Learning to learn: a participant’s view of getting the most out of learning events

Learning to learn might be the best learning of all.

It’s not often that I find myself in the participant’s chair at a learning event. I'm usually on the other side of the equation. This year however, I am a participant in the International Marketing Leaders Programme Europe. It’s a unique programme from The Marketing Society and Brand Learning that offers participants access to the eminent marketers and leadership experts, to strengthen our customer-centred leadership.

I received a valuable insight into a learner’s experience. Here’s what I learned:

1. Make learning personal

It was fascinating to hear about how firms like Barclays, EasyJet, Sainsbury’s and John Lewis operate. But taking the time to reflect on what it means for me, made it memorable and energising. We learned for example about the power of purpose in leadership, and then applied that to ourselves, so I now have a strong grasp on my own purpose. I’m sure that there are plenty of people for whom knowledge acquisition is itself the prize. There are also plenty of us – narcissists if you like – for whom the personal is the key to moving from knowledge to action.  It’s about consistently asking the question ‘so what does that mean for me, and what I need to do?’

2. Have a lens through which you apply learnings

Part of the pre-work for the programme was to set personal learning objectives. We then revisited these on day 1. On the advice of my supporter (Brand Learning’s name for a manager), I used these as a frame – filtering the information and applying it to the areas I’d set out.  I now plan to do that at the start of every conference I attend, every book I read, every learning opportunity.

3. Listening is tiring. It needs exercise to build strength

For many of us talking is energising and listening tiring. That’s why we probably talk too much and ignore the 2 ear: 1 mouth ratio from Management 101. One tip we received from leadership coach and programme facilitator Anni Townend, was that great leaders listen to understand, rather than to give an opinion. So on day 2, I experimented with that. I talked a little less, and listened hard. It was exhausting, but excellent practice. And then I got to talk out loud about what I heard in what we call Active Reflection.

4. Never underestimate how much you learn from your peers

Ever been in the situation where you want one of the other participants to finish speaking so that you can ask your question or make your point? You politely nod along while formulating your own contribution in your mind? The trouble is that you can learn just as much from observing and listening to others. How they present themselves, what energies they bring, how they behave, and what they say. It’s the beauty of face-to-face workshops.

5. Build a relationship with every learning experience

It’s actually the next module that talks most to relationships and partnerships as fundamental to leadership, but I already learned some of that.  Part of the inspiration from the programme came from the interactions I had with the people around me. The emotional energy that came from each other kept the spirit of learning high, and motivated me to be at my best. It was facilitated by techniques like learning pairs and small group working, and by lunches and dinners together. But even when that’s not the case, it’s possible to make this happen yourself.

So what’s the point of all this? It’s called metacognition, or learning to learn. The importance of building your ability to learn, reflecting on what works for you, and doing more of it at your next learning opportunity, is a capability goal in its own right – and one where programme designers, and participants can work together.

Learn more about The International Marketing Leaders Programme, about learning, or about customer-centred leadership on our website, @brandlearning and on LinkedIn. If you’d like to speak to a Learning Excellence Director about how to maximise the value of learning for your own team, do contact us.


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