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ATD Blog

Learning About Learning: An Adventure of Discovery

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

One of the critical skills for being future ready in a world of constant disruptions and changes is continuous learning. As talent professionals, we create cultures and experiences to enable our employees to learn with an extensive focus on content, not necessarily the process of learning. Or stated another way, we are heavy on stocking the pond and light on teaching our employees to fish.

And what about ourselves? We know a lot about learning, but are we personally using tools and techniques to enhance our learning process?

Recently, the ATD Forum hosted a virtual lab as an opportunity for members to individually focus on a learning project within a structured framework and with the assistance of peer feedback and facilitator support, and to use it as a vehicle to learn more about how they learn. The lessons learned and techniques gained for being a champion at self-directed learning can then be used to advance personal daily learning and to support employees in their learning.

The framework for the personal learning was from Catherine Lombardozzi’s workbook, Charting Your Course (CYC), and includes the following components:

  • Orientating—Identifying a learning need and determining goals, guiding questions, measures of success, and the Big Why for the need to be clear and concise about the compass point direction.
  • Wayfinding—This includes the ways to navigate getting to your destination using a variety of resources including articles, books, blogs, podcasts, thought leaders, interpersonal connections, and research to curate and vet the best learning materials based on your need, your current knowledge, and the availability. It also incorporates milestones within the flow of your schedule and considers the ways you will capture your learning and experimenting by using the new learning in real time.
  • Journeying with application and habit formation—Much of the journeying depends on discipline and self-management or what Catherine Lombardozzi calls “wherewithal.” It includes motivation, self-efficacy, self-assessment, resourcefulness, and learning skills.
  • Waypoints to review, reassess, and renew—This includes specific times to synthesize what you have learned and assess it against your goal. It can lead to reconfiguring your goal (for example, reorientating).

The assessment of skills needed within the orientating phase included using a variation of the Langford Capacity Matrix (LCM). The LCM is a self-assessment using the following levels like Bloom’s Taxonomy:

  • Basic knowledge includes knowing about or being aware of the topic or idea at the surface level.
  • Understanding and action includes the ability to obtain information, to recall it (especially at the appropriate time), and to act on the information.
  • Know-how and feedback is the ability to understand or comprehend and apply the knowledge to analyze information.
  • Wisdom and integration includes judgment and discernment, synthesis and creating, and evaluation.

Additionally, the evidence component of the LCM requires a description and a defense of the level selected. The portfolio part requires documentation of your results with examples. This goes much further than a typical self-assessment.


The lab started informally with three weeks of priming emails to encourage thinking about what participants wanted to learn, why it was important to them, and how they would use the new capabilities. Participants submitted a bio that included responses to the questions. The priming also included content suggestions for reading and logistics for the sessions, so participants knew what to expect at launch.

The four formal virtual lab sessions included tutorials from thought leader Lombardozzi, small group peer consults, large group discussions, reflection time, and Q&A. Myriad tools, techniques, and hacks were suggested along the way.

The lab was spaced over eight weeks to allow time for thinking about the project, planning it, working the plan, reflecting on the accomplishments, and checking in with a peer group. The last three sessions were optional with opportunities to ask questions and hear peers share their learning experience stories. Interspersed with the optional virtual sessions were “performance nudge” emails and virtual sessions with thought leaders Britt Andreatta on the science of learning and Dana Alan Koch on making learning stick.


Because one of the primary goals was to reflect on the learning process, the stories from participants were the highlight of the lab. Themes that surfaced from the various learning experience stories include:

  • Start where you are—What is your situation and what skills gaps do you need to close now? A starting place can be the Talent Development Capability Model™ assessment.
  • Know your Big Why? If the learning is something needed for a work project or a new skill related to your current role or a change in the organization, it is easier to dedicate the time.
  • Many of the original goals were changed, completely or narrowed down. A lesson relearned was you can’t boil the ocean; Start with a management chunk.
  • Using the guiding questions enabled alignment with what they wanted to be able to do made a big impact and helped focus them on specific skills.
  • The CYC framework was critical to making the process move forward because it included planning and curating a variety of resources—and then moving to doing. It is an example of going slow to go fast.
  • As talent professionals, we know the basics for learning, but we do not necessarily practice what we preach. Closing the knowing gap is difficult. Intentional learning takes wherewithal.
  • Having a supportive and engaged manager or coach is a catalyst for success, especially when they serve as an accountability partner.
  • Tasks generally require multiple skills. For example, building a process for an organizational digital strategy requires skills around technology, stakeholders, governance process, and executive presence for briefing the highest level in the organization.
  • Be open to unplanned learning along the way.

Forum labs and sessions are extraordinary opportunities to connect, collaborate, and share ideas for personal development with like-minded peers and colleagues from a variety of companies with a common goal—to continue getting better at getting better to enhance their ability as talent professionals.

This virtual lab provided an opportunity for members to discover more about HOW they learn—by reflecting on a specific learning project. As one of the members stated, “As learning leaders, we are so focused on others, it’s hard to focus on ourselves!” Another stated, “We train and motivate others every day, but this process has taught me who I am as a learner.”

Regardless of our level of expertise, we can always learn more about the learning process. Thus, learning continues to be an exciting adventure of discovery for all of us.

About the Author

MJ leads the ATD Forum content arena and serves as the learning subject matter expert for the ATD communities of practice. As the leader of a consortium known as a “skunk works” for connecting, collaborating, and sharing learning, she worked with members to evolve the consortium into a lab environment for advancing the learning practice within the context of work, thus evolving the Forum’s work-learn lab concept. MJ is a skilled and experienced design and performance coach for work teams, as well as a seasoned designer of work-learn experiences with a focus on strategy and program management. She previously held leadership positions at the Defense Acquisition University, including senior instructor, special assistant to the commandant, and director of professional development.

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