We know the value of learning for the success of any organisation. The ability to keep learning and innovating is a valuable asset in an ever-changing world. We also know that we learn a lot in the flow of everyday work. But often, learning happens incidentally. It’s not very conscious or intentional. So how do we ensure learning in the workplace? And where does learning begin?

I’ll save you the wait. The answer is ridiculously simple — it is to stop. How to do it during a hectic workday is an admittedly tricky question, but if you read this text to the end, you’ll discover answers to that question as well.

Work is changing, and so are learning and competence development. Traditional further training has started to give way to more agile, self-directed approaches. Work and learning are integrating, and learning takes place in the workplace and everywhere else, too — increasingly regardless of time and place thanks to the recent learning explosion.

But work and routines can lead us in the wrong direction, too, if we never stop and question the path we’ve taken. We may exhaust ourselves for no good reason if we don’t occasionally think about how we work and learn. It’s not easy to challenge existing practices or directions. Nonetheless, we need to dare to challenge prevailing processes. We need to ask why more often and take time to understand.

To do that, we need to stop. Without stopping — in this world of Double Disruption (credit for the excellent term goes to Ellun Kanat agency) — we can’t quiet our minds, look at our surroundings, listen to our intuition, or engage in reflection with ourselves or others. And we need all these things to examine our observations and experiences and develop our thinking. It’s pointless to pile up on tools, training courses, and books if we never take time to think and reflect on how we can apply the insights into our daily lives.

Stopping requires desire, ability, and courage. In her recent book Uteliaisuuden taito – Kun oppiminen on tietämistä tärkeämpää (The Art of Curiosity: When learning is more important than knowing), Hanna Siefen poses three insightful questions that can help you reflect on your learning direction and motivation. I’ve adapted the questions to suit the purpose of this blog post.

Do you want to do it? What is important to me? Does my curiosity outweigh the effort needed?

Can you do it? What can I do in the short or long term? What are my resources? What is the right way for me to learn right now?

Do you dare to do it? What happens if I dare to go for it? What happens if I don’t? Am I ready to take the risks that come with authentic learning?

At one of our recent Learning Design Bootcamps, we discussed the important topic of carving out space for stopping, thinking, and learning during a workweek. How to actually do it when the daily grind often bulldozes over our good intentions? I’m sure many can relate to the cliché but apt saying, “I’m too busy sawing to take time to sharpen the saw”.

The Bootcamp participants shared their sometimes painful experiences but also helpful advice on protecting learning and reflection time, even if it means fighting tooth and nail for it. It’s an important topic to address when thinking about implanting and spreading a learning culture in an organisation.

Managing self-directed learning is strongly linked to managing your time rigorously. One of the most important topics that came up in our discussion was calendar use. Many of us regularly set aside time for thinking, brainstorming, and learning in our calendars. Yet our plans often get disrupted by clients’ schedules and meetings that our colleagues have set up on short notice. How many times have you noticed your special learning and reflection time disappearing as if it never existed in the first place?

Finally, a question: How does your workplace see time reserved for stopping? Are you allowed to book time in your calendar for things like morning thoughts, a moment for learning, or what’s even more radical, time to read a book? If such things aren’t yet appreciated, or investing in learning isn’t yet understood, here’s a top tip from learning designers: until your organisation encourages learning, you can use codes. In other words, give your allotted reflection time a code name, such as preparatory work for Project X, network meeting, or final report writing. Hopefully, these kinds of entries will increase the amount of white space in your calendar, helping you protect your intellectual fitness. Let the results speak for themselves — and others will follow.

Vilma Mutka

Vilma is an activist for learning at work, a learning design pioneer, and the founder and CEO of Mukamas Learning Design Oy. Her mission is to create more learning work communities where people and business thrive. Not only is continuous learning a crucial competitiveness factor, but it also generates joy and well-being — and it belongs at the core of management. As a coach and facilitator, Vilma stirs up in people and organisations the desire and ability for everyday learning.

Connect with Vilma:

Twitter @VilmaMutka
Instagram @vilmamutka
LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/vilmamutka