Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What Did You Learn Today?

I participate in the weekly #lrnchat and this is how the moderators open the chat. This deceptively simple question is perhaps the most challenging question to answer. It is a question that makes me think and forces me to reflect on the day. 
It has taken me some time but this question has now become a habit and is an important aspect of my daily reflection ritual. It is a way of figuring out how the previous day went for me and whether any of the activities I did and the interactions I had with people made it to my 'learned' list. I also use this question as a way to filter the most and the least effective activities in my previous day and prioritize my energy for the current day. 

When you start asking this question to yourself, initially, you may only be able to list the big learning moments. For example, conscious learning activities like learning a new software, reading an article and learning some new fact about wines, or learning how to fix a toaster might make it to your list. Gradually, you will be able to see many smaller learning events that surround you and are a part of your daily activities at work and at home. Some of these events may be unplanned and almost seem accidental. They may not be very obvious but are extremely useful. For example, troubleshooting some issue with your laptop or having an interaction with a co-worker only to find out that they know how to fix that exact problem in your laptop! After I started asking myself this question consciously, I was quite surprised at the kind of learning experiences I went through in a single day. I would say that there are as many opportunities to learn as the number of minutes you are awake! 

But knowing what you learned today is not enough. The idea is to be able to reflect on the learning process and identify what made you learn or why did you learn, how did you learn, what helped you learn, and how you can apply the learning in the future. We all are continuously learning in one way or another. But the difference between people who are more effective at what they do is that they utilize reflective practices to identify their learning and know how to apply and implement the learning in other situations. 

As a learning designer, I can't overemphasize the importance of reflection when designing adult learning (more about my tips on designing reflective practices in a learning intervention in another blog post). On a personal level, I have often used this question with my daughter to hear more about what she learned at school. I have noticed a big difference in her responses when I ask 'How was school today?' versus 'What did you learn today?'. I have tried this experiment several times and have received qualitatively different responses for these two questions. The answer to the 'how' question mostly ends up in monosyllables - good, ok, usual, etc. Then, I have to ask several probing questions to get some information. The 'what' question always brings forth interesting details about what she did in class and what she really learned. Give it a try. 

Final thoughts: you need not be taught for you to learn and not all teaching leads to learning! So, what did you learn today?