Part 3 learning series: proactive learning
Lifelong learning is a necessity for us all, that’s no surprise. Change is part of our lives, and of society, business and nature. We need to adapt to those changes and for this we have to learn new things in new contexts. Like Charles Darwin already observed, “It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one that is most adaptable to change”.
Change is especially omnipresent in the technological environment of our business and customers. If we want to work on our employability, we need to keep our competences up to date and, even better, grow our skill set by expanding our scope and acquire new competences. Keeping competences up to date requires learning. Let’s say I’m an artificial intelligence (AI) expert in the field of machine learning. If I don’t keep up with the evolutions in my domain, I will no longer be an expert in one or two years. So, let’s dig a little deeper into the aspects of ‘learning’ and ‘being proactive’, two indispensable features at work.
Although people may differ in many ways regarding their initial talents, aptitudes or interests, everyone with a growth mindset (cfr. previous blog) can learn, grow, adapt and change through application and experience. Real learning starts with curiosity and having an open mind. It helps you to see changes, and to be receptive to new ideas, experiences and knowledge. Also, learning is a personal investment that requires effort and energy. Sometimes, this means taking a few steps back: when you have to learn something new, you become a ‘newbie’ and lose the safety of your actual expertise. Therefore, you should dare to make mistakes and learn from them. Having a growth mindset means seeing mistakes and problems as opportunities to learn.
Some competences can be learned fast, others can take a lifetime. It’s of importance to value the process over the end result: enjoy the learning process and don’t mind when it takes a while. Of course, there are many different ways to learn. Research shows we learn and grow most successfully when applying a combination of on-the-job, social and formal learning. How you learn best will vary from skill to skill, person to person, and context to context.
About being proactive
Being proactive means taking initiative for your own learning journey and the willingness of being in control of your future professional development. This implies that you have a developed sense of who you are, what you can do, and where you are going. You have a good understanding of your strong skills and your areas for improvement, of your preferred communication and learning methods. What’s more, you are self-motivated to take purposeful action to work on your personal growth, both in your professional and private life.
But, as we all know, knowledge and skills have little value when they are not being applied. Proactive learning thus also requires generative learning. Generative learning is learning by doing, by continuously generating results and learning from them, possibly adjusting your vision and further developing your competences. It’s ‘learning on-the-go’, increases information retention and leaves room for flexibility. Moreover, sharing knowledge by interacting and networking is also a very powerful way to put your knowledge into action. Who else is looking to develop in similar ways as I am? What feedback can I get from others? Who has a different view on the world? What would it mean to take a step back and learn from them?
Learning + proactive = proactive learning
When you succeed in combining learning and proactiveness, proactive learning appears on the scene. As a proactive learner you keep your technical skills up to date and you improve your skills and learn new ones by different means (i.e., e-learning, books, webinars, on-the-job training, classroom training, external fora, internal collaboration platforms and internal projects). You have a real drive to grow your knowledge, gain new work experiences, build your network, learn from errors and improve your soft skills to become the best version of yourself.
The ability of employees to learn proactively throughout their career plays a growing role in their success, both as individuals and as part of teams, and is an unmistakably important factor to implement your business strategy.