This is the second part of a post I started recently on 7 Essential Skills and Tactics for Learning Leaders. You can read about the first four skills/tactics in the earlier post. Here are the remaining three:
5. Empower Self-Directed Learning
I’ve touched on this one before in a number of places. (See, for example, this brief video clip from Great Ideas). While we need to get better at how we deliver learning, we also need to support learners in taking greater ownership of their own educational experiences and becoming better learners.
In our global learning economy, being an effective, skillful lifelong learner is dramatically more important than it has ever been. This shift represents a tremendous opportunity for trade and professional associations, who have for the past century (at least) been the unheralded stewards of lifelong professional development and continuing education. I’d argue that, given that most associations are tax-exempt organizations, it is also a responsibility that leaders have an obligation to embrace.
As Malcolm Knowles, the father of adult education theory, pointed out, most of us are not prepared well by traditional schooling to become active, self-directed learners as adults. Throw in the dizzying array of learning options and tools the Internet now makes possible, and this lack of preparation can be a serious handicap.
At a minimum, associations should embrace the opportunity (and responsibility) to teach better learning strategies. They should also increase efforts to teach members how most effectively to use social media, search, and mobile tools as part of their ongoing, self-directed learning efforts.
Learning leaders understand how to empower learners and are committed to making it happen.
6. Put Learning Principles First
Organizations are under increasing pressure to deliver experiences that are more convenient and cost effective. Simultaneously, the buzz about social learning and more collaborative, interactive learning experiences continues to grow. While both trends are largely positive, both also come with the danger of putting the cart before the horse.
I often run into organizations that have attempted to implement more collaborative forms of learning, but find that learners don’t really participate. Upon closer examination, it often turns out that the collaboration is not designed to add to the experience in a meaningful, relevant way – factors of particular importance to adult learners. As a result, learners feel no real motivation to participate.
In other cases, organizations invest a lot to move education online into more convenient, on-demand experiences. Often the result is purely an information stream, with little or no attempt to account for prior knowledge, or to center the learning around compelling problems or tasks, or in general to provide ways in which the experience can be as relevant as possible to the learner. (Yes, there’s that “R” word again.)
Whatever technologies or trends an organization embraces, a solid focus on adult learning principles is still the best way to ensure that educational experiences will provide a good return for the learner. As I argued recently, I think the demand for demonstrable returns is likely to grow significantly in importance as competition increases and as trends in corporate training make their way over to the association world.
Learning leaders have a solid understanding of learning principles and prioritize over whatever the latest thing is.
7. Exercise Influence
As much as the Internet has enriched our lives in recent decades, it has also enabled the massive flow of communication and information that now overwhelms many of us. Even things that are worthy of our attention no longer get it simply because of all the other claims on our attention.
Of course, learning requires attention. What’s more, convincing someone to participate in a learning experience requires getting her attention and then persuading her that whatever you have to offer is worth the time and expense it will require.
Leading learning these days requires a strong command of the basic principles of influence articulated nearly three decades ago by Robert Cialdini in Influence: The Science of Persuasion:
- Social Proof
If you haven’t ever read Cialdini’s book, I recommend putting it at the top of your list. If you want a quick crash course or refresher, the Wikipedia entry for Cialdini give a quick synopsis of the six principles of influence. You might also want to take the influence quiz on Cialdini’s Web site.
Ultimately, leading learning is about leading change, and you can’t lead change if you don’t wield influence.
Learning leaders understand the principles of influence and are adept at using them.
So, that’s my list. I can think of other things that probably belong on it. I’m sure you can too. Please comment and share your thoughts on the skills and tactics that are essential for today’s learning leaders.