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Are You Up For Learning In The Face Of Uncertainty?

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Even in these uncertain times, it is necessary to keep an element of Uncertainty in our Learning Journey. Here’s why expecting a degree of certainty in your learning program is unwise.

Every day, at the lift lobby of my apartment block, I’m reminded of the need for all of us to pick up new skills to keep ourselves relevant and employable. These cheerful digital billboards encourage us to become lifelong learners so we can ride out this recession and be more competitive on the job market.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this line of argument! Because there is truth in the saying that once you stop Learning, you stop Earning. The fact is: we don’t ever stop learning. Even if you aren’t signed up to any courses or doing any active learning, you are still subconsciously picking up information, cues, and wisdom as you go about your daily life. Learning is fluid, organic, and beautifully unpredictable. Which brings me to the thing I’d like to talk about today.

One of the things I struggle with when it comes to talking about Learning is how people associate Certainty as a characteristic AND a product of it.

As a characteristic, people often see Learning as linear, predictable, and how, if you follow a certain path, you’ll eventually get to an endpoint, and that there is just ONE right answer to every question. We have been trained to believe that there is someone out there who’s smarter than us, with the right answers and who has Life all figured out. And that this is THE person worth learning from. This has to stop.

As a product, we have been brought up to believe that if we embrace Learning, we will be rewarded with positive results and then many good things will follow.

Can Learning be painful, complicated, and unrewarding? You bet! Because Learning IS painful, complicated, and the rewards don’t reveal themselves until very much later.

I’m currently reading How To Think Like A Rocket Scientist by Ozan Varol, and the very first chapter of the book talks about flying in the face of uncertainty. Varol writes how human beings crave certainty and often follow a straight path to find answers to their questions. The problem is that in the age of the Internet, there is no lack of resources and answers can be found in abundance. By the time you got your answer, the world has moved on.

If a solution to the problem you’re trying to fix is clear and certain, your job wouldn’t exist. Where certainty ends, progress begins.

I think back often to the many meetings and phone calls I’ve had with prospects. And often, many of them are asking for Certainty:

“How will using your platform ensure that my people become more productive or more innovative?” As if employees will ignore other factors such as workplace culture, incentives, content quality, and promotion opportunities once you put them in front of a learning app.

“What makes your methodology better than another startup’s?” As if their employees were still in school and have a perfect score to achieve before being awarded a Bachelor’s in Best Employee of the Year.

“How can you ensure someone spend an hour on this course?” As if staring into a screen for only 45 minutes makes someone less intelligent or more likely to commit white-collar crime.

Although Cognitive Learning – where people focus on information and skills – requires a measurement of excellence and comprehension, the journey of Learning does not end when you have completed Level 1 of RegTech for Banks. Answers are a launchpad to discovery, Varol continues to expound. You must know some answers before you can begin asking the right questions.

Learning should only lead to more Learning. The more you discover, the more uncertain you’ll become. The way to see the path ahead is to start by taking the first step forward.

And so, we need to show people why they have to ask “Why” and “What if”. As learning facilitators, we should open the door to the cabinet of curiosity instead of focusing solely on getting our learners to a pre-determined destination, trying to get them to model their behaviour to fit a certain desirable mould.

The skills that a learner develops from the learning experience are not things to be sniffed at. In Socio-Emotional Learning, we learn to master competencies in Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Relationship Building, Social Awareness, and Responsible Decision-Making. These are often seen as “soft skills” but they give the learner the ability to appreciate the uncertainty of Life and in Learning.

The need to cement our Learning Journey in Certainty has to go. Many trainers and institutions still insist on people learning in one direction, systematically conquering one thing at a time. Why? Because it’s easy to measure, it’s easy to track, it’s easy to determine whether someone has “passed” or “failed”.

Which brings us to this bit of wisdom from Varol about Moonshot Thinking: If we restrict ourselves to what’s possible given what we have, we’ll never reach escape velocity and create a future worth getting excited about.

Choose to do something not because it’s easy, but because it is hard.

Join us in an ongoing conversation about Learning and Personal Development. Drop us a note at hello@smartup.io for a chat on how we can help your organization do better at learning and training.