Continuous Learning – what, why and how?
By Louise Richter, APS Academy
Continuous Learning perspectives
We asked entry level APS employees for their views on continuous learning and why it is important. Here’s what they said.
The APS Learning and Development Strategy describes the importance of learning and development in today’s dynamic business environment, where change is rapid, complex and unrelenting. To respond to the speed of change, people need to not only develop knowledge and new skills more rapidly, they also need to develop new mindsets and capabilities, embedded in a culture of continuous learning.
The terms ‘learning agility’, ‘growth mindset’ and ‘lifelong learning’ are sometimes used to describe continuous learning. Continuous learning is continuously gaining new skills, knowledge and expertise across your career to remain adaptable and flexible.
In November 2022, the APS Academy hosted a Craft Conversation on Continuous Learning, which brought together Tharanie Vithanage – Branch Head, Governance and Reform, DCCEEW; Amelia Hickman – Senior Analyst, AUSTRAC; Mo Al Albri – Assistant Manager, Learning and Talent, DCCEEW and Jared Wilkins – Acting General Manager Science and Learning at Questacon to share their personal insights and experiences with ‘Continuous Learning’. Some key insights are included below.
How would you describe continuous learning and
why does continuous learning matter?
Continuous learning matters because it's part of the evolution of ideas. It's part of the thinking that we need to continue to develop. It's learning new things and being curious, understanding more and understanding better, and also about exposing yourself to different thoughts and ideas.
An underlying principle of continuous learning is to ‘be curious’. The world is changing quickly, and it seems to be accelerating day-to-day. As public servants, we need to be aware of new and upcoming trends, how to get across them and to know what new technologies are becoming available. We need to be curious about what the public is interested in, what are the insights that can help us provide a better service or a better policy outcome?
Some suggest continuous learning is about upgrading your AQ (adaptability quotient) and learning at the speed of change – to efficiently process and respond to change. Continuous learning is about your willingness to learn and develop yourself, learn from others and to fuel your curiosity.
Learning's not always through courses and formal learning.
What are some of your learning practices?
Networking, connecting people and learning through others, sharing resources and building that ‘one APS’ vision – that informal learning is so valuable. Joining and engaging in Communities of Practice (via GovTEAMS) is a great way to build and connect our APS networks, where questions can be asked, challenges and solutions can be shared, duplication of work is reduced and efficiencies are developed.
Face-to-face learning still has many benefits, but these days the default is to plan, design, coordinate or procure learning that is available online. Micro courses are great and they're often free online, such as LinkedIn learning.
Following people on social media is a good way to get information. For example, following Ministers and opposition spokespeople often give an indication of the current political landscape and what direction it's heading in, which helps you to be prepared.
How do we implement continuous learning?
How do we create a learning culture in our workplace?
Our SES and Executives can be role models. The challenge we're facing in learning is that people are so short on time. We need to ensure people can learn things in a micro way and communicate this to them. We need to build a culture of understanding the long term benefits of learning and developing our staff.
Acknowledge that learning is constant, and anything and everything is a learning experience. Doing your work is part of your learning. Leaders need to make it clear with staff that learning is not always separate from work.
Reflect. Frequently ask questions such as, “How do you think that went? What worked well and what could we have done better?”. This takes no time but allows for on-the-spot learning about what you might do better next time.
What is a manager's role in building a continuous learning culture?
Managers can help employees identify and understand the skills and capabilities needing development and can help identify and prioritize their learning through various avenues.
It's important for leaders to demonstrate when learning is happening, to communicate that learning is valued in everything they do, and to relay ‘this is how this is a learning experience and this is what I want you to take away from it’. It could happen in a 15 minute stand up or it could be part of an entire week-long course.
Role modelling is vital in terms of manager and leadership roles, and so is making time for conversations. Leaders need to make space and time to encourage conversations about learning. It's not just about the transaction or achieving work tasks, it's also about contributing and building a culture of learning.
Share successes and failures with the team, regardless of your leadership position. There is value in sharing “I make mistakes too, here are the things I've learnt so you can learn from my mistake”. It's important that leaders demonstrate they are also participating in learning and they are doing that learning throughout their day.
How can you support your work, your teams and learning in the workplace. How can you help your teams identify the capabilities
There's the doctrinal answers such as: do the gap analysis, understand the capability framework, understand your required outcomes, etc. But there's also an important part to consider about human behaviour. We need to think about how we bring our entire workforce along on these journeys around learning. As managers, we need to think about the different needs our teams have and plot their individual paths to develop their capability.
Providing a safe space for our people to demonstrate their learning and to make a few mistakes and keep developing is really important. As is providing psychological safety in the workplace, for people to feel safe to make mistakes and share their developmental needs.
Learning in context and learning by doing is so valuable. Asking yourself and others, “How does this learning relate to what I'm doing at the moment or going to be doing in the future? What do we want our people to learn? What's the best way to present that learning?” will help to guide and support individual and team capability development.
Understanding that there are unlimited learning options and individual preferences, and that learning through mentors and coaching is crucial.
What is your advice for protecting your future career?
It's all about relevance. Your learning could be about anything but the concept of continuous learning is so important. Identify what you're interested in, what you're passionate about, what you're good at and identify where it might take you. And work out what the market needs - that's really important in today's world because the world is changing so quickly and technology is moving so fast.
We need to be future fit. What you learn isn’t necessarily as valuable as how you learn, and developing skills in terms of how to think and apply learning is key. It's not just about being able to provide the technical answer or solution. It's about how you approach an answer. If you know how to think, if you know how to solve a problem regardless of what that problem is, that’s how you will always stay relevant and protect your future career.
Lastly, when you're learning a new skill, you do need to be a little kind to yourself. Understand that you're probably not going to know the answer or understand something, you're not going to ‘get it’ straight away. You need to build time into thinking about something, learn from it, reflect on it and then become the expert.
To view the full Craft Conversation event, find it on APSLearn.