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Sharpening the axe

Learning - what exactly is the point?

You’ve been there. A classroom. Vaguely grey walls. Posters and displays that are two years out of date. You have an exercise book in front of you (which you may or may not have doodled all over.) There is a lesson going on. There’s a teacher. Maybe you like them, maybe you don’t.

If I asked you to remember a lesson from your school years – even your later years – you’d likely struggle. Even what you learned is somewhere beyond your grasp.

So why did you bother?

The simple answer? They made you. Given the choice, you would rather have eaten paste or thrown rocks at your classmates than learn.

More than knowledge

Even if you became a Doctor, the Biology you studied when you were fourteen is irrelevant. It would have been a pale imitation of what you learned at Medical School. 

So if you forgot everything, what was the point?

You learned how to learn

Learning is the most impactful thing we can do with our brains. It rewires our entire system. Firing up networks of neurons that would otherwise lay dormant. It turns the wet, mushy pile of grey matter you’ve been lugging around into something else. Something capable of incredible feats of intellectual creativity.

In the first few years of your life you learned. A lot. 

You learned to master the impossibly complex task of forming sounds with your vocal cords… to transform those sounds to make yourself understood to the outside world… and to understand others doing the same.

At the same time you made sense of the inconceivably complex web of muscles and nerves in your body. You mastered the ability to crawl, stand, walk, run.

But the adult world robs us of this – we aren’t required to constantly learn new things, and in some cases that can mean that we don’t.

What have you learned recently?

The brain is like a shark – it has to constantly keep moving forward or it dies.

That’s a metaphor. Remember when you learned what one of those was? Your brain got stronger that day.

So what does that mean to you now?

It means you need to learn something new.

There’s plenty of research explaining the benefits of playing an instrument, or a new sport, or another language. Those are all great – but the real reason they are great is that they are things lots of people can’t do yet.

They are new things to learn.

Learning doesn’t need to be complicated to have an impact. Every day that you challenge yourself to do something that you weren’t able to do yesterday, your brain will thank you.

Some ideas?

Learn the meaning behind the weird slang your nieces and nephews have started using.

Learn to do your next presentation without saying ‘um’ once.

Learn to use the keyboard shortcuts when you’re going through your email (seriously, that one has actual practical benefits.)

Learning is culture

In static, dull and dying work cultures you will hear (in response to any proposed learning) “why do we have to do this?” People feel empowered to demand the practical benefits of anything they are asked to do.

The alternative?

Culture where learning is its own objective. 

Employees sit down with someone from another department to understand what they do, not because they need to but because they want to.

People randomly upskill beyond what they are expected to, adding value throughout the business, because they want to.

Goals shift. People evaluate their happiness at work not based on bonuses and promotions (I mean, you wouldn’t object) but instead on a feeling of growth.

Learning, not just training

Think about what you can do to encourage this kind of learning in your organisation. The next generation of Learning Experience Platforms (LXPs) move away from ‘because I say so’ learning. Instead they open the door for an engaged, ambitious workforce to learn on their own.

To learn… something. 

And then, sometime in the future, maybe forget it.

But it will have been time well spent!


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