Here’s a simple planning device – the Learning Project Plan (LPP) – that simplifies this process of defining your goals, marshaling your motivation, identifying the best resources, monitoring your progress, and appraising and documenting your learning.
Over the past decade, the LPP has been adopted by practitioners in fields as diverse as technical writing, electrical manufacturing, and hospital administration. (I’ll describe their experiences at the end of this article.)
Of course, I use it myself. If you asked me right now what I’ve been learning recently, I’d hand you my LPP. It tells what, why, where, when, and how effectively I’m learning this week.
Your LPP can be created electronically on your Personal Digital Assistant, or if you’re still a paper-and-pencil person, created on a regular sheet of copy paper folded into a 4 x 5-inch folded sheet which can be tucked into your day planner. Here’s what’s on the eight panels (front and back) of my current Learning Project Plan.
- On the front is the Goal, with nine benefits to me and my organization listed underneath. I’m a great believer in multiple-benefit analysis. I always do my best to identify all the benefits and advantages of any learning project, rather than just the most obvious one. It strengthens motivation by drawing from different psychological sources: the utilitarian, the emotional, the imaginative, the altruistic, etc. ("What will this learning enable me to do?" "How will it feel to have mastered this subject or skill?" "What new opportunities will it open up?" "How can I share it with others?")
- Opening this miniature booklet, the next panel covers three ways in which I’m making my learning more comfortable by using my personal learning style.This personalizes the scheme to my comfort zone.
- Now, unfolding the paper to its full size to reveal the inside spread, there’s a mind-map of relevant opportunities, resources, people, and technology. I like to put these all down in one display, rather than divide them into separate lists, because they so often inter-relate.
Moreover, the mind-map format invites continual additions as new possibilities present themselves. At the start of each day, for example, I open the mind map and think for a moment: “What’s coming up today that could contribute to this learning project?” Just about every time I do this, something comes to mind that I would not have thought of otherwise.
Specifically, the LPP prompts me to tap the knowledge and experience of colleagues, to be on the qui vive for input from the media and the Internet, and to identify new sources of information and expertise.
- Folding the sheet again to reveal the back panels, there’s an Action Plan with deadlines, and a Results panel to monitor my progress and document results.
These results, like the goals, should be multiple. Take the time to relish what your learning has meant to you not just in terms of knowledge or mastery of skills, but in enjoyment, self-regard, opportunities, and the prospect of sharing what you are learning with others.
This miniature blueprint for learning took me about an hour to draft, then another hour or two, spread over a few days, to refine with additional ideas. Now it guides and stimulates my learning. All on one simple folded piece of paper! It’s a great way to learn – personal, powerful, and practical – and fun.
I’ve been advocating this system to associations of professionals in a variety of fields for several years. When I proposed it to the Association of Professional Directors of YMCAs in North America, for example, the members found it so attractive that the association adopted it as an alternative modality through which members could fulfill their obligation for Continuing Professional Education.
“Learning Plans are one of the most important tools our members have ever mastered,” said APD leader Jim Stooke.
Here are the advantages of this form of learning:
- It puts you in control of your learning.
- It taps energy and motivation often under-utilized in conventional instruction.
- It accommodates to your personal style, pace, schedule, and changing interests.
- It permits fine-tuning of goals, methods, and resources in the course of the learning.
- It strengthens your underlying capacity for self-directed learning in your life.
Your LPP will have a different tone and tenor, depending on your individual and organizational needs. For example, when I presented it to members of the Society for Technical Communication, whose workday is measured in nano-seconds, it was clear that some steroids were needed to kick up the pace a few notches.
So we focused on learning encounters – down-and-dirty projects to master technical skills and information on the run, including the “Hey, Joe School” (“Hey, Joe, how did you install that new interface software?”) and “Hallway Learning” in which vital information gets moved around an organization through casual encounters. (Dixon, N.M, The Hallways of Learning , Organizational Dynamics, 25(4), 23-24).
Again, when I instigated the approach with medical administrators at a conference on Quality Improvement in Hospitals, I found the conferees embroiled in the turmoil of health care in the U.S. Therefore, we formulated LPPs that strengthened the inner focus of these dedicated professionals to help them maintain their integrity amidst the roiling waters of controversy.
I hope you find the LPP, as I do, an engine, compass, and caliper for jump-starting, guiding, and appraising your learning.
Share your experience with LPPs in the Continuing Education Forum.