I’m a big believer in turn-of-the-year resolutions and thoughtful goal-setting. My goals for 2022 include deliberate choices about my learning projects (apropos since I’ve been preaching self-directed learning quite a bit in the last several years). I’ve charted two projects so far – one of which serves an immediate need, and one of which is more ongoing.  (I have uploaded the plans in case you want to see them; recommendations welcome.)

But neither of the projects fit squarely into the Charting Your Course process that I’ve been advocating as a way to plan your self-directed learning. It goes to show that a big part of what we do in L&D is try to figure out how to make textbook ideas work in unique contexts (and isn’t every context unique?). I thought it might be useful to share how I strategized my oddly-shaped learning projects.

Goal 1: Exploring manager-led development

First up is a project to explore models and practices that managers use to encourage/promote/facilitate development in their direct reports. I already know quite a bit about this topic because I can justifiably draw from the tactics I’ve uncovered in my work on scaffolding self-directed learning and cultivating learning culture. And I can then integrate what I’ve gathered from studying adult learning and working in L&D for 35+ years. But I know I can find additional useful insights and practical tactics if I go exploring.

This is an upskilling goal generated from my own analysis of trends and a specific inquiry from a potential client. The Charting Your Course process would have me compile an array of options and then curate the most relevant and rich to turn into a plan. But in this case, finding and curating sort-of IS the project so that’s how I have planned it out. (A project to fully read and study one or more aspects of manager-led development would be in the next leg of this learning journey if needed.)

I used the option-generating chart in the Charting Your Course Workbook to check myself on diversifying the resources and activities. And I did a bit of immediate curation as I was drawing up the list (especially on the book reviews).

Charting Your Course also includes a project planning step, and I preach the advantages of creating a real plan, not just a list of to-dos. If I had not deliberately considered the categories of inputs and activities and laid out flow and dates, it would be easy to just poke around a bit. It would also be very easy to get overly ambitious here, so it was important to consider the time I have to invest before making grandiose plans.

What I have created is robust, but do-able in my estimation. But I can always adjust as I move forward.

Goal 2: Continuously deepen adult learning background

I’m a long-term proponent of scholarly practice, and I have a number of strategies I use to keep my finger on the pulse of emerging research and theory. But my habits here are inconsistent and inefficient and I have wanted for quite some time to get more organized and deliberate about finding and sharing good research in our field.

This is another slightly oddly shaped project, not fitting neatly into a chart. It’s in the genre of a continuous development plan, but the goal is not focused on a specific area of expertise as much as it is on developing a learning skill and practices.

This plan contains a lot of experimentation to find the best approach FOR ME (rather than learning about other’s practices, although that will help). The trick here will be to do something to improve my approach every month over the course of the year, but the plan is also front-loaded with setting up the first iteration.

I also have to account for the fact that much of my learning project time in the first quarter will need to be dedicated to the manager-led development project. The dates on this plan are in the second quarter timeframe. Still, envisioning this goal on the horizon, I will be open to tracking ideas and sources so that I’ll have a bit of a jump start when this project gets its turn as the priority.

The lessons and reinforcements I took from coming up with this plan are that learning projects (even relatively easy ones) need to be prioritized. Also, the shape of this project will be better known once I take the initial steps. This plan is likely to morph in process more than other plans do.

On practicing what you preach

In working with my Charting Your Course clients (consulting and collaborating on their learning project plans), I have noticed how often the nature of what they want to study is best served by some customized version of the guidelines I’ve committed to paper. That’s why so many learners need a concierge. Those of us with background in learning know enough to make adjustments on the fly, while people whose expertise lies elsewhere might well be flummoxed by the fact that their project doesn’t fit nicely in the boxes.

There are always exceptions to the rules. Following your own practices gives you deep insights into how it looks and feels to the people actually attempting to follow your guidance. It can help you to fine-tune your recommendations, to be more empathetic about the challenges, and to remain open to adjustments.

Every person has unique context, goals, and challenges related to self-directed learning. We need to be gentle with ourselves in planning and executing our learning projects while still attending to the valuable advice so many researchers and practitioners have offered. I certainly believe Charting Your Course provides solid counsel, but each person has to make the journey their own.

This post is part of a broader series giving advice on crafting and executing successful self-directed learning projects. If one or more of your 2022 goals involves learning, my newsletters and blogs for the first quarter of 2022 will expand on the research-based advice I offer in Charting Your Course. The first piece was in my newsletter: Everything you know about writing goals is wrong.