For years, we heard about the need for employees to expand their skill sets due to the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) world we live in. Then the pandemic hit. Change and disruption literally zoomed to a new high. Forward-thinking talent professionals have been aligned with these organizational challenges and advancing learning opportunities using a variety of terms such as reskilling, upskilling, preskilling, and future skilling.
Many of us set new goals, both personal and professional, at the beginning of a new year, and most include some sort of learning component. However, the goal is not the learning process. What do you do to actually start learning? For many, a typical starting place is simply signing up for a class or workshop suggested by your learning management system (LMS) or your manager. Another is going outward with an internet search or a check-in with your friendly AI assistant. Both of these can be very useful, but most of the time, you end up with a huge list of documents to read and consume or a generic course.
Another way to start is to “go slow to go fast” by using a few simple tools and by going inward to brainstorm and generate your own thoughts. This includes responding to a few questions. And yes, you can use the internet, your laptop, and the like, but a pencil and notebook, posters, sticky notes, and markers can be more brain friendly. A supplementary and valuable add is including visuals.
The first question then is the focus of Simon Sinek’s golden circle, the big WHY. Why is this learning important to you? Is it for a new task in your work portfolio, for a side gig you want to pursue, for a certification you are working on, or just for something that piques your curiosity? If your big WHY is not immediately obvious, the 5-Why tool can help.
The WHY should acknowledge how you will use the new skill or knowledge. This in turn influences your approach to learning. A story about cleaning tables by quality management expert Dr. Edwards Deming illustrates this point. If your task is to clean a table, it is important to know “for what end or purpose.” Will the table be used for lunch, for a carpentry project, or for operating on a person or animal? Another way to view this is through the lens of Bloom’s taxonomy and have clarity on the level the skill will be used. Do you just need to be aware of a skill (know about it and that it exists), do you need to actually do something using the skill or knowledge, or do you need to help or teach others to do something with the skill? For example, take something like pickleball. Do you just need to define it, do you just want to play it casually with family, or do you want to play on a competitive league?
The WHY can also influence your timeline. When do you need these skills? Is this a crash course and needed in a week, or is this preskilling for a future opportunity in a year or so?
Once you know the big WHY, WHAT YOU WILL DO, and the TIMELINE, a tool to help lay out your ideas before you go into a full-fledged action plan mode is the KWHW (Know-What-How-Who) graphic organizer.
The purpose of the KWHW organizer is to serve as a structured process to enable individuals or groups to surface, sort, organize, and understand large amounts of disparate information that is both known and unknown to figure out what learning is needed and how best to accomplish it. The process enables individuals and groups to determine patterns, themes, and priorities in pursuing information related to a broad topic. Additionally, it creates structure for the research and ideation phases needed for further understanding and learning. It is basically priming the pump prior to developing a definitions goal and an action plan.
The KWHW graphic organizer is divided into these four columns:
K=KNOW—What do you currently KNOW about the topic? The purpose of the KNOW column is to determine a starting point for further research based on current knowledge. The K column can serve as a hook for attaching new questions and information.
W=WANT—What do you think you WANT to learn about the topic? The purpose of the WANT to learn column is to target what new information is currently needed. This determines the direction of the research and actions.
H=HOW—HOW might you learn about this topic? Use the HOW column to document ways to learn new information. What research methods can be undertaken? How will you cast a wide net to investigate the various opportunities for learning?
W=WHO—WHO can assist you with your exploration of this topic? The WHO column includes thought leaders on the topic, practitioners experienced in utilizing the topic, vendors training on the topic, bloggers writing on the topic, podcasters, learning professional colleagues incorporating concepts related to the topic, and many others. This list definitely needs to include people you can bounce your ideas off of, not just a list of authors.
Like most reflective generative tools, once you start, new ideas, connections, and questions will surface. So, while you can do this in 20 minutes or so and move directly into goal setting and action planning, the KWHW graphic organizer can be helpful to do it and then let it percolate in your brain over a couple of days. You might even share the framework outline with a colleague, mentor, or manager and get their suggestions and feedback.
As with most projects, there is great benefit to going slow to go fast. Capturing your ideas and documenting them is like priming a pump. It can help you clarify your intent, establish questions to help with focusing the learning, promote curiosity, and enable you to fast track developing an action plan that is more realistic, targeted, personable, and executable.
So, get a jumpstart on your first 2024 learning project—use the KWHW tool!