Future of Work

Increase your employability: Become an intentional Super Learner

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The COVID-19 pandemic with the social distancing guidelines has established a new normal, a situation which has given us the time to slow down and create a new way of working. A norm that has impacted the global workforce equally encouraged us to re-evaluate our habits and encourage the adoption of new skills by becoming intentional learners.

But why learn?

With rapidly changing technology, the speed at which businesses must operate to be competitive in a global economy and with human life expectancy rising steadily, it’s clear that lifelong learning will become essential for humans to remain relevant in the workplace. For organizations, this means creating a culture that drives learning as part of work. For individuals, it means developing a growth mindset and being continuous learners.

Who is a Super Learner?

A super learner is an individual with the ability to learn a new skill quickly. Learning is not an additional activity these individuals pursue but something which is part of their daily routine. Many people believe that the learnability is a genetic trait that people are born with. However, there is extensive research which demonstrates that learners are made, not born. Through the deliberate use of practice and dedicated strategies to improve our ability to learn, we can all develop expertise faster and more effectively. In short, we can all get better at becoming intentional super learners. 

How do we hone learning skills?

At IBM, Super Learners are a group of IBMers who consistently and continuously invest in their skills development and growth. They steadily learned at least 15 hours in a quarter, leading to achieving over 60 hours of learning in a year. We interviewed a few IBMers who earned that designation in 2019, and while none of them specifically worked towards that reward, the conversations revealed some similarities.

  • Be curious – All the Super learners we interviewed described themselves as being curious by nature. These are people who always ask the question why and enjoy acquiring knowledge in topic areas that are new to them. These individuals not only possess domain knowledge but are also knowledgeable in adjacent domains.
  • Find a project you are passionate about – Effective learning often boils down to how applicable we think the education is. Start with a work item, identify the skills needed for the job, and outline the learning required to acquire the skills. This approach provides us with both a reason to learn and a goal to be reached through its application.
  • Make tiny, easy changes that deliver significant results – Creating a habit is a process. According to James Clear, author of “Atomic Habits,” rather than trying to do something amazing from the beginning, start small and gradually improve. Along the way, your willpower and motivation will increase, which will make it easier to stick to your learning habit for good. Don’t aim to read a 2000-page book on day 1; start with chapter 1.
  • Make it easy to repeat – Initially, new behaviors require thought and effort; over time and with repetition, they become more natural to perform and more automatic. Learning is a learned behavior, and we can help make it more automatic by making it easier to do. Block your calendar for 15 minutes at the beginning of the day dedicated to learning. Pick up the audio version of a book you need to read and listen to it while you walk.
  • Plan for failure – According to Forbes, failing productively can turn you into a super learner.Consistency is essential for success in any area. There is no way to get around the fact that mastery requires a volume of work. But we all know that life happens, and the best-laid plans get derailed. So, have a plan to get yourself back on track when that happens.
  • Be rewarded – Behavior that brings approval, praise, recognition is more rewarding, and more likely to be repeated- leverage these to reinforce learning. Share what you are learning with others by either teaching others, participating in community forums, or even writing a blog. Visible rewards like badges go a long way in not only recognizing education done but also help in demonstrating the desired outcome. Display the badges earned on your LinkedIn profile and share it on social media.

We all need to become intentional and deliberate Super Learners, irrespective of any resultant accolades we can earn. According to Thomas Friedman, “In this age of accelerations, everyone is going to have to raise their game in the classroom and for their whole lifetime.” So, let us get learning and get skilled enough not just to bounce back but bounce forward as we transition into the post COVID growth phase.



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