Are you learning yet? How to embrace and promote uncomfortable learning environmentsFeatured

Learning is fun! (...and uncomfortable)What comes to mind when you think about learning? If you look at websites for education companies, you’ll see learning described using words such as “magical”, “fun”, and “exciting”. And it’s true, learning can be really fun! I was one of those kids who loved school and today, I work at an education company. But if you ask me, “What have you learned about learning?” I would tell you I have some new words for learning: “uncomfortable”, “hard”, and “challenging” come to mind.The weeks that I learned the most in my job have often been the most challenging ones: when my team was unexpectedly dissolved, when an important project wasn’t going well, or when I was having trouble getting buy-in on a new project. Though these were moments when it was particularly hard to love my job, today I look back on these tough learning moments as experiences of accelerated growth.Reflect on tough learning moments in order to growAsk any teacher and they will tell you that an important part of learning is reflecting on what you have learned. Reflection requires intentional space. I give myself space to reflect by putting a one hour solo walk on my calendar every week and committing to going on the walk even when I am “too busy.” This mandatory walk has given me the space away from the day-to-day work at my desk to recognize and reflect on what I am learning.In the workplace, when the learning is the most intense, taking a few moments to reflect might not seem like the best use of time. But if the goal of learning is to grow and do better, processing and reflecting is integral to ensuring that the lesson was actually internalized. This is true not only for individuals, but also for teams and organizations so that everyone learns collectively.Normalize shared learning within teams and organizationsOne way to encourage growth through learning is to normalize, and even celebrate, failures and mistakes. It is important that individuals recognize that they can make a mistake and learn from it, and this is something to be celebrated rather than punished. While many companies and teams have a space to celebrate “wins” from the week, try creating space to share “learnings” from the week as well. The goal is not to avoid making mistakes, it’s to learn more quickly the next time. As leaders, find ways to celebrate learning but also reward learning more quickly over time.Sharing learnings across an organization helps ensure that learning happens more quickly for the organization as a whole over time. The engineering concept of circulating a “blameless post mortem” after a serious issue is a good example of a technique that can be used to share learning across the organization: when a mistake was made and a team experiences some kind of uncomfortable learning together, write down the “lessons learned” and commit to sharing it more broadly so that others can gain from the learning as well.Are you learning yet?A former manager would sometimes ask me, after a hard conversation or when going through a tricky challenge at work, "Are you learning yet?" This was a helpful reminder to embrace the discomfort of learning rather than run away from a hard situation. To create an environment where learning is embraced, individuals need to have space to reflect and opportunities to share their learnings. People and organizations grow when we actively embrace the discomfort that comes from prioritizing learning.Brittany is a Product Manager at Seesaw Learning, working on products for schools and families. Previously, she was a Product Manager at Yelp, where she worked on the search experience as well as internationalization. She has a degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from UC Berkeley. She enjoys climbing, drinking tea, and spending too much time on Twitter. Twitter: @bcheng42
Like many we've been homeschooling our almost 13 year old. He has severe ADHD and mild dyslexia and can think of nothing better than just playing on his phone or Switch which of course we limit and which of course creates a lot of shouting from him - I'm learning and struggling every day with this on top of doing the day job, but back to your question. I've realised that his schooling is all about the topics, subject matter rather than the learning, he / we (parents) have not been given techniques in how to learn rather than what. How to think, how to develop critical analysis etc etc. This is something I have learned but then I do learn every single day without question and yes it's uncomfortable and yes it's hard. And I started an MSc at 47 in my "spare" time just to develop my learning capacity..In my last team we talked about lessons applied as it has to be active rather than simply learning and popping them away into the "filing cabinet".
Yes, this is such an important aspect of learning. The most rewarding breakthroughs in my learning have come after a period of discomfort. I wish this was something I understood better when I was in school - if you aren't uncomfortable with what you're learning, you aren't taking it far enough. Being able to push ideas and theories past what you're already comfortable with will take you to greater levels of understanding.Thank you for sharing this.