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Learning How to Learn: 37 Tips for L&D Professionals

by | Apr 8, 2016 | 0 comments

L&D is changing so rapidly and so profoundly that no-one in the profession can afford to let their professional development slide. Here’s 37 tips from Laura Overton for keeping yourself on the cutting edge.

L&D is definitely guilty of ‘cobbler’s children’ syndrome. What this means is that L&D is so busy developing the skills of the general workforce, ensuring that they have the skills that the business needs, that many routinely neglect their own skills development. However, L&D is changing so rapidly and so profoundly that no-one in the profession can afford to let their professional development slide. Otherwise, individual skills and the skills of the profession as a whole, will fall short of what is required.

At Towards Maturity, we know it is so important that L&D professionals get to grips with what L&D skills are needed now and in the future, that we ran a workshop recently in conjunction with 30 L&D professionals who are members of the Corporate Learning Consortium. We focused on how L&D can improve the ways we learn how to learn, so that we are better equipped to help our workforce learn how to learn.

The idea came out partly as a result of the findings from our 2015-16 Industry Benchmark Report, Embracing Change: Improving Performance for Business, Individuals and the L&D TeamThat study unearthed some very exposing statistics:

  • One-in-four L&D leaders have no idea how their teams are keeping skills up to date
  • Over 90% feel that they need new skills in their teams in order to prepare the future, skills such as data analytics, supporting workforce performance and facilitating social and collaborative learning
  • Fewer than a third think they have those new and necessary skills in-house
  • Just over half (54%) provide some form of CPD
  • 52% encourage staff to join internal interest groups to learn from each other
  • 67% encourage staff to look outside to other interest groups
  • 88% want to play a role in helping staff to become more self-directed in their learning

Keeping the house in order: how L&D learn today

If we, as a profession, want to encourage the wider workforce to become better at self directed learning, we need to be doing it ourselves. We need to be self-directed learners too. We must practice what we preach and use that learning to help others learn how to learn.

The ability to keep learning and keep applying new learning is essential in order to survive in this current agile business landscape. All professionals, L&D and otherwise, need to be able to learn, unlearn and relearn and to do it continuously. L&D has to be able to do this in a smart, efficient and effective way and help all the other business functions to do the same.

A central part of our recent workshop was finding out how the participants in the room are learning today. What we found is that 37% of them have a personal learning plan, 77% are seeking out new experiences in order to build skills, 77% make time to reflect and 68% know how to build a personal learning network. The group reflected much of the wider community taking part in the Benchmark. However, it was concerning that 21% neither have a clear personal plan about how they want to learn and why.

Next, we explored practical ways in which L&D can and should accelerate its own personal, professional learning. Four key areas emerged that we think all practitioners should be working towards: having a personal learning plan, building a personal network, seeking out new learning possibilities and taking the time to reflect on learning.

Here are some of the hints and tips that we identified on the day:

Tips for building a personal learning plan

1. Conduct a SWOT analysis on your own skills and capabilities

2. Identify your short, medium and long term goals, both personal and professional

3. Identify your motivating factors and drivers

4. Map out your key networks and contacts

5. Prioritise goals

6. Create SMART objectives to help you measure your own progress

7. Use the Johari Window model – expand your blind spot

8. Set personal goals, challenges that will inspire you

9. Inspire yourself through the use of tools such as Pinterest and mood boards

10. Be a ‘yes’ person – accept a challenge

11. Seek out regular opportunities to learn more


Tips for building a personal learning network

12. Keep in touch with colleagues and ex-colleagues

13. Join online networks and linked physical meetings

14. Exploit networks such as LinkedIn and Pulse. What are people saying? Who is linked to who? Don’t be afraid to connect with industry experts

15. Use Twitter to find and connect with open-minded people

16. Check out who to follow (see Jane Hart’s list of L&D influencers)

17. Follow or join in with online chats – #cht2lrn #ldinsight

18. Make the most of free networking at conferences and exhibitions

19. Collaborate with peers on creating new solutions (Towards Maturity sector groups and CLC member meetings, for example)

20. Identify in-company experts and ask to shadow them – such as experts in marketing, HR or business development

21. Read more: join book clubs and online discussions

22. Maintain contact with fellow course participants


Tips for seeking out new experiences:

23. Find out about new learning experiences by attending networking events and having good links and conversations with internal departments

24. Identify what is happening in your organisation and what is important to business leaders. Ask to shadow key staff in order to immerse yourself in the priorities of the business

25. Ask experts in your personal learning networks for advice

26. Ask your manager to help you identify new opportunities

27. Coach others

28. Find ways to share your existing experiences with others, such as through social media, speaking opportunities or by writing for external publications

29. Actively explore other sectors and disciplines to identify experiences to bring back to your own role


Tips for making time for reflection

30. Provide yourself with permission to reflect

31. Provide your team with permission to reflect and share what has been learnt

32. Challenge preconceived ideas that reflection is lazy

33. Withdraw to a different place – make the most of flexible working opportunities

34. Reflect as a team and as individuals. Transparency is essential when reflecting as a team

35. Use a structured process – what went well? What would I do differently next time?

36. Block out time in the diary, such as at the end of the day

37. Don’t leave reflection to the end of a project or event – carve out time as part of the process


If that looks too daunting as a whole, then start small. Take one idea to invest in your own personal development and build on it. Learning has to start with the L&D team, so we have to get our own house in order if we are to properly help others.

Recommended resources for further reading:

Compare your L&D strategy with the Towards Maturity Benchmark

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