Do you ever stop to think just how much you need to know to be an effective learning professional? Like every other complex field (think: medicine, the law), it’s daunting to stay on top of a constantly shifting and expanding body of knowledge. What can hard-working practitioners do to continuously deepen their knowledge base – to ensure that they are not easily taken in by people promoting solutions that aren’t well supported?

It happens more frequently than you might think. Some broadly believed theories are actually not supported by research results. For example, adjusting your teaching style to address the needs of people’s “learning style” (e.g. visual, audio, kinesthetic learners) does NOT help people to learn better. And “generational differences” that some have been keen to take into account are actually so hard to pin down that they aren’t useful guides.

How can conscientious professionals stay sharp? One answer is to take an evidence-based, evidence-informed, or scholarly approach to practice one project at a time. That is, take the time to explore what experts say as you embark on new initiatives. In the spirit of just-in-time, in-the-flow-of-work learning, take a brief pause to do your due diligence.

When you want to create a mentoring program, take time to explore the latest research findings and expert guidance. When you are interested in “gamifying” a particular program, look for well-grounded advice on game elements that have the most impact on engagement and learning. Avoid following “5 easy steps” and bullet points without exploring their source and the deeper nuances of whatever theories and practices are summarized therein.

Couple that commitment to initiative-driven due diligence with an ongoing finger-on-the-pulse approach, by following folks who ground their work in the science of learning. Look for journal articles, blog posts, conference sessions and other avenues to get a synthesized view of principles gleaned from research, theory, and expansive case studies drawn from experience.

It can certainly be a good idea to seek further education or a robust self-study program to deliberately strengthen your understanding of key principles in the arenas you need to know best – adult learning theory, visual design principles, game-based learning, presentation and facilitation practices, or other knowledge bases. The imperative and how-tos of scholarly practice is something I inject into every graduate course I teach and “the big why” behind graduate studies in my view.

But there is also a lot to be gained by using your everyday experiences as a launching point for continuous learning. As learning professionals, we owe ourselves to up our game, and we owe our clients to be the experts they expect.

Check out my curated resources on scholarly practice for more extensive advice and people to follow. If I can help you do your due diligence or develop your skills in taking an evidence-informed approach to your work, please contact me.