Learner’s Guilt:: Why keeping up with your learning commitment is so difficult?

Creating ‘pockets of learning’ to beat it!

Don’t we all carry the guilt that we set out a goal to “learn” something new — a topic of interest, subject, or a skill, but some way or the other, days go past us and we are nowhere close to completing it? I recently started pondering over why this happens and what are the possible ways to beat this “Learner’s Guilt”.

If we dig into the nature of learning commitments — most of these are personal commitments and like all other personal goals no one else is accountable but ‘you’. This means extremely high self-commitment since no one is going to ask, follow up or check with you. Also in most cases Learning commitments are never an urgency — I am excluding the ‘regulatory’ learning that all organizations mandate which often comes with plenty of reminders and deadlines.

So while on one hand we have plethora of freely available learning material especially with the MOOC sites (http://www.noexcuselist.com/) providing whole bunch of interesting topics delivered by international experts, there is always a reason why you can’t catch up with your learning commitments.

If we break down the entire process — all starts with setting aside some time for learning, then actually using that time to go through the content. And during the time set aside the steps involved is to: reach the platform, open it, “sit through” the content and finally complete it. This entire process is extremely fragile since at any stage if you get a lit bit of distraction and you are going down a different path altogether.

Setting aside time is probably a step all might do but when the actual time arrives there is always a reason to do something else, the most common is business commitment — client comes first and no one can argue that. And rest of the work week there is always a commitment to complete some work or fire to put off — your team members need your time — there is a flurry of emails that needs answering and sorting. Project and rush deadlines never cease to go away.

The learning then gets pushed to the weekend — but your family needs you and you don’t want to be seen as bad husband, bad dad or bad friend — so weekend you are busy with the family shopping, the birthday party and all indicator of how good a human you are. Nobody cares if you didn’t complete your learning video or an assignment — no body to judge you or comment on its completion apart from your own meek little voice.

But there are those rare weekends when you finally at home — and your family is away. You have the perfect opportunity to complete your learning commitments and you open the corporate LMS and just about to begin but you find an interesting news article and then a youtube video and couple of hrs. later you are still not done with your learning commitment. With a really hectic work week it makes it easier to have an excuse on Saturday as you need and can afford some fun and distractions — also there is Sunday. And Sunday is a fun day you are just not in mood and by evening you anyways want to get back to your emails. So another opportunity lost!

Thankfully people do have more discipline than what I described above — also some really smart strategies to find that perfect time which can be utilized for Learning. I call those “pockets of learning time”. Here are some examples of such pockets of time:

1. One of them recently I experienced was on a flight — Virgin America has tied up with Lynda.com and I think this was a brilliant idea because there are little distractions lots of time consider travelling from west coast to east coast in US is a 6+ hrs journey. Lynda videos are great and excellent opportunity to catch up. For a business traveler this means minimal distractions — nowhere to escape, enough time to catch up with mails and other work but ultimately easier to set aside some time to complete the learning commitment. With WiFi starting to be available I guess you could access other sources as well.

2. Another popular option that many of my friends who have long commute use is the audio books or podcast option especially in a car. I managed to complete some of the ones which are more Biographical in this manner. Like the Google story, Steve Jobs and so on. When I tried listening through a book like Learning Organization — this wasn’t as effective.

3. About a year ago one of my colleagues had the brainwave to utilize the time on the Company bus especially for regular commuters who spend more than an hour travelling to work locations across Chennai. He organized a Toastmaster style event in a Company bus giving commuters an opportunity to speak on various topics helping them enhance communication skills and suddenly a mundane bus journey became more productive and fulfilling — I think this was a great idea.

4. Lastly this is something that not many admit but wash room time is a great time to catch up on with so many things including Learning. Many may frown upon it but I definitely feel its personal time which can be used on more than just self-cleansing. I have friends who catch up on daily news and latest trends at this time. I use the time to catch up on my reading list or Ted talks.

I am sure there are many more such “pockets of learning” that are there which can be used by individuals to beat their learner’s guilt also for Designers of learning — how often do we consider these pockets of learning and organize our learning around it.

What are your pockets of learning time — how do we align our strategies to fit these?