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What really makes learning work?

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What really makes learning work? By Sharon Smyth

The biggest challenge in talent management and development, is how to ensure people really learn, and apply what they learn.

I used to rely on models and theories, which were only sometimes successful – Nowadays I give a different answer, an answer which is derived from a very personal experience, having my daughter. I had never until this point in my life felt so totally clueless, or developed as many new skills and as much new knowledge in such a short period of time.

My learning during this period of my life was rapid, as was the application of my learning. Whilst the context is a non-work one, as time passed I realised that I had undergone an incredibly successful learning process. I wouldn’t want to have the level of stress which I experienced during this period applied to work of course!

There are five key principles which we can all duplicate:

1. Desire: I wanted and I needed to learn.

2. Actually having a go: I had the opportunity of trial and error which was often in a quite limited time span so I could see the results, and with only my own scrutiny.

3. Focusing on the key information: There was lots of information out there but because of the first point I had to sift and sort it quickly to get to the key bits I needed. I was, in effect, forced to be ruthless in seeking the right information and discounting the rest.

4. Keeping it simple: The most effective information was the bits I could understand quickly and apply instinctively.

5. Sharing learning with others: Despite the plethora of information out there, I was astounded by the number of things I truly wished I’d known and yet no one said. I used friends and forums to get answers and crucially share experiences.   So now, when I’m asked how to ensure people really learn, I share these key principles.

Thank you Sharon – You did it – you wrote a book!

With my love and best wishes to you all

David X

Sharon Smyth is a working mum, author and HR specialist from the United Kingdom. Her book ‘The things they never tell you about becoming mum’ is a real world account of the typical decisions and dilemmas that first time mums-to-be, new mums and their families will need to navigate.




Twitter – @sharonmsmyth.  Blog –

11 Responses to What really makes learning work?

  1. The desire to learn must come above all else, imo.
    Without it, it is easy to let things you should take on board pass you by.
    Especially when you get older, the capacity for learning diminishes, so the desire must come into play.

    • I couldn’t agree more Boris – in situations with both my daughter and with team members at work the first thing I always check out is if they want to learn. It’s the essential groundwork.

  2. Applying knowledge is an art in itself.
    So sifting through the right parts to glean the information that will help is the the most important aspect.
    My son has an annoying habit of not looking at his homework properly.
    He wants to get it done without doing the research.
    So he has a book to read and various practical exercises but won’t actually read the whole thing before he tries to answer the questions.
    So having the ability to skim read, take on board what you need to know, then apply it is key.

  3. Isn’t that what the Internet is for? To find answers?
    There are so many questions and if you need anything now you can log on and narrow it down to find exactly what you are looking for.
    Great way to learn.

  4. When you have been on a training course make sure you apply the learnings straight away. Don’t let the folder and all those new skills gather dust!

  5. Training courses are the best way to go.
    To be interactive in a group helps you learn a lot more.

  6. The sharing learning with others is key.
    Some business owners like to think they are empowered with knowledge that they would rather not share.
    It’s a nonsense. They need to tell others and pass on the knowledge so that the business can function as a whole, as one.
    The same aspirations, the same goal, the same level of knowledge among staff so that the products or services can be sold, for the benefit of the business.

  7. There is a real art to teaching and not everyone can do it in an effective way.
    The key is to be able to deliver in a way that is simple to understand but interesting.
    There is nothing worse than a dull orator who just doesn’t ‘connect’ with the audience.
    So it really is about knowledge, ability to translate articulately and in a way that will tantalize the listeners.
    Then that way they will learn because of the memory of the session.

    • That’s a really good point and hits a real note with me – excellent training engages participants and allows them to develop by making the subject or skill in question seem easy. I’d add to that the need for a fun factor – it makes for much better retention of information.

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