4 Meta Skills for Learning Professionals

Clouds and Water by choconancy on Flickr

Update: Part 2 and Part 3 are also available.

This month’s “Big Question” from Tony Karrer jolted me out of my sun-gardening-induced blogging lethargy to reply to this question:

In a Learning 2.0 world, where learning and performance solutions take on a wider variety of forms and where churn happens at a much more rapid pace, what new skills and knowledge are required for learning professionals?

My friends and colleagues already nailed most of what I would write (see links below) , addressing the full range from technical to social. So I want to focus in on three “meta” skills that may be a little harder to quantify, but which I feel are at the root of most of the other skills already mentioned. As I start to write them, perhaps “skills” is the wrong word. These are beliefs, values, and attitudes. There are skills in expressing them. Let me “lay four of them on you!”

1. Self Awareness

This is the uber skill. A learning professional (or any learner, for that fact. What the heck IS a learning professional??) cannot support or facilitate the learning of others if they don’t first understand their own learning path. Without awareness of our own strengths and weaknesses, how can we perceive others with insight? (I think strengths and weaknesses are often simply different expressions of ourselves: two sides of the same coin.) Without awareness of our biases and preferences, how can we avoid the trap of simply designing for ourselves and excluding others? Some of the skills that support self awareness are reflection, ability to ask great questions, listening, and seeking the feedback of others.

2. Generosity

For me, being a learning professional is about liberation, expression, empowerment of everyone through learning. Therefore hording, failing to surface and share what I learn feels like a violation. A learning professional need skills and practices on how to usefully share what they know, share the questions they have and share their skills both in professional/paid and spontaneous, voluntary contexts. Both are required for our development. Some of these skills include the ability to write and speak about our work (blogging! Twittering! speaking!).

3. Humility

“Professionals” and “experts” can easily fall victim to hubris and our own self inflated sense of our ideas and experiences. This is not to dismiss expertise, knowledge or experience, but to suggest that there is a danger in losing the learning when we think WE have the answer. Learning is about others’ discovery of their answer. Humility does not mean we don’t have confidence, ability or belief in ourselves, but that we put the learning of others as our goal, not the recognition of our own learning. Skills that build humility include listening, asking questions and seeking to understand the perspectives and needs of others.  It means being willing to learn new things (technical come to mind) that may not have been part of our repetoire that brought us to our current status as a learning professional.

4. Willingness to Risk

With a clear sense of self, with appropriate humility, we can take risks. In other words, we can  be professionals learning new things. Trying. Failing or succeeding, but learning and sharing our learning through the process.  Skills include ability to envision multiple possibilities, planning and reflection.

Now, if it was not a holiday here in the US and my family saying “let’s play,” I’d extract all the great skills suggested by my colleagues and see how they patterned out across my four suggested “meta skills.” But the sun is out. Family and play is precious. So I’ll leave that analysis to you or someone else. But I’ll also leave you a question. What skills do you think learning professionals need? Which of them are new beyond the technical? 😉

(Edited to add more links to respondent’s to Tony’s question)

  1. Nancy,
    I’d add curiosity and flexibility. If you want to hold on to old models and ways of doing things, I suspect the next phase may be difficult. The people who will thrive are out in front of their participants exploring new ways of being and doing, then adapting them to the community.

    Hope you had a great holiday weekend.

  2. Fantastic post Nancy, and great additions Christine. I’d also add bravery. Maybe this is the same as willingness to risk? For me, bravery is a precursor to taking risks and embodies a willingness to go beyond conventional wisdom, even when that conventional wisdom is changing so quickly.



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  4. Nancy – I was super excited when I saw that you had posted on the topic. But you surprised me because I expected something quite different. I like your meta skills, but …

    I was hoping that you would provide insight into the core skills and knowledge around communities and networks that learning professionals should have?

    As you know, I strongly believe that in the future all knowledge workers will need the ability to effectively participate in communities and navigate networks in order to perform their work. And, this is one of the bigger skill gaps that exists.

    What’s the 5 minute and 60 minute learning piece that all knowledge workers should have to go through so they will be better at this?

    Then, going to learning professionals, I think there’s an additional level that is community / network facilitation. As learning increasingly happens through communities and networks, learning professionals need to be able to facilitate this.

    Again, what’s the 5 minute and 60 minute learning piece that all learning professionals should have to go through on this?

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  7. Christine and Viv i forgot to circle back to your great contributions. My first reaction was “aren’t these skills ALL of us need?” 🙂

    I find myself digging deeper and deeper into this sense that it may be silly to even classify all these things we are offering as skills for the learning professional. They are skills for living in the 21st century, no?

  8. Pingback: Full Circle Associates » Skills for Learning Professionals Part 3

  9. Nancy,
    Yes, tools for 21st century living. Which is why as learning professionals we need to make sure they are really honed in us, so we can integrate them into everything we do. They aren’t fully embraced in all yet.

  10. Pingback: Where churn happens ….

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  14. This blog about managing information flow is outstanding and helpful for me.
    The summary
    • Scanning – what am I looking for
    • Filtering – what has value
    • Synthesizing – what does this mean
    • Reflecting – did this work?
    • Asking good quesitons
    is masterly.

    But I note
    Note: writing and verbal communication are key skills underneath connecting. If I were to be hiring someone today, I’d want to see them read and write under pressure.

    Much more than technology, this is the heart of the digital divide.

    As a teacher educator working in an NGO in South Africa, should I be spending my time inhabiting Web2.0, or should I be finding better ways to teach chidlren to read and write?

    But you say, the two are not mutually exclusive.
    But I say, I have limited skills and energy, and it’s a question of how much time I spend where.
    The two hours that I have spent this morning working through your website (which is excellent, and I can see that you’re getting to the heart of things here – and it’s all high quality)
    could have been spent on the school down the road, with children who don’t have breakfast, with an excellent principal who struggles to pay her staff, with a teacher who painstakingly makes her teaching aids with cardboard and sticky tape, and has real conversations with her pupils about abuse and HIV /AIDS.

    What worries me is that more and more energy of highly skilled, sensitive, talented people is being sucked into a largely decontextualised virtual world, with no clear benefit for ordinary people. In South Africa, the top 10% of learners achieve in literacy and numeracy at internationally comparable levels, and the rest achieve worse and worse. The statistics are frightening.

    THe virtual world is a threat to the real world. Inhabiting it makes us oblivious to the cries of the poor. The only worthwhile activity for the intelligent and privileged is to work towards decreasing the inequalities in society and responding compassionately and creatively to human suffering – not only because it is the right thing to do, but because the survival of the world as we know it depends on this.

    So the real challenge is not information management in a digital environment or skills for learning professionals in virtual environments. The real challenge is living in real communities.

    • Wow, terrific comments, An Intelligent South African. Context matters so much. But your final words “The real challenge is living in real communities” is something we should be attending to in ANY context. However, I’m not sure we can simply say the virtual world is totally decontextualized (or in fact, that we stay grounded in our context when we are F2f.) What I take from your words is the need to BE AWARE – self aware, context aware – and use that to inform my choices and recommendations. Does that make sense?