I’ve been working on my to-learn list this week. Okay, the real truth is that I’ve been taking long walks on the beach and occasionally using the time to think about my to-learn list, but regardless… I’ve made progress, but it’s been a bit tricky. How exactly does one write a to-learn list?
I didn’t want the to-learn list to read like a to-do list, nor to read like a set of learning objectives. Both seem too confining – I think a to-learn list should be more open and inviting rather than specific and directive. In the end, I’ve come up with a list of topics that I want to learn about. It’s seemed a good place to start, but I also decided that list was too open and I needed it to be just a little bit narrower… So under each topical area, I’ve captured a set of short statements that describe what I want to learn about that topic. For example “effective graduate teaching techniques” is a broad learning topic on the list, but I’ve narrowed that to “effective online activities” and “creating an active and engaged online community” so I know what I might be looking for in my learning activities in that arena.
I also started pondering how I was going to learn all these things… like many people, my schedule gets a little hectic and it will be easy to lose the to-learn list in the hubbub. In the original essay on the subject, Jim Collins’ point was that the to-learn list could be a guide to action that is just as motivating as our to-do lists are. I considered the learning habits that got me through my doctoral studies – breaking down an extensive task list and scheduling activities into every available time period. But that approach seems too much like a to-do list. So I came up with the idea of a “tactics jar.” Many households have something called a “job jar” which holds all the little house projects that need doing, so that come Saturday morning, you can just reach in for the one task you can plan to accomplish. My “tactics jar” will be a list of the things that I can do to learn more about the subjects on my to-learn list – articles to read, internet research to do, people to talk to, reflective tasks to accomplish. When I run across something that I think might contribute to my learning, I can add it to the tactics jar. That way, when I find myself with a few hours, I can just scan the to-learn-list tactics jar and pick something productive to do. Better than TV any day! (Yeah, geek-y as all get-out, but it could work!)
My greatest hope in going down this path is to provide some direction to my informal learning. I can get distracted by any number of subjects that I find interesting, and wind up spending considerable time learning interesting things that aren’t necessarily applicable anytime soon, or – perhaps worse – not recognizing some activity as a possible learning activity until it’s too late to take full advantage of it in that context. Like my to-do list, I should also be able to concentrate energy in one goal area for a time to make considerable progress instead of grasping at snatches of learning here and there. My to-learn list journal can help me to focus and reflect and keep the whole learning agenda top of mind.
Of course, everything looks easier when you’re enjoying a beach vacation… time will tell how well this plan works when I get back to the real world. But at least it’s a plan!
Feel free to share any additional advice you can provide. How do you manage all of your learning goals when the productivity goals seem so much more demanding?