The future belongs to those who take charge of their own learning

Once upon a time (as all good fairy tales start) employees had a job for life. Having left school or college you could start work for an organization and remain there for your whole professional life. The company would provide you with all the training you needed, give you all the promotions you deserved and then at your retirement, reward your long service with the gift of a clock or a gold watch.

But things have changed; there is no longer such a thing as a job for life, and nowadays when you work for an organization they are only likely to provide you with the minimum training you require to get started and carry out your basic duties, together with all the necessary regulatory/compliance/statutory/ mandatory training they are obliged to provide to keep their CEO out of jail! If you are very lucky they might pay for you to attend a professional conference once a year.

The organization will keep a record of your training activity in their LMS noting courses taken, course completions, results of quizzes, etc – and if the LMS is one of the newer social versions this will probably also even record your social activity, ie the number of posts you have made or comments you have added. However, this training record  belongs to the company as THEY own your learning, and even if they were happy to share it with you, this “activity record” generated automatically from their systems doesn’t actually show what impact your training has had on your productivity or performance.

Furthermore, despite the training you have received in your job, you may well find you have fewer marketable skills than when you started. It is said that the ½ life of a skill is now about 5 years, so unless you have  been proactive about acquiring new knowledge and skills on your own, you could even find yourself at a disadvantage in the marketplace.

Being “proactive”  or “taking charge” of your own learning isn’t just about engaging in formal professional development activities though, or even participating in a few MOOCs (massive open online courses) or watching some inspirational videos from time to time, it’s also about recognizing that most of your real learning takes place continuously  – and frequently unintentionally – in many other ways e.g.

  • in your daily dealings  with your  colleagues, customers, clients or friends
  • by being active in the fast moving flow of ideas and new resources being exchanged in your professional networks
  • by keeping up to date with what’s happening in your industry or profession through a constant stream of industry news

For many people this is now a natural part of their daily professional life – and it is clear that the people who are at the top of their game see this as a vital part of their professional life. But how can you demonstrate the value of this?

Clearly, it’s not just a matter of recording activity, like …

  • “I read xx”
  • “I had a conversation with Y”
  • “I learned zzzz”

It’s also about reflecting on what you have learnt and how you have put it into practice. It’s also about documenting your successes, and even showing how you are learning from your less than successful experiences and what you are doing to improve (see example). It’s also about reviewing your journey to achieving your professional objectives and goals. And although some achievements might well be in the form of certificates or “badges”, they might also be simple descriptions of things you have done, links to things you have produced, or testimonials from people who can evidence your activities.

So just like artists have a design portfolio of work to demonstrate their abilities, what you need is a “learning portfolio” to evidence your professional learning and capabilities.  This learning portfolio is something that you can build on through your career, because it doesn’t belong to any  organization. And since YOU  “own“ your own learning, you get to decide exactly what appears in your Learning Portfolio.

And when it is time to move onto your next job, you can use this Learning Portfolio to demonstrate to an organization how you are a committed and continuous learner – and ultimately a valuable potential employee. And as more and more organizations realise there are just too many people looking for work and don’t want to waste time training someone who can’t start, ready to go, on the first day, having a Learning Portfolio might well become the key to gaining employment in the future.