Fail Forward: Learning Anytime, Anywhere

Written by Jenn Reid on January 10, 2019

Learning happens everywhere, all the time. Opportunities for education and professional development are not limited to formal events like conferences and certifications. Thinking about learning as an anytime, anywhere activity means getting comfortable with the process not being perfect. When you are creating a learning resource for members or colleagues, start small, play with it and see how it lands with your learners. I call this “failing forward.”

For example, you can put out a two minute video on a specific topic a lot faster than you can put out a 60 minute eLearning module. It can be as simple as recording it on your phone and sending it out to a test group, then learning from their feedback before going into a big production process. The results might surprise you and lead you to entirely new methods of serving your members or colleagues. This way, you also engage the learners who are involved in the feedback process, instead of treating them as passive consumers.

Internally, it’s also important to set the tone from the top – whether that’s with formal leaders, or informal influencers. If leaders and influencers are modeling a culture of continuous learning, where they’re openly and publicly engaged in their own development, they make it that much more accessible and enjoyable for others. Leading by example helps foster a culture of lifelong learning.

It’s also important to remember that a one-size-fits-all approach rarely works. Your learning preferences will be different from the person next to you, and some topics may lend themselves better to one delivery mechanism over another. With some people or programs, you’ll have great success with a more formal learning environment, while others may thrive on Instagram or YouTube. Find ways to meet learners where they are. And remember to keep iterating.

The emphasis on failure has limits, of course. To avoid failing on the big stuff, it’s best to break things down into small pieces and use an agile or lean methodology where you learn lessons from a minimum viable product first, and iterate. Fail on the small stuff, learn from it and move forward, whether that’s in the learning products that you deliver, or in your own day-to-day work. Contribute to an organizational culture that accepts failure as a part of the process.