Continuous Learning: Lessons in Finding Opportunities in Challenges

Continuous learning is critically important in our lives, personally and professionally. In fact, research has shown that lifelong learning can contribute significantly to our overall happiness. In a business context, there is also plenty of evidence of the importance of professional development to retaining employees and increasing their job satisfaction.

So knowing how important it is, we looked into what stands in the way of continuous learning and what can we do to overcome the barriers. We’ve shared our findings below.

Understanding the hurdles

To overcome the barriers to entry, we must acknowledge the challenges companies face in pursuing continuous learning. First, there is the expense. Training costs money, and when budgets are tight, management often sees no choice but to cut back on professional development.

Another huge challenge is time. Often, internal courses can be taught by senior, experienced employees with great knowledge and expertise to share. And while it’s a great approach that avoids the high costs of external training, it is also time-consuming. This issue of time (or a lack thereof!) gets in the way of learning in other ways too. From researching training options and attending sessions, to being a mentor or preparing a lunch-and-learn, learning and teaching requires an investment of time we may not feel we can afford.

Overcoming the challenges

Whether you are recently out of school or have been in the workforce for decades, the best way to ensure continuous learning is to take personal responsibility for it and be resourceful. While this can be a challenging exercise, it can also be rewarding to figure out what you need and want to learn and what will benefit you most.

Managers have a great appreciation for employees who are self-aware and motivated enough to determine what kind of professional development will help them advance. Sometimes the answers to your learning needs aren’t obvious, and that is when being resourceful is critical. By speaking to those in your network, participating in industry associations or bouncing ideas off managers or peers, you can help unearth unexpected and effective ways to achieve your learning objectives.

Here are some tips to fuel your learning:

1. Leverage technology

Just a few decades ago, in-person learning was really the only option out there. But the explosion of technology and “eLearning” now present many new learning opportunities. Distance learning and cloud training through webinars, videos, software applications and online courses constitute a vast number of time-saving and cost-effective options for acquiring new knowledge and skills, or even connecting with experienced individuals you would never otherwise have access to.

2. Be confident

Stevie Wonder once said, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get”. Once you have determined your learning objectives, and done some research on how to achieve them, the time has come to ask. A thoughtful request for professional development, presented with a good mix of enthusiasm and diplomacy, is likely to be considered seriously by your manager. Even if budget constraints stand in the way of initially getting a “yes” to your request, your proactivity will put you first in line for future opportunities.

3. Think creatively about mentorship

Mentorship is another effective way to learn and grow, but it is important to remember that mentors can come in “all shapes and sizes”. By knowing what our learning objectives are, we can better identify the right mentor – someone who may or may not be the obvious choice.

A well-suited mentor may not always be someone at your company or organization; it could be a friend or a family member, or someone you met at a networking event. Also, mentors don’t have to be considered a life-long choice. Asking someone to be a mentor while you tackle a specific personal or professional objective, for a finite period of time, is a creative approach to mentorship that may not feel as daunting for both the mentor and mentee. Finally, the key step once you identify the right mentor, is to ask (see #2!).

Ultimately, it is up to each one of us to determine what we want to learn, and to seek out opportunities to learn it. It is a worthwhile and ongoing exercise that is worth the effort – who doesn’t want to enjoy their work more and just generally be happier?

And as Mahatma Gandhi put it: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

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