• Ian Gibbs

Why You Need A Personal Learning Strategy (Part 3 of 4)

Updated: Mar 11

In Part 1 we looked at why it’s important to be able to continue learning on your own using a PLS - especially as you rise in your career.

In Part 2, I briefly mentioned the four stages to creating a PLS: Destination, Routes, Fuel and Arrival. We also considered the first two.

Now we move on to the third


Learning a new skill requires mental effort. It’s not like frying an egg. You can’t do it while you’re sorting through your inbox.

Learning requires your mental energy. And if we know anything about mental energy, it’s that it’s in short supply.

During the day, you spend your energy concentrating on one thing and then another. By the time it comes to your learning activity, procrastination is your modus operandi.

To avoid this you need all the help you can get, which comes in two forms: motivation and routine.


If I were to go through all the emotive factors that influence our behaviour, we’d be here for hours. I’m sure you already know what motivates you. So let’s keep it to the top 3 motivators that often get overlooked: Recognition, Tribism and Progress.

You’ll have more chance of completing your PLS if you find a way of taking advantage of all of them. Here, I’ll outline each one, but these are highly personal. What works for some, doesn’t work for all. So you need a bit of creativity here.


I’m sure you’ve had the demotivating experience of having done something you’re proud of only to have it completely ignored by others.

It hurts, doesn’t it?

Getting a sincere ‘Well done!’ can make a world of difference. So ask yourself from whom and how can you get this?


Social media contacts?


Getting congratulations from people who’d listened to my podcasts was a real motivator. It was great to get the recognition.

Make sure you’ll be getting some, too, for the effort you’ll be putting in. It works.


Every week, I ask my son ‘If your pals jumped out of the window, would you do so, too?’ This is because his excuse for doing something foolish is usually due to his pals doing it first.

I call it Tribism but some call it peer pressure. It’s about ‘belonging’ to a group (your tribe) and being accepted.

Some people are more motivated to go to the gym if they go with a friend.

Some keep to their diet by joining a likeminded group.

Do you have a managers’ Learning Club at work? You should!

Is there someone you can team up with?

Could you ask someone to be your mentor?

You know best the social dynamics of those around you. What tribe could you create?


If you can see your efforts are making a difference, you will be more motivated to keep on doing them, or in other words, progress motivates.

Could you measure your progress and record it, such as plotting it on a chart? The progress should be clear.

In the case of my learning to podcast, the number of downloads was a way of seeing progress. Even if the quality wasn’t getting any better (which I hope it was) the steadily growing audience was (and still is) a great source of motivation.

Each motivator you incorporate into your learning strategy increases its success.


The vast majority of what we do is determined by routines.

Let’s take just one example: getting up. If you could video yourself every day and compare you’d see they’d be remarkably similar. Getting up is a routine, which, itself is a combination of smaller subroutines such as turning off the alarm, going to the bathroom and selecting your underwear. And that’s before we move to the kitchen.

You do these not because you’re motivated but because… well, because you always do them. They don’t require a mental effort. They just happen.

Although learning will, by its nature, involve doing new things, employing routine-power is very helpful.

One way is to convert your learning activities into a routine. If you set aside a certain day at a certain time, after a while you will find yourself starting to do it automatically. My time for podcasting is Tuesday mornings. That’s now a regular part of my week.

Another trick is to incorporate your learning into a current routine. For example if you regularly drive, get into the habit of listening to audiobooks on your subject.

Others I’ve come across include programming learning activities in your agenda (is following your agenda a routine?), setting an alarm Pavlov style, leaving yourself reminders and prompts (such as emailing yourself a link to a website you want to investigate later.)

If you don’t include motivation and routines into your Personal Learning Strategy, you’re essentially relying on willpower to keep you on track. And we all know how that will end.

Once you’ve identified your destination (what you want to learn), planned the routes (how you’re going to learn it) and put some fuel in the tank (motivation and routines), the only thing left is to determine ‘How will you know when you’ve arrived?’

It might sound obvious, but if it were, millions of students wouldn’t be disappointed each year with their exam results. Subjective self-evaluation is notoriously inaccurate.

But I’m saving that for the final part.

See you there!