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I wrote this piece before the current encouragement to work from home where possible, due to the coronavirus. The themes I explore are even more relevant now, and will seem more apparent and obvious as more people experience working away from the office. Differentiating between work time and outside of work time is a good example of how attitudes will need to change. Working from home – it’s not about time, it’s about productivity and what you get done. Working from home (particularly in the current environment) means you may have to work different hours to fit around your family, so ‘working hours’ is a non-concept for many that are not customer facing. I suggest that we approach our learning in the same way – thinking about what we need to learn and when by, rather than who’s time are we going to do it in.

I delivered some workshops recently on the topic of personal development, and half-way through took a question on whether learning activities should be done in work time or outside of work.

This was an interesting question – as I feel the boundaries are being blurred between work and home – with many more people working remotely or with flexible hours, we are not always ‘at work’. Also, more corporate learning and development is available via digital solutions like e-learning, so learning activities are more informal and could take place anytime, anywhere.

I had assumed everyone was happy with this ’blurring’, but maybe it is less clear for others.  For me it’s simple – I think about the things I want to learn, some of them may be to do with my job, some of them may be to do with other hobbies or interests. If I know what I want to learn, I then work out how I’m going to spend my time to achieve them. Some of this could be in my ‘work’ time, and some in my own time, although these days as a freelance the boundaries are blurred even more.

For those of us that are lucky enough to have a working day where we choose what activities we’re working on, the option is there to build in time for learning new things – like listening to a podcast while we go for a lunch-time walk, or using time for learning when we would not otherwise be 100% productive, say on a Friday afternoon.

I suspect though that for many, appearances are still key, and to be sat at one’s desk reading a journal instead of being visibly engaged in doing one’s job may a hard cultural taboo to break.

This is an issue organisations will need to get to grips with. Learning & Development departments are moving their offer from more formal learning like classroom-based training courses to informal methods, such as online content that can be accessed at any time.  The cultural expectations around what learning looks like in organisations and how and when it should take place will need to shift, or the uptake just won’t happen.

There’s also such a cross-over in skills these days – we could learn something for our personal interest that we can use in the workplace, so it doesn’t always work to have a distinction. When I started my personal blog 5 years ago, it was my training ground for developing my writing skills, which has stood me in good stead as a business tool. I chose to develop this skill in my own time, as some things take time and practice to develop. There’s not always a magic short-cut or one or two-day course that will give you the same as regular practice over an extended period. For some, putting in extra effort to keep skills up to date may be critical, for example the programmer who teaches themselves a new programming language (in their own time) to remain employable.

Over the last few years I’ve made conscious efforts to fit my learning goals into whatever small pockets of time I could find, what I sometimes refer to as my ‘dead’ time. Things like listening to audio books instead of the radio while driving, or listening to selective podcasts on my areas of interest while digging the garden or cleaning the house – has helped me keep up to date with my profession.

Of course, taking part in ‘formal’ workplace learning – where you have to give a more defined ‘chunk’ of time and attention should take place in working hours. For more informal methods, however, anything goes, in terms of fitting it in to our busy lives.

If employers want to get across the idea of the lifelong learner, and have employees truly take ownershop of their personal development, then the blurring of some of these boundaries will need to be explored, with demonstrable role-modeling of good learning practice.

For tips on how to self-direct your learning look here

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