Continued, life-long learning – this may sound a bit like a court ruling. Also, in many strategy documents authored by HR developers you’ll find a concerned, even menacing undertone – employees have to continuously acquire new competencies in order to stay relevant for the job market … as an imperative. This sounds pretty much like lacking any fun.
What does life-long learning mean, in a world which is changing at an enormous pace, with groundbreaking technologies, new business models, and innovative products emerging at a daily rate?
Learning in times of digital transformation is no longer about absolute knowledge:
when things change fast, knowledge acquired yesterday may be no longer relevant today. Therefore, knowledge managers plead for training employees with this goal: to empower them to find their ways in complex settings. Or, as Prof. Dr. Peter Schettgen, CEO, Center for Continuing education and knowledge transfer at University of Augsburg in Germany (ZWW), puts it:
We need generalists who stay on top of things regarding the processes of digital transformation – but who, at the same time, are capable of morphing into specialists at any time based on the specifics of a given situation, thanks to continuing education.(Schettgen, CEO, Center for Continuing education and knowledge transfer at University of Augsburg in Germany
Our thinking needs to become system-oriented, not silo-oriented.
We invite you to read the enthralling stories by three colleagues to whom life-long learning is very much linked to passion.
What I appreciate most in my role as a representative for the communication of innovation is that I never stop learning.
In order to understand the full meaning of this sentence, we need to take a closer look at Susanne’s career. From legal assistant to university entrance qualification (Abitur) by way of evening classes and subsequent studies in sociology – Susanne explains her path, “I wanted to know, and learn, so much. As I had to finance the luxury of my second education track myself, I worked in parallel to that in my first profession. Those were strenuous times, rich in learnings, and a great experience overall.” In 2003, she joined Siemens, working with research laboratories and international research teams. According to Susanne, “Research is dominated by people who are driven by idealism and the will to find solutions. This makes for the most exciting stories.” She went on to switch to Corporate Communications in the role of representative for the communication of innovation. For Susanne, however, to expand her professional competencies continuously is not enough.
„“What makes us up as individuals goes so far beyond our professional roles:” Her credo is, let’s engage also outside the professional world – to cultivate a hobby, do voluntary work, or utilize our job skills outside that job itself. This is how Susanne turned into an „Utopiensammlerin.“ What started out as a personal blog has turned into a brand, and a movement across disciplines, aimed at connecting the Arts and Sciences. Susanne says, “We think that, in these times, it is paramount to cross borders with our thoughts and acts. Our collaborative network is a plea for the renaissance of the ‘uomo universale’, of the generalist education of mankind across disciplines.”
Utopia, art, science and digitality
Last year, Susanne decided to explore a side path: she wanted to learn how to do illustrations. She took private lessons with the artist Angela Smets. Susanne outlines, “With images, you can express emotions without using words … and remember complex contexts better. I use illustrations today for my presentations.” Susanne’s experiments were well received – including by her colleagues at Siemens.
These are Susanne’s pieces of advice for how to learn in times of digital transformation:
- Digital transformation takes creativity and broad perspectives. There is no need, when selecting topics, to always aim at business goals. Life-long learning means more than keeping oneself fit to meet professional challenges; it is a lifestyle which allows your personality to keep growing – continuously.
- At the workplace, things do not always perform well. It is important for people to compensate in a different world, and to maintain their interpretive sovereignty over their biography. It is us who should define who we are, and we should not cede that right to others. This is how we gain recognition and achieve personal growth … therefore, I suggest you engage in things which kindle your passion.
Gundula has two major passions: learning, and medicine. Just how much would she have loved to become a physician!
However, for a female working-class child in the sixties in Germany, this was a utopian notion. So she turned into what appeared to be closest to that – a nurse. Soon Gundula suffered from a lack of perspectives and recognition. She switched from providing care to the corporate sector, and became a medical assistant with a focus on health management. In this role, she realized her significant potential of communicating knowledge around the topic of health to people. In 2016, she enrolled at the Fernschule Mainz (a German correspondence school) for a Bachelor course of health management. In 2019, she completed her studies with good grades of 1.9 – as the most senior graduate: she was 53 years old at that time.
