Remember when you were a child and couldn't wait to go to school? The excitement and pride associated with learning something new? The enthusiasm to practice a new skill over and over again... enlisting those around you to watch and critique your efforts?
For too many adults, that joy has been replaced with disinterest, anxiety, skepticism, and resistance.
The natural drive toward the pursuit of new knowledge and abilities has been crowded out of the workplace by a variety of factors, with two topping the list.
- Competition for scarce moments in the day: Learning takes time. Practicing takes time. Reflecting on how to apply new skills and knowledge takes time. And for too many in the workforce, time is the scarcest of resources. Competing demands and overflowing priorities can crowd out learning... and any love for it.
- Performance pressure: Everything feels ‘high-stakes' in business today. Leaders are under a microscope and in the spotlight at the same time. Missteps and mistakes are noticed, communicated, and magnified as a result of ever-expanding communication vehicles. This sort of pressure can reduce one's appetite for learning... and any love for it.
How can we combat these factors and enable adults to reignite the love of learning that children naturally experience... a love of learning that will translate to greater personal effectiveness and improved organizational results?
Consider five high pay-off strategies that learning professionals and leaders alike can use to tap that joyful and exuberant inner learner.
5 high pay-off strategies for cultivating a love of learning
1. Personalize purpose and possibilities
With such a focus on compliance in much of corporate training and development today, many individuals approach learning obediently, ready to take whatever they're given... all of which breeds a sense of apathy and disinterest.
So, right from the start, challenge this passivity by exploring the value of the skills/knowledge to be gained in a variety of different contexts.
Share stories of others who've used the content in very different ways to achieve very different results. Invite learners to create their own individual purpose or focus for the experience, and to brainstorm the changes they might make as a result of learning.
2. Cultivate competence
Let's face it... it's a lot more fun to feel capable rather than incapable. Right?
So, cultivate the conditions that help others experience a sense of competence.
Focus on strengths and helping learners determine how to deploy what they're already good at to support abilities they'd like to develop.
Be generous with your observations - about what's going well and what could change. Offer feedback in a constructive, forward-looking (‘what will you do next time') fashion.
While it's tempting to focus on achievement, take pains to spotlight effort and improvement as well. This supports a growth mindset, encourages persistence, and builds grit.
3. Allow autonomy
Adult learners need voice and choice.
So, include them in the conversation. Determine what they already know, and use that knowledge as a launch pad for the content to come.
Allow them to tailor the experience. Relinquish control over the pace, format, and as many other instructional elements as possible. Ask learners for examples and benefits.
The greater the level of self-direction, the greater the buy-in and enthusiasm for new information and skills. Allowing autonomy taps intrinsic motivation and unleashes greater energy for learning.
4. Invite investigation
To create the greatest impact, design learning and development experiences that require participants to actively explore, examine, research, and investigate the content and world around them.
Ditch the lecture (and even the 'lecturette') and stop the spoon-feeding. Offer opportunities for creative thinking and collaboration. Encourage playfulness and demand curiosity.
Self-discovery enhances engagement, retention, and new skill use on the job. It activates a sense of competence and leaves learners more hopeful about the results they might achieve as a result.
5. Embrace errors
One of the reasons learning was fun as a kid was because there were rarely serious consequences for getting it wrong. This sort of freedom is liberating and energizing.
Learning professionals and leaders alike can engineer similar conditions by encouraging risk taking and reframing mistakes.
An error or misstep doesn't have to be ‘incorrect'. It could simply be an opportunity to gather more information or experience that will shape future efforts.
Offering chances to try things out multiple times in the safety of the learning setting allows participants the space to stretch themselves, fail freely, and develop the competence and confidence to take bold action back on the job.
Engineer the conditions that encourage a love of learning
Learning professionals and leaders who take these five simple steps will enhance learning while engineering the conditions that allow others to recapture that joyful and enthusiastic love of learning from childhood.
Throw in an occasional gold star and something that can be put on the refrigerator and there will be no stopping those around you!
Your turn:What other suggestions so you have for rekindling your employees' love of learning?