3L’s of Self-Directed Learning: Insights from My TEDx Talk

I started 2019 by delivering a TEDx talk at TEDxGCET in Vallabh Vidyanagar. This post covers a few key insights extracted from the talk. Video to be posted soon.


Formal education is a launch pad that equips us with fundamentals. But we need wings to fly long and high in the direction of our dreams. Ability to learn in a self-initiated mode is one of the most critical skills to thrive in a rapidly changing world.

“In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” – Eric Hoffer

Real learning is an inside-out process. It starts from a deep internal desire to know something, do something and change something. That’s when you take charge of your own learning.

If I look at my own journey and connect the dots, I find three things that that forms my 3L framework for self-directed learning.

The first L is “Labor of Love”

My son is fascinated by drawing and he loves creating greeting cards. When he is immersed in the process of making the card, he completely loses the sense of time and place. Fully concentrated in creating the lines and coloring.

For him, it is not work but it is play. He does it NOT because someone is asking him to do it. He does it because HE finds pleasure in it.

That to me is labor of love. Playing where our passion is. The key questions to ask then are:

  • What is it that you would do even if no one paid you to do it or asked you to do it?
  • What are your intrinsic skills – things that come naturally to you?
  • What puts you in the flow state?
  • What change do you truly want to see around you?

From an early age, I wrote because I wanted to express myself. This need to express translated into other related mediums like blogging, speaking, leading teams, running organizations, writing books and creating sketch notes.

In each case, I started at a very basic level but when I continued doing it persistently, I eventually got better at it.

When we play at the intersection of passion and effort, we elevate our game and improvise without even noticing it.

The second L is for “Lifelong Learning”

Our school system trains us to be passive learners and we always rely on someone else for our learning.

The essence of self-directed learning is to keep the inner fire alive, have an open and curious mind, , creating new knowledge through action and experimentation, make new connections to your existing knowledge, improve upon your skills and collaborate with others. It is about exposing yourself to diverse experiences and disciplines to generate independent thought and recognize patterns.

My journey into social media and blogging taught me one of the most important things about self-driven learning:

We don’t learn anything in isolation and our best learning happens when we learn with others.

Internet has made it easier to find your heroes, watch them do the work and learn from their journeys. We need to invest in finding likeminded people to share our work with, draw inspiration from, learn and collaborate.

Network and community is a great learning enabler.

One more element of lifelong learning is having a multidisciplinary approach to work. When you pursue different disciplines, you can easily use expertise from one domain into a totally different area.

Differentiation in career and innovation always happens where two disciplines intersect.

My sketchnote project is the intersection of my ideas from my blog and my drawing practice from 20 years ago when I was preparing for architecture entrance exam.

In his Stanford commencement speech, Steve Jobs said that when he was studying at Reed College, he got into learning calligraphy. And many years later, his understanding of calligraphy inspired beautiful typography in Apple products.

He nailed it when he said that dots eventually connect. Whatever we choose to do, it eventually connects.

Lifelong learning and multiple interests empower us to seize unique possibilities when faced with adversity.

Finally, the third L is “Leverage”

Leverage, in simplest terms means finding a way to make a positive impact for yourself and others through your learning. It is about putting your learning to good use. We don’t truly learn till we execute our learning to solve real world problems.

My leadership improved when I looked at my role as a way to serve those I was responsible for.

Real learning is in the act, in putting your learning to significant service of others. Your work becomes art when it changes the self and others for better.

Today, knowledge has become a commodity and everything you want to know is out there on internet. We have moved from an industrial world to knowledge world to a creative world now. In this world, what you know is not as important as what you do with it and how you apply your knowledge to solve real world problems.

We are living in the golden age of self-directed learning. Getting information, sharing your work and connecting with others is just a click away. We have a world of possibilities now open to us.

The problem is that we are used to navigate with the help of predefined maps. Self-Directed Learning is an exploration of what lies within us, what lies outside of us and finding that sweet intersection where the magic really happens.

That’s when you truly learn things that are unique to you. That’s when you can differentiate yourself.

That’s when you stand a chance to change the world within and outside for better.


Here is the visual summary of the talk in a #sketchnote form.

tanmayvora-tedx-selfdirectedlearning


And, here is the picture of me delivering the talk Smile

IMG_2878

How to Accelerate Team Learning

A team’s ability to learn quickly is at the heart of adapting to constant changes. In fact, it seems that constant learning is the only key to agility as a team and organization.

Jack Welch famously said,

“An organizations ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the greatest competitive advantage.”

On this blog, we have visually explored various facets of creating a learning organization. It all starts from understanding why organizations don’t learn. Peter Senge’s seminal work on creating a learning organizations outlines learning disabilities that plague organizations. To overcome these disabilities, we explored disciplines of a learning organization and the role of reflection in how we learn.

Along the same lines, I read Elizabeth Doty’s post titled “How to Accelerate Learning on Your Team” at Strategy+Business blog with great interest. It adds on to the ideas we have explored further and provides fresh perspective on how to catalyze learning within teams.

I encourage you to read the full post and here are my visual notes from the same article.

P.S: I wrote a post in 2011 that outlined 10 actions for leaders to create learning organizations and further outlined Three Rituals For Constant Alignment And Learning that just aligns with some of the ideas suggested in this post. Do check them out.

Organizational Leader as a Social Architect

Leadership success is largely governed by, amongst other things, one’s ability to create an ecosystem of engagement