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  • Writer's pictureIan Gibbs

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

The journey of a thousand miles might begin with a single step, but when does it end?

All Formal Learning Programs have a predefined end, whether you’re ready or not.

The benefit of a Personal Learning Strategy is you can be more flexible, but unless you define an ending, your well-intended plan could fizzle out without a clear feeling of success.

The definite ending to a project brings closure, that satisfying feeling of a job well done, which, in turn, increases the probability that you’ll consider doing another one.

So the final part of a PLS is to define the end.

When I say this, some people bring up the idea of lifelong learning, that we should never stop. Others add that you never reach perfection, there’s always something more.

I agree on both accounts.

Nevertheless, I stand by my word. You need to have an objective ending to your learning challenge. Although, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t then start another one immediately afterwards.

I’ve been told long distance runners do this all the time. They set their focus on a tree or a gate say 50 metres ahead, then when they reach it, they then pick another target further on and go for that and so on.

When I started learning to podcast, I set myself a goal of six podcasts. I felt it was within my capacity, but large enough to be a realistic challenge. I achieved it. It felt good. I decided to go for twenty. So setting yourself a measurable target is good for your morale.

But what about if you want to improve something that’s not so easy to measure - your leadership, or your effective listening? Is it realistic to set a target of, say, 6 people to listen to? Probably not.

After all, it’s missing the point. You want to improve, and repetition is no guarantee of improvement.

Sometimes an end is self-defining. If you’re following a book, each chapter could be an objective. If you have a limited amount of time to learn, there you have it.

But at times, life is difficult to package, so here are 4 alternative ways to define an objective goal:

1: Recall

It’s not the best indicator of skill improvement but it’s certainly an indicator of progress.

If you can’t even remember the main points you’re trying to learn, you’re certainly not going to be able to practice them.

So just like testing yourself before an exam, you can self-test yourself.

How can you best self-test recall?

I recommend you create Key Questions (KQ) during your learning journey.

KQs are those questions which require you to recall the most important points.

Examples from podcasting:

- What hardware do you need to podcast and why?

- What are the 5 key features of a successful podcast?

- What are the 9 commonest mistakes and how do you avoid them?

To learn the answers to your KQs, you must practice them regularly. An excellent way to do this is to set reminders on your phone that regularly pop up with your chosen frequency.

Set the name of the reminder as your Key Question. Start with them appearing daily. As you gain confidence reduce the frequency.

If you can answer each KQ with confidence, you know you’ve made the progress you want.

2: Understanding

You may be able to recall the main ideas, but do you really understand them?

There is a wonderfully simple way to check: Talk about it.

Simple as it might sound, vocalising the ideas of something you’re learning can be surprisingly difficult and is a great way to check understanding.

“I know what I mean but I don’t know how to say it” is a clear sign identifying a weak link in your understanding.

If you’re able to explain how to be a better leader/listener/widget-maker and answer all of the ‘stupid’ questions that follow (in fact, the stupider, the better), you can definitely say you understand it.

So seize every opportunity to talk about your PLS and the new skills you’re acquiring.

3: Physical Challenge

This isn’t as obvious as it sounds.

If you want to learn to juggle 3 balls what would be the physical challenge?

To juggle 3 balls for a minute?

But if you can achieve that, is once enough? I’d say no.

As an intermediate objective, it works. But to be convinced, I’d need something closer to ‘be able to juggle 3 balls for 1 minute each day for a week’. A one-off could be due to good luck. But once a day for a week will be due to your newly learnt talent.

4: Evaluation and Feedback

When a physical challenge isn’t viable (eg. what would a physical challenge be for empathy?), you need to rely on an empirical evaluation.

And if you weren’t already aware of it, we are notoriously bad at self-evaluation. We’re either too confident or too self critical.

So you need to enrol the help of an outside evaluator. This has to be planned from the beginning and is best assigned to a mentor or someone who can give an informed opinion based on experience. You will only have achieved your goal when that person is satisfied.

But however you achieve it, there’s something positively reassuring about getting to the end of a section, a chapter or a journey. It satisfies and contributes, just a little, to your confidence.

They say we live and learn.

I agree.

But I prefer the Latin proverb ‘Fotuna Eruditis Favit’ - Fortune Favours The Prepared Mind.

If you have a well prepared plan for learning, your success will surpass everyone’s expectations, including your own.

That is why you need a Personal Learning Strategy.

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