Increasingly, organizations are looking to their staff members to take responsibility for their own learning and careers. Many organizations are cutting back on sending people to outside workshops, seeing these as more of a perk than an opportunity to build skills. Research shows that people learn very little by sitting in a classroom — and use even less. The most powerful ways of learning are by experiencing the skills and teaching others. These should be key parts of your learning plan. Here are some principles to bear in mind as you create your development plan with your boss. The key criteria for a learning plan are that it be:
Related to the business plan. Focus on skills that are in keeping with expanding the business or improving customer service.
Specific. You can't learn generalities. Your plan should detail the specific skills from which you could benefit. Communication is too general. Listening or conflict resolution is more specific. The plan must also be specific in terms of dates and courses you will take.
Appropriate. You should avail yourself of the opportunity to learn according to your own style. There are many theories on learning styles, but most focus on the degree of self-direction you require. Some people prefer a high degree of autonomy and can learn on their own. Others need more directions and benefit from more conventional coaching. Self-directed learning opportunities include computer-based training, self-help books, personal research, courses on the Internet, and mentoring. Conventional learning usually takes the form of in-house workshops or outside programs.
Suited to personality. Your personality also plays a role in determining your learning style. Extroverted people like to be active and will do things with enthusiasm. They will quickly try things out without thinking too deeply about them first. On the other hand, introverts need to think before acting. They need to conceptualize issues first, clearly thinking through the options and consequences before getting involved. Courses that are self-paced might suit them better than a fast-paced interactive workshop.
Useful. You should be able to apply the skills right away. There is no point in learning something for possible use six months down the road. Most people — as busy as they are — need to use the skills within two weeks of the course or they will forget them.
Realistic. The plan should not overburden you so that you are learning something new before you've had a chance to perfect the previous skill.