I had 14 years of work before me with absolutely new possibilities!
Since2018, Gundula has been active in occupational health management at Siemens in Frankfurt. She explains, “Employees in production had very limited access to content on the intranet. This is why we carried out lots of activities on-site.” She profited a lot not merely from her knowledge in field, e. g. regarding skin protection and diabetes, but also from her experience in individual counseling. Positive feedback underscored her goal to learn even more about teaching and learning.
So last year, Gundula enrolled for a master’s course on adult education at Kaiserslautern Technical University. This opened up a new world for her. “These lectures communicate to me the terms and definitions which I had been lacking. They put into words what I used to do in practice – and beyond. This course of studies empowers me with scientific methods and innovative ideas.” The distance-learning course comes with tall requirements. She has to acquire a lot of knowledge through self-study; and the time burden is significant. “The effort required for learning has increased due to the impact of Corona. I am a person that makes great learning progress through personal contact within a group. This is no longer an option. I am a lot more left to my own devices.” Support for Gundula comes from her husband. “He relieves me of the most burdensome chores at the home, and provides significant support in brainstorming and proofreading.” Asked if she would opt for enrolling based on what she knows now, Gundula’s reply is: “that’s a definite yes”.
These are Gundula’s s tips für #50plus colleagues:
- Studying at the age of 50 plus can be done! A pronounced interest and curiosity, an open mind and the willingness to learn will help you work with younger students and teachers on an equal footing.
- When selecting the course of studies, go by your interests – even if the concrete job benefit for the employer does not make itself directly evident. You will grow regardless, and increase your degree of professionalism – and these competencies will produce their effects in your job.
During parental leave with her second child, she started to think about what all she’d still like to learn and do in her young life.
I have been working for Siemens now for ten years – in a variety of attractive roles within corporate communications. Still, I keep asking myself whether I would not also enjoy doing totally different jobs. And life seems too short to just limit myself to just one field.”
Lisa set a goal for herself: she wanted to identify her next “sweet spot”. Sie did some research, exchanged ideas with people in her network, and traced her interests. Lisa explains: “I am aware of my interest in future trends in any sector. When I listen to the pitch of a new idea, I love seeing the sparkle in the eyes of the visionaries.” The topic crystallized – “innovation”. Quite a broad field! Where should she begin? Lisa opted for a continuing education course offered by UnternehmerTUM, the center for innovation and start-ups in Munich, with the objective of becoming a “coach and facilitator for innovation & transformation.” That journey started last autumn.
These are her experiences to date: “It is great to learn in a group of like-minded people – and to be thrown in at the deep end. The exchange of thoughts and new experiences help me make continued progress on my path.”
LThese are Lisa’s recommendations for all who are eager to learn:
- Select the topic which captures your interest! You may need to confront some boring basics first before you can make headway regarding your focus. Your interest has to be strong enough to help you master that dry spell and keep going.
- Gauge which form of learning suits the situation you are in at the time: my experience is that there are always more options in comparison with available money and time budgets. Of course I would have decided in favor of an MBA and to push my start-up idea in an accelerator as well as gaining practical experience in coaching. My scarcest resource, however, is time – due to two small children and a full-time job, I need to proceed with a sense of proportion.
And what about the long term? Lisa smiles: “Jointly with my husband, I am making jokes about which courses we may be taking together when we are old and grey, spending our time as guest students at university. For me, learning and continued personal development have turned into outstanding personal values. In keeping with the motto, ‘You can’t unsee what you have seen’ I am already happy now, time and again, about the learnings, big and small, which my learning journey has in store for me.”
Be it a formal course of studies at university or private lessons, virtual learning tidbits, or action learning – the portfolio of forms of learning has never been as manifold and easy to access as it is today.
These are three women, and three stories about learning – and how are YOU enjoying your personal learning journey? We invite you to use the comment box and tell us about the activities you are currently engaged in.