs. So the starting point in developing a personal training program is to focus on your needs.

Now this is not easy. Most of us have some idea as to where our knowledge gaps are, but this does not mean that we must fill those gaps. My advice is not to bog down. Simply prepare an initial gap list. You will revise this several times.

The next point to remember is that 80 per cent of learning is informal, with over half of this coming from work experience. This leads to a core principle: in thinking about your own learning program, start by defining just what you are learning from your current job.

In doing this, try to distinguish between knowledge (things that you know) and skills (things that you can do). Do not worry if they are small things, the aim is to have a complete list.

You should also try to identify areas of decline in knowledge and skills. This can be depressing, especially if your job is in fact limiting you.

Now compare the results of your job related learning experience with your initial list of training needs. What are the gaps? Do you want to make any changes to your needs list in light of the results? Again, don't bog down. You are going through a process.

Having now refined you needs list and identified gaps, start thinking about different ways in which you might fill those gaps.

At this point, it can be helpful if a little depressing to draw up a list of personal problems that you have to overcome in moving forward. How much can you afford to spend? How much real time do you have? How do you learn best? Any action plans you develop need to take these into account.

In thinking about filling gaps, start with your work environment looking at both formal and informal learning. Are there things that you can do there that may help you develop your knowledge and skills? What training activities does the company provide? Are there any ways to improve the work that you are being given? Are there people in the company that you might talk to, not necessarily either your boss or the HR people, who can give you advice, act as a sounding board, provide some form of mentoring?

Then look externally. What things can you do on your own through personal study, what things might require more formal study?

The distinction between knowledge and skills can be important here. Knowledge can be obtained through personal study using a wide variety of free resources including the web. However, skill acquisition requires practice, one of the reasons why informal on the job learning is so important. So if you are targeting a skill, especially one relating to interactions with others, you have to think about just how you are to practice that skill. This may require a formal course or at least interaction with others.

Having got this far, you should now be in a position to define a personal training program including both work related and private learning activities.

This need not, indeed should not, be complicated, nor should it be too ambitious. You want to succeed, not fail. To this end, try to chunk things into the smallest possible bits so that you can do them easily and thus build a sense of momentum.

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