Redefining Normal: Exploring Learning Amidst Unprecedented Times
The title is a mouthful, but it is the best way to broach a topical theme. Let me also say that the operative emphasis on ‘new’ has nothing to do with COVID. Let me explain why.
Each of us has our own take on the current situation as it engulfs us in startling new ways. It’s unique and it’s unprecedented. But it’s not alien. Imagine running out of cooking gas midway through preparing an elaborate 4-course meal, or let’s say, facing a flat tire with miles to go in a desolate but beautiful landscape (how we wish we could get back to that!). Those are situations that are so entirely possible in the realm of normal course that one would react with a hitherto unconsidered approach.
This pandemic is but a blip on the radar of various cataclysmic events that have afflicted humanity. This too shall pass. But this dismantling of almost 80% of how we used to lead lives in the past, has certainly brought enough reason and time to introspect, revisit, and re-discover in some ways the joys of learning and living. Learning is what we are focusing on this discussion here.
Learning is highly personal
It is also about validating our basic assumptions and questioning the ‘facts’ as we know them. This is a lot to process! Where does one start? Finding the motivation to learn is simple. Maybe you want to grow better, maybe it’s an old itch you want to scratch, or just plain curious. It could be gardening, calligraphy, cooking, coding – any passion you wish to pursue. But that’s the fun part.
Learning to be better in your profession or learning to grow your expertise is a different ball game, and sometimes is not fun. That’s because-enforced learning depends on practice which places a demand on our time. Also, our receptor skills and attention spans have been dulled by the endless onslaught of distraction in the remote setups that we are part of. While technologists may lament on the ever-shifting landscape of tools, platforms or languages as complex, but the advances are comparable to, say, farming which has undergone the shift from agrarian domain to scientific approaches (hydroponics, vertical breeding, yeah). And here we narrow down on the subject ‘technologist’, the protagonist of this narrative.
Why do we need Systematic or Structured Learning?
For the vast majority in the technology world, ‘systematic’ or ‘structured’ learning is a big miss. This statement will be hard to digest, but there is hardly any evidence on the contrary. We presume knowledge, or worse, we try to acquire knowledge with no ‘learning’. Our virtual grasp of things that are physical (like, say, circuitry or networks or a coffee pot) is founded upon the utilitarian angle. That’s the point where these elements intersect with our life. If the laws that govern physics can be counted on fingers, so can the entire tech ecosystem be distilled to a handful of concepts and principles. We will vehemently agree to this, but the BIG challenge is to see the trees from the forest. This learning path is not mapped and sign-boarded, there will be plenty of detours one will take to enjoy the scenery, but you know where you are headed, objectively. That seems to be the essence of structured learning.
Here’s a quick example – a Java developer trying to master a JS framework can absorb the syntax but learn the semantics of how to function variables in JS are handled in scope resolution vs. how variables in Java are affected by method visibility or modifiers – and to appreciate the difference in design is lost on them unless they invest time in learning and practising the core building blocks. True, you cannot fret every waking hour on things that you do not know, but when you start finding the time to dig deeper, you will realize there is no true starting point, rather a graph of various degrees of connection. So be patient, work it out, reach out to a peer, buy a book, subscribe to a platform, dust off your old journals, pore over peer publications – all enhancers and no guarantees, but makes you a dogged pursuer of knowledge with your own filters. These filters will be sharper over time and hopefully, you will appreciate all the messy diversity around you. Repeat all over again.
While the pursuit of knowledge is meandering and has guilty pleasures, ‘structured’ and ‘focused’ learning puts guardrails around what is ‘right’ for you and by how much. This is why structured learning or rather, learning interventions, are so critical for organizational and personal growth. While they help you as an individual to align your skills and strengths for organizationally relevant vectors, the benefits are many. For starters, guided learning has institutional backing and support. Second, the paths are vision-sourced, providing resounding success for the organization overall. Third, it sets in motion a culture of continuous learning by assessing, questioning and ultimately, demonstrating the right set of competencies at each role and function. This naturally leads to a very sharp and articulated career architecture framework for knowledge workers at all levels.
Technology Competency Framework – build for the future
At Altimetrik, we have recently introduced a well thought out and clearly carved ‘Technology Competency Framework’ that will complement our technologists and practitioners to grow up on our Career Architecture roadmap by staying at the edge of digital innovation and growth. The framework is inclusive, addressing the tactical and strategic needs of the organization while offering our people the best tools for digital skills enhancement, packaged in time-bound,result-oriented outcomes. This can be leveraged for growth projects, individual career enhancements or hiring for the next niche skill.
A comprehensive bottoms-up effort to map our projects, client accounts, competencies, skill groups and roles/designations into a career grid led to the realization that we need an accompanying ‘learning framework’ to help advance unilateral career growth. Leveraging proprietary platforms, targeted assessments and continual analysis, this program is designed to put the ‘employee’ right at the centre of our transformational drive.
For an organization that’s grown blazingly fast, this is the pitstop to refuel and refurbish a millennial workforce into highly focused growth paths. There is no better time to nurture a ‘digital’ mindset than now, as the extreme disruption has necessitated lean business models that thrive on digital. For other organizations doubling down on ‘learning culture’ amidst the throes of this pandemic – a big shoutout!!
Make this crisis an opportunity
Circling back to our initial hypothesis, the basic tenets of learning are very agnostic and can be high ‘yours’ – the direction I am hinting at is the structure, and the accompanying discipline. How often can you get into the ‘learning zone’? How are you managing your priorities to keep learning at the top? How connected is the learning to your true calling? As leaders, how much do you invest in your team’s learning growth? If the constraint is motivation, you only need to realize the tectonic shifts to digital adoption. If the constraint is time, that’s been granted aplenty. So, make it count. There is a real possibility that you will look back at this period fondly when you reminisce about this in 2021 (yes, this article is all about being positive). Let the force be with you!