Lifelong learning is the ability to continuously learn new things throughout your career. It is an essential soft skill for managers who want to increase their professional potential. In this article, you will find a step-by-step guide on how to add lifelong learning goals to your personal development plan.
Learning Ends When You Get Your Diploma, Right?
Many people think that you are done learning when you complete your degree. In fact, I was one of them. After finishing my MBA at the University of British Columbia, I promised myself that I would never again sit at a desk to learn something new. Overwhelmed by crunching case study numbers throughout so many late nights, I felt I would never want to learn anything new again. Oh, boy! How wrong I was…
It only took me a few months to realize how important continuous learning is to someone’s career. I found out that the more responsibilities I was assigned, the faster I needed to learn so I could maintain my productivity. And, I quickly discovered that one of the best ways to differentiate myself as a professional was to make learning part of my personal development.
Learning is what keeps you motivated.
Realizing that lifelong learning wasn’t optional, I decided to revisit my silly promise and rewrite that limiting rule. I determined that, to keep myself active and motivated, I needed to add new development goals to my personal development plan. These goals included relevant and interesting things that I could learn and that would directly augment what I was doing at the time and help me to grow as a person and as a professional.
Setting Goals That You Can Commit To
You might have many excuses for not committing to your self-development goals: too many emails to read, too many projects to look after, a boss that doesn’t buy into soft skills development, a dog you need to walk before and after work. You name it. The list can go on and on.
However, if you really want to advance your career, you need to set aside time and treat learning as seriously as any other project you are involved in.
Give yourself a chance to do something for your own growth, even if you can only block off a few minutes a day. Allocating time appropriately is a prerequisite for this process.
Adding Learning Goals to Your Personal Development Plan
One of the best ways to make lifelong learning part of your career is to add it to your personal development goals. Here is my suggestion on how you do it.
1. Create a list of learning opportunities.
This means that you create a list of things you are interested in learning. Write the list on a piece of paper or in a file on your computer. Focusing on the future, write down what you need to learn to be more capable and excited about your job. Also, consider things that could be interesting and fun to learn. Avoid limiting yourself to what you’ve done in the past, think about future opportunities and list your ideas without a specific order.
2. Select what you really want to start learning.
Prioritize your list of learning possibilities based on what really matters to you. Consider what you need to accomplish in the relatively near future, the medium term needs of your organization, and your future in life.
What can you learn to improve the results you are having as a manager? What can you learn to make things work better? Which learning opportunities will really increase your mental ability?
Remove any ideas that you think are relatively unimportant compared to other learning opportunities on your list. You should be left with a list of possibilities that you would be willing to dedicate your time and effort to in the near future. This prioritized list of learning opportunities will also help you avoid being overwhelmed by options that you may not be ready to work on yet.
3. Add specific lifelong learning goals to your personal development plan.
Based on your selections in step 2, choose two or three learning goals and add them to your personal development plan. Present these goals to your manager and ask for input.
It is worth noting that you should start with a set of two or three goals that you can achieve in about three months. As you complete these learning objectives, you can add a few more and calibrate the effort required to reach them. Start with something you are excited about and add more goals as you feel you are building momentum and growing your knowledge.
4. Learn for understanding.
Have fun and enjoy your time learning. You will succeed if you feel you are learning something important and exciting. As you learn, remember to draw upon all your past experiences. Focus primarily on understanding what you are learning and integrating it into your knowledgebase.
If you feel like you are going through the motions and completing learning tasks simply to check them off on your development goals, you may be on the wrong path. Stop and re-evaluate what you are learning and whether it is still relevant to you. There is nothing wrong with revisiting and adjusting your development goals. It is more important to have goals that really matter to you, than to have to-do lists with learning objectives that are not your own.
If someone is imposing learning goals on you, separate them into a different category, such as project goals. This way you can measure your progress on your own long-term personal development goals separately from imposed, project-related requirements.
Successful lifelong learners know that understanding what is being learned is the fuel for building knowledge, no matter how slow or how fast you progress, what matters is that you are truly learning and building upon your existing knowledge.
Do this experiment for three months:
Prepare a list of learning opportunities, prioritise them, and choose a few that matter to you. Set them as personal goals and discuss them with your manager. Set time aside to learn and focus on understanding.
At the end of the three months, evaluate what you have learned and its impact on your career and future.
Learning is time invested in your career that will pay you long-term dividends. This is how you can keep learning for your entire life.
Start Your Lifelong Learning Strategy Today
Don’t leave it for later. Do it now! You will be surprised to see how much of a difference it will make in your life.
- 3 Personal Development Goals for Strategic Managers
- Creating Personal Development Plans
- Life Hack’s Guide to Cultivate Lifelong Learning
Cameron-Bandler, Leslie et al. “Life-Long Learning” Emprint Method: A Guide to Reproducing Competence. Moab, UT, Real People Press, 1985. p185-192
Photo Credits: Xb3 Francis