The New Rules of Learning All Professionals Should Follow

June 16, 2017

Instructor Gary Bolles laid out the three rules of learning all professionals need to follow if they want to be successful today.

In the not-so-distance past, life was often separated into three distinct boxes – learning, work and then leisure (aka retirement).

The idea was you spent your early years learning the skills necessary to get a job in a singular field, you spent your career working in that field and then, around age 55, you’d retire and do all the things you were too busy to do when you were working. This model worked, as jobs were more static and required a large portion of the workforce to strictly follow instructions.

Well, those days are gone. Most repetitive jobs have been replaced with software or robots, leaving those that emphasize customer service or critical, creative thinking. And even those jobs are constantly changing, as new technologies keep altering the landscape of virtually every industry.

With that change comes new rules to work, life and learning, futurist and LinkedIn Learning Instructor Gary Bolles said in his LinkedIn Learning course, The New Rules of Work. For professionals today to be successful, they need to abandon the “three boxes” mindset and adopt the new rules to work, learning and leisure.

So what are the new rules to learning, specifically? In his course, Bolles outlined three. They are:

1. Become a lifelong learner.

The first and most important rule. The reality is the world is more dynamic than ever today, and “to thrive in disruptive times, you need to think and act completely differently,” Bolles said. And that includes becoming a lifelong learner.

Okay, sounds great. But what are some strategies you can use to ensure that happens?

Bolles outlined three:

  • Do an annual self-inventory: Just like you go to the doctor each year for a checkup, once a year (at least) you should do an annual life design checkup, Bolles said. As part of that, you should look at how your existing skillset matches up with your current job and your dream job. Invariably, there will be gaps – those are the areas to learn.
  • Make learning goals: To make learning actionable, you need to continually make learning goals. Maybe it’s to learn a new software or write an article on LinkedIn that gets a certain amount of views or to build a new website using new skills you've learned. Your learning goals don’t have to directly relate to your job – it could be learn a new instrument, for example – but always having them ensures you are always learning. Here’s a good example of a professional who does exactly that.
  • Work to develop transferrable and self-management skills, beyond knowledges: It’s critical to expand your learning beyond knowledges – knowledges being specific information needed to do a specific skill, like the amount of time to cook a pork roast or which brake pad to use in a 2002 Honda Civic. Instead, you also need to improve self-management skills – skills on how do your work, like time management – and transferable skills – skills that apply to almost any task, like leadership or project management. Make your learning goals include both self-management skills and transferable skills, as they apply no matter how much your job changes.

2. Become a just-in-time learner.

The first rule covers the over-arching importance of always learning. These next two rules speak to two important facets of being a lifelong learner.

The first is that it’s critical to be a just-in-time learner, Bolles said. Jobs are changing rapidly today and your goals might change drastically as well. To accommodate both of those, you need to become a just-in-time learner.

What that means is earning “nanodegrees” throughout your career when the need arises. Say your job is increasingly focusing on data. It makes sense for you to become a just-in-time learner and earn a nanodegree in data science.

Or, say you want to shift fields or move into management. Earning a nanodegree in management makes a lot of sense in that scenario.

The good news here is that these nanodegrees don’t require you to go back to college and spend a year or two out of work. Instead, you can earn these degrees through a variety of means, whether it be through a mentor or a service like LinkedIn Learning (or some combination of the two).

3. Have a portfolio of learning.

Just-in-time learning is learning when you need to learn. If you want to move into another field or if your field is changing drastically and you have to learn a new skill, you need to dedicate time mastering that new skillset for a specific outcome.

A portfolio of learning emphasizes the opposite point, to learn for the sake of learning. This could mean learning all about brewing beer because you’d always wanted to learn how or learning everything there is to know about world history.

While Bolles recommends learning about whatever interests you, he recommends having at least one of these topics relate to a potential future job. So maybe you always wanted to learn how to code; this obviously could potentially be useful in a future job.

“There are so many exciting opportunities to learn in so many different arenas,” Bolles said. “It shouldn't be an issue of trying to find something that excites you, the challenge really should be trying to choose between all the different things that you wish that you could learn.”

The takeaway

Adopting these new rules are necessary in today’s world. With so much changing, people who don’t always learn face the very real threat of watching the world pass them by, which is a feeling no one should experience.

So, you might see these rules as something you have to do for survival. But that’s a pessimistic view.

Learning is one of the most exciting, most rewarding parts of life. There’s nothing more satisfying than learning a new skill, even something simple like how to draw or how to play a song on the guitar. It’s the very definition of empowering.

“For some people, this may sound like a big obligation,” Bolles said. “After all, you already learned a trade or got a degree years ago. Why should you have to go learn a completely different field, especially if you enjoy what you're doing now? The answer is everything changes. Work situations change. You change. If you're going to be able to adapt to all those changes, you need to treat learning as a never-ending journey.”

In his LinkedIn Learning course, Bolles also outlined the new rules for work and leisure. Watch his full course here.