Did you get taught how to learn at school? Or, was it a complete mystery that you were supposed to just get as you went along? I bet many of you spent most of your time being spoon-fed knowledge by teachers in a classroom. Yet, learning today is a whole lot more and probably the most important capability you will need for success after leaving full-time education. Not only is learning critical, unlearning and relearning matter just as much – because the world doesn’t stand still.

“Work is learning, learning is the work” – Harold Jarche

Employers want people with the ability to learn how to learn. For example, Google hires people for their “learnability.” It is not the same as studying for a degree at university. Let’s look at some of the differences.

Degree v Job


Personal Learning Network


Studying for a Degree

Learning at work

Emphasis is on learning from theory to inform practice Emphasis is on learning from experience in real-time
Dedicated time and space to reflect Reflecting while working
Slower-paced Faster-paced
Separate structured activities – lectures, seminars, exams Work is learning, learning is the work. More informal than formal
Certainty and predictability because your degree course is laid out for you over a 3 or 4-year period. You have a known curriculum. Less certainty, more unpredictable because of deliberate change and unforeseen events. There isn’t a curriculum.
Re-work opportunities. Redo that assignment or retake that exam. Less re-work opportunities, more ‘get it right first time’
Me, myself, I. Consequences of not learning effectively are personal rather than collective. Us, ourselves, we. Consequences are professional as well as personal. Often more immediate because it impacts on other people like customers or service users or colleagues. Financial consequences like loss of business and relationship problems with work colleagues. People can lose their jobs, with serious consequences for those supporting families.

The Workplace Learning Mindset

If none of us can see the future clearly, we need to get better at being comfortable with uncertainty. That means letting go of old thinking, beliefs, attitudes and skills that don’t serve your ability to grow. It means a learning mindset in the workplace that requires you to:

  • Question accepted wisdom more – solving problems and improving performance
  • Listen and observe what is happening around you more – interacting with content and people
  • Be more active than passive in the face of change – finding things out.

 “…resisting the bias against doing new things, scanning the horizon for growth opportunities, pushing yourself to acquire radically different capabilities – while still performing your job, a willingness to experiment and become a novice again and again.” Erika Anderson

Research has identified four attributes of this kind of learner:

  • Aspiration – you truly want to improve and master new skills, keep up to date in your industry or profession
  • Self-awareness – you see yourself very clearly
  • Curiosity – you constantly think of and ask good questions
  • Vulnerability – you tolerate your mistakes as you grow.

Learn for Nourishment

Learning how to learn in today’s workplace is about

  • your personal habits of continuous renewal, refreshment, and improvement as an integral part of doing your job;
  • tapping into the world around you both online and offline through professional networks;
  • learning as you go along through exploring, experimenting and sharing with others.

Every student takes on two titles when they pass their degree – Graduate and Alumnus. Alumnus comes from the Latin to nourish. Ensure you have a balanced diet for a healthier future by embracing lifelong intellectual, emotional and professional nourishment. Then you can add Modern Workplace Learner to your titles.

How do you need to learn differently to be effective in the workplace?