5 Tips on Learning for a Lifetime

The days (and nights) of cramming your brain full of information for a grade may be long gone. Does that mean your education is complete? Never! In fact, now that you’re putting what you know to use every day, gaining skills and insights keeps you engaged with your job. Promotions, opportunities and a fulfilling career are on the line, making new knowledge more rewarding than ever.

So what does learning look like from here? Your employer can – and should – play an important role in fostering your growth. Many companies have realized the danger of losing their brightest talent unless they offer professional development programs. In fact, a Gallup poll indicated that 87% of millennial employees say “professional or career growth and development opportunities” are an important part of their job satisfaction.

What can you learn?

Hard skills. These are measurable abilities, such as technical training for greater efficiency on the job or mastering a new computer program. Hello, resume builders!

Soft skills. These advance the emotional-intelligence side of your abilities and can often apply to your professional and personal life. Techniques for navigating a difficult co-worker could also help you negotiate bedtime with your toddler.

How can you learn?

The options are greater now than ever. On-demand digital content like podcasts and mobile courses give you the chance to learn when the time is right for you. Classes and seminars allow you to bond with other team members and gain from their experiences. And you can always rely on good old-fashioned books, where you can dive deep into topics at your own pace, and easily reference key takeaways later. Some companies offer book clubs, a great combination of social and solitary learning. Or start one yourself for extra leadership experience!

Whatever development opportunity your company offers, or that you pursue on your own, here are 5 ways to make the most of learning:

  1. Don’t let new knowledge slip away. Just like with that college education, it’s all too easy to lose facts and strategies if you adopt a “learn ‘em and leave ‘em” attitude. You put in the time; make sure you keep the benefits! Take notes during a training session – or right after you listen to a podcast – then review them once or twice a year. Highlight impactful passages in a book, then mark them with a sticky note for easy reference later (you could be rehearsing a concept you’ll apply in various ways for life!).
  2. Understand your learning style. If you have a hard time sitting down with a book, see if the content you’re looking for is available in a podcast format. You can listen while you mow the lawn, cook dinner or walk the dog. If you enjoy interactive learning, take advantage of lunch-and-learn sessions and other in-person training. (A class plays a dual role— new information and a networking opportunity!)
  3. Look at training as part of your benefits package. When your company trains you, they’re literally investing in you. Forbes reports that in 2018, the average organization spent $1,299 per employee on direct learning. Your leadership is saying they believe in you, and they want you to help them grow. What a nice compliment! An employer with a culture of learning understands that context changes quickly today, and the companies who will thrive don’t get stuck in certain ways of doing things. They embrace change, and they prepare their teams to be nimble and able to alter course if needed. Being good at learning means you’re prepared to adopt new strategies and techniques – or even introduce them. Your company helped you gain those skills, and you’ll get noticed when you use them. And of course, they’re a resource that travels with you if you leave, just like a vested 401(k) match.
  4. Stay ahead of the curve. The best time to learn isn’t when something isn’t working. Rather than be reactionary to a speedbump or missed opportunity at work, prepare for your brightest future today. We’re not saying it’s easy. When you’re busy fighting fires, gaining skills that may be needed tomorrow can fall by the wayside. But what you learn now could help find new ways to approach projects or put you at the front of the line when leadership is looking for new management.
  5. Enjoy the emotional benefits. Mastering fresh skills creates a sense of pride and positive self-esteem. If you know exactly how to do your current job, it may not take long for comfort to become boredom. Taking on new challenges helps you stay engaged. After you beat a level on a video game, you don’t want to play it again. Once you’ve run a 10K, you set your sights on a marathon. Maintaining the status quo can be alluring, but stepping into the unknown leads to the profound satisfaction of unlocking your true potential.

Throughout your career, remember this: Training offers benefits beyond new knowledge. It demonstrates to your employers that you’re a flexible thinker. Your mindset of constant growth could make you stand out even more than what you’ve learned.

Being prepared for whatever’s next makes you valuable to your company when unexpected challenges or opportunities arise. And you’ll be more engaged in the work you do every day. So keep hitting the books – or the podcasts!