15 essentials for successful learning

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance.


While cleaning up my office this afternoon, I came up this list of essentials for effective informal learning I wrote a couple of years ago for the ASTD Handbook.

I don’t know if I’m in a rut or simply unwavering in my beliefs, but I was surprised to find that every one of these appears in nearly the same language in my new book. (I’d forgotten that I’d written the earlier list.)

  1. Most learning is self-directed. Give people the freedom to chart their course. Make sure resources are readily available and easy to find.
  2. Set high expectations, and people live up to them. Help people make sense of and prosper in the world and the workplace. Facilitate social networks that enable people to compare their situation with others.
  3. Conversations are the stem cells of learning. Foster open, frequent, frank conversations both virtually and in person. Praise courageous conversations.
  4. People learn by doing. Encourage experimentation.
  5. Ensure that managers and mentors understand the impact of stretch assignments. Learning is experiential, and stretch assignments give learners new experiences.
  6. Teach people the least they need know to tackle things on their own.
  7. Make it drop-dead simple to access people in the know, the lessons of experience, how-to information, and performance support.
  8. Learning is social. Encourage participation in communities. Make collaboration the norm. Narrate your work and share with others. Communities and guilds create and consume knowledge. If you don’t have a vibrant social network, create one.
  9. More than half of us work part of our time outside of the office. Ensure support is mobile.
  10. We want what we want, no more. Whenever possible, provide choices. Give employees the pieces to create personalized learning experiences.
  11. Learning is for everyone, not just novices and up-and-comers. You can’t expect to prosper without it. Make sure everyone’s covered.
  12. Learning takes reinforcement to stick. Seek feedback. Blog, tweet, and otherwise share your reflections. Revisiting what you learn fixes it in memory.
  13. Innovation is born of mashing up concepts from different disciplines. Encourage looking outside the box.
  14. Provide feeds for what’s going on in the team, the department, the company, the industry, and technical disciplines.
  15. People confuse learning with school. Build lessons on learning how to learn into the organization.


The list appears in ASTD Handbook: The Definitive Reference for Training & Development, 2nd edition.