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Making the most of learning opportunities

It is common these days to be part of a shared learning experience with others. With the advent of live streaming etc some of these experiences may even be remote, not requiring our physical presence.

There are lectures as part of formal study programs, or training courses on work/ career related topics. We may also take time out for deeper reflection or to address personal issues through participation in group therapy sessions, holistic workshops, spiritual retreats or presentations by personal development ‘gurus’.

What we sometimes forget is that in order to get the most out of these opportunities we need to be in a receptive frame of mind (and heart).  We owe it to ourselves to do more than just ‘turn up’.

While the presenter has a key role in offering quality content and in delivering the material in a way which is interesting and engaging, we have a responsibility to be receptive to the gifts of learning which are on offer. My top 10 for getting the most out of these opportunities is as follows:

1. Be open, like an empty vessel, setting aside your existing views and concepts. It is time enough to to apply your critical faculties after you have absorbed the new information and insights. Doing this can be challenging if you regard yourself as an ‘expert ‘on the subject matter, as you may be tempted, during the event, to focus unduly on comparing what is on offer with what you already know.

2. Be non – judgmental not only about the material but the means of communication and the presentational style of the facilitator/presenter/teacher. Set aside any prejudices or preconceived ideas you may have about the program. When you feel a strong reaction against any aspect you should reflect on why this is the case. Maybe you need to hear something that challenges your existing frame of reference and takes you outside your comfort zone.

3. Listen with your heart as well as your mind. What is being said ‘between the lines’? Take in the atmosphere and be aware of intuitive responses and feelings that arise in you.

We have preferred learning styles, be aware of and use yours – is it visual (images), auditory(speech and tone), reading/written word, or kinesthetic (touch and feel)?

4. Be enthusiastic, appreciative, energetic and excited by the opportunity and you will be more open to receive the learning. If you have some reservations about the event, set them aside and ‘make the most of it’.

5. Have some fun – don’t take it all too seriously. Playing with the material can spark creative responses within you as to how you might internalize and make practical use of what is being communicated.

6. Stay present and focused during the presentation, be aware of when your mind strays. Taking  notes can help you stay present, but be selective, robot like note taking can turn into a distraction.

7. Listen to the perspectives/reactions of others. Often the key learning comes from hearing the questions or feedback of others.

8. Be aware of your mood. Our experience can so easily be colored by how we feel on the day. If something is on your mind try to park it for the duration of the event.

9. Participate – ask questions, seek clarifications, check understanding though rephrasing in your own words, debate the issues and contribute your own views/reactions.

10. Internalization after the event. This is the all important final step. It is achieved through reflection (or even meditation if you are so inclined) on how to use the learning in your life or work.  Review your notes, or best of all ‘teach’ the material to someone else. The more you repeat the insights that had meaning for you the more the benefits of the learning will stay with you.

Much of the above will come naturally if you are committed at the outset, and this commitment is developed from reflecting on your motivation, what you hope to achieve through participation. In building commitment you need to honestly acknowledge to yourself any mental blockages/resistance you may have and set them aside.

If after mature reflection you find yourself feeling lukewarm about the event one option is to ‘pass’, on this occasion, on the basis that it is not what you need right now.


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