As adults, learning never ends. The outside world presents us with new experiences all of the time. Experiences give us an opportunity to learn things. Many are unforeseen and at times challenging.
Another form of adult learning is when it is intentional—directed by a purpose that motivates you out of need, curiosity, or enjoyment. Learn to play the piano, crochet, bake, or swim. Joining a new company, changing roles, and increasing responsibilities all lead to the need to learn more.
Learning can be passive or active. Reading books, listening to podcasts, or watching videos or webinars are all passive ways to learn. Active learning involves some component of trial and error while attempting to do something, baking a cake for the first time, or learning how to ride a bike for example.
While learning can take many forms, how do we judge whether our learning is effective?
The quick answer is I can do something now that I could not do before. I no longer burn my cookies when I bake. I can use the software program at work without asking for help. And so on. Competency or proficiency are good descriptors for this outcome of learning. Judging the effectiveness of this type of skill-based learning is direct and can be easily measured with objectivity.
Not only the outcome, but the intention of skill-based learning is one and the same. Making the relationship between them easier to see and understand with respect to our progress. Where repetition and practice lead to mastery.
A different type of intentional learning is one where the exploration and exposure to learning are born out of a desire for change. Personal or professional. With this type of learning, there is a range of outcomes that are more complex and nuanced. Outcomes that may involve new skills but require judgment when applied. Complicating our pursuit of change can be the world we operate in, those we interact with, and the degree of challenge we face.
Learning to enact change is a two-sided process, unlike skill-based learning. First, we must internalize what we learn to then create changes to our thinking, beliefs, approaches, and possible choices. This then leads us to new options and possibilities to consider. What misleads us in this step, is that we impute movement towards impactful change through the immersive experience of this change-based learning. But nothing changes in our outside world. At this point, we have not accomplished anything because we haven’t tried to put anything we learned into practice.
Having the discipline and courage to act on what we have learned to realize the change we seek is very difficult. This is where the impact and effectiveness of change-based learning is born. Both personally and professionally. The tactics we choose to begin our path toward change typically require many steps whose impact is harder to measure because we are embedded in this process. Acting on what we have learned, now requires a series of small steps that require consistent, repeated efforts toward a different tomorrow. Inch by inch, month by month, year by year.
Judging the effectiveness of learning when seeking change is difficult but possible. If only we choose to bring the change we seek to life, instead of abandoning its promise by convincing ourselves to stop with only what we learned because we think we “now know” and don’t need to go any further.