Learning by Osmosis

What high schooler didn’t dream of falling asleep with their heads in a textbook as they studied, hoping to wake up having absorbed all the key points “through osmosis”? It turns out that most of our skulls are not semi-permeable membranes; it takes a little more effort to learn. Though perhaps not too much more effort.

Heading in to 2012, one of my New Years’ Resolutions was to spend more time with people in the training field. In January I sent an email to a colleague from another organization to ask if he’d be interested in meeting up for coffee on a monthly basis to geek out over training. I reached out to another acquaintance when I was going to be in Washington, DC in order to learn more about what her organization was doing with distance learning. Occasionally, I’ll get together for coffee or lunch with a larger group of trainers. I try to participate in some LinkedIn discussion forums when I can find the time. Next month I’ll finally attend a local ASTD chapter meeting.  And I find myself absorbing all sorts of new training ideas through these interactions.

It’s one of the only Resolutions I’ve ever kept – perhaps because this is a Resolution that I find gives me energy, it helps me do my job better, I really like it – this Resolution has given me several exciting benefits.

Benefit 1: Fresh Ideas

Earlier this year I was stuck in my effort to figure out an easy and engaging way to teach eye anatomy to staff in India without the lesson becoming a college-level biology lecture. Following one coffee-and-training geek out session, a colleague showed me an elearning module he’d been working on. It resembled a Cosmopolitan magazine personality quiz. And it struck me that I could create a classroom activity in a similar vein – a personality quiz about eye anatomy: which eyeball part are you? It was fun, light hearted and, when your personality resembles a pupil and a classmate’s personality resembles a cornea for various reasons, it’s easier to relate to the underlying biology fundamentals of the eye.

During lunch with trainers from various international NGOs, the topic of change management came up and several people mentioned they had read the book Switch. It inspired me to pick up a copy and after having read it, I suggested that my entire team at work read it in order for us to develop a common vocabulary around change management.

Benefit 2: Fresh Eyes

Beyond an incubator for new ideas, getting together with others in the training field has also helped me to recognize that I’m actually doing a lot of things right. After sharing a new scenario-based elearning module on coaching that I had been developing, I was able to get some good feedback from some training colleagues who are able to bring a valuable, relatively objective, “outsider” perspective. Basically, unlike my teammates and colleagues within my own organization, the training folks with whom I meet up for coffee can offer feedback without having to worry about seeing me in the halls every day – they can be brutally honest. And when I get positive feedback on projects that I’m working on (especially when they ask if they can steal some of my ideas), it certainly affirms the work I’m doing.

Benefit 3: Fresh Opportunities

Perhaps the biggest benefit of these informal meet-ups is the new opportunities it has created. One colleague asked me to pair up with a volunteer elearning developer to create an online course that can be used by dozens of NGOs (including my own organization) on the topic of performance management. Several others have asked me to work with their organizations in assessing, evaluating and improving their training programs. And the monthly coffees have led to an invitation to showcase some of my favorite instructional design strategies during a breakout session of an upcoming conference.

All these opportunities help both in expanding my network as well as in sharpening my own skills. I am a better learning professional than I was back on December 31, 2011, and I haven’t spent a dime on attending a training session or conference this year.

It’s not quite osmosis, but it’s as effortless of a way to learn more, open more doors and get new ideas as I’ve ever experienced!

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