Being Open to Informal Learning Experiences

It’s all too easy for us as adults to tend to think that learning ends as soon as we finish our formal qualifications or training. We may recognise that we are still learning when we participate in classroom or even online learning events related to our work but beyond that I wonder how often we consider that we are learning? If we don’t think that we are learning then there is little chance that we will stop and reflect on the learning we have experienced, evaluate the outcomes and even validate what we have learnt.

The reality is that the little thing called “life” has many ways of keeping the learning process alive and kicking. The problem is that we don’t necessarily see these informal learning experiences for what they are. Instead we view them as occurrences which can either result in something good or bad. We never really consider how we grow from them.

More importantly, we don’t always recognise the opportunities they present. There is a lot of truth in the saying “You are never too old to learn”. As someone who is genuinely passionate about encouraging awareness of continuous learning and development I wanted to take a look at some of the opportunities that we may miss for experiencing learning.

In the Workplace

One of the best examples when it comes to the workplace has to be the decisions you have to make. When the odds are stacked against you to finish a project or simply to perform your normal duties, when you have to respond to suggestions in meetings, when your boss suddenly asks you to do something different in a rush the likeliehood is that you will may need to find methods you hadn’t previously used. It may be that you use an approach that you have observed someone else use effectively or you may come up with a completely different approach. Whichever it, I would encourage you to take a few minutes towards the end of each working day or perhaps at home to think about “What did I learn today?”

What did you do differently? What new skills did you develop? Did you use any different approaches than what you would normally use? You may well be astounded to know how many new things you learn on a daily basis if you just pay attention.

In Public

What lessons can you possibly learn from being out in public? First of all, keep in mind that learning experiences don’t necessarily have to happen to you. Just observing the actions of others can be tremendously informative. . How many times have you found yourself just observing your environment? More often than not you will see or hear something you didn’t know or realise before.

Inside Family and Personal Circles

Relationships are probably the most valuable situations for learning something new. It opens up different points of view you never even considered. It might teach you how to become more patient or daring. It can also teach you to be more compassionate. These interactions will greatly affect how you interact with other people. Communication skills are developed with every conversation, especially if you don’t know the person already. Your friends and family provides a safe platform for trying new jokes and topics. By using this safe platform you learn what to say and when to say it.

Home Alone

Yes, even being alone can be a learning experience. Taking the time to reflect on your life opens the door to finding new things you didn’t know about yourself. For instance, 10 years ago you used to love gossip and telling stories. Now all of a sudden you don’t really care for rumours that much. Many elements or habits that you had fade away without you really noticing. In turn you discover that you’re actually good with something that used to be a weakness. All of this informal learning so often takes place without us even realising it’s happening.

Social Media

Let’s not forget one of my favourite places for informal learning experiences which is social media. News and opinions are available at the blink of an eye. Even better are the opportunities social media provides. Finding a nice job or getting your music video in public view is now easier than ever. It is also a place where we don’t really notice how much we learn. We find ourselves reading a blog post about learning and development or whatever is our own field of work, whilst a few minutes earlier we were looking at the obligatory cat or dog pictures. Endless information resides at our fingertips and we don’t necessarily consider the impact it has.

Just like every action leads to a reaction, so does waking up in the morning and allowing ourselves to be open to learning something. The human brain truly acts like a sponge and in the end you decide to use what has been soaked up; most of the time you won’t even notice that you are learning something. What makes these experiences so valuable? Why do you need to become more conscious about what you learn every hour?

The main reason is opportunity. All these situations usually result in some kind of opportunity. Job promotions are given to those who think further than the rest. More specifically, those who pay attention to the new skills they develop and use them at the correct time are going to reap the rewards. Ultimately it is up to us to see these opportunities when they occur, because these informal learning experiences prepared us for it.

Just about everything you do can be turned into an informal learning experience and whilst it might be a little bit too much to analyse everything, do try to reflect a little bit more on things you would normally see as insignificant. Chances are your opportunities in life will increase dramatically if you are open to and aware of the informal learning experiences that are all around you.

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