Learning Unleashed: Exploring the Hidden Investment in Personal Growth

Share this post

Reading Time: 4 minutes

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn during May 2023.

I’ve seen a lot of LinkedIn posts recently about professionals who do voluntary work, and then use those experiences to sell their services. You know what I mean: “Look at me coaching my baseball team, we do such a great job building resilience in our kids. Why not buy some management and leadership training from my company and build resilience in your own team.” I can’t stand that bullshit, it just feels wrong to leverage good deeds for sales.

Following an amazing weekend, I want to share my own volunteering experience, but I won’t try and sell anything off the back of it! Instead, I’d like to ask a reflective question: how much do you invest in your own learning outside work? I’m thinking time, not money.

Yesterday the grassroots youth sports club where I volunteer ran a national level event for up and coming cycling talent. It was an amazing day put together with a huge level of commitment from 30+ volunteers (my ‘other team’ outside of work) and smiles and relief all round for a job very well done. We do this event once a year, I think it was my third one and it was still an absolutely massive learning experience for me. At this year’s event I learned the methods and nuances of Omnium race results recording and publishing (think of the Omnium as cycling’s answer to the Decathlon), while in the run up to the event I reinforced prior learning by coaching other volunteers on time trial starter and rider holding technique (for which there are governing body regulations).

Here’s a video from the weekend. I still can’t get over that we train and coach these kids to ride at this level, it requires such skill to ride safely at speed in those large bunches on bikes with NO BRAKES! I used to do it myself 30 yrs ago, yet for some reason I am still in complete awe of their skill and expertise, and proud that we helped our own club’s youngsters get to that point.

So I reckon I did about 10hrs of learning related to this single event comprising mainly informal, on the job learning with a mentor and a few hours of structured training delivery. I can’t remember when I last did that at work. But this is completely normal, as the amount of learning done out of work by far eclipses that done during work time. A report out last week from Learning and Work Institute showed how invested people actually are in their own learning, and the LWI put some big numbers on it. People spend annually £7.3B directly on courses and £55B worth of their own time on learning, more than the spend of government and employers in learning and skills combined. The message beyond the shiny headline numbers was simple: people value learning greatly, but they do most of it on their own initiative, outside of work time.

I’m certainly one those people. I was initially sceptical on the vast numbers being talked about in the research. But on reading the detail, it turned out the definition of learning was a broad one (rightly so): “Learning can mean practising, studying, or reading about something. It can also mean being taught, instructed or coached.”

Like many people, I read, study and practice A LOT: tech newsletters; web browsing and reading; trying out new tools for work; watching Youtube for home DIY; reading long form articles I bookmarked for later; writing lots of reflective blog stubs that rarely reach publication and the occasional blog like this one that do; participating in online communities of practice (the only remaining – and very valuable – use that Facebook has in my life is via its Groups feature); the list never stops. My coaching qualifications are the only formal learning qualifications I’ve completed in 10 years (I am a serial MOOC incompleter, I tend to get what I want then go), but I’ve grown and developed massively through on the job and informal learning. The spirit of 70:20:10 speaks loudly to me!

Personal learning is a gloriously chaotic form of learning. Writing that last passage reminded me of stuff I wrote and presented about xAPI (then TincanAPI) a decade ago — let’s track everything we learn, everywhere, even the informal stuff! I’ve matured since then, I’ve realised that the ‘track everything’ approach serves no useful purpose at all. The vast majority of learning just needs to be easily accessible, available at my fingertips wherever and whenever I may need it (basically on my phone or tablet). I neither need nor want a record of it, or a certificate to prove it (unless for regulatory or safety reasons) and I don’t need a badge for it. All I need to know is that I found what I wanted, it solved my problem, and I feel like I’m continuing to ‘grow’ and develop my skills and experience in the right direction. Most of my own learning is done in my own time and off my own back, it’s always been this way and my career is all the stronger for it.

All in all, it looks like I’m a pretty normal learner, going by that Time To Learn report. So I’m interested, how much time do YOU invest in your own learning and what have you been learning about recently?

Share this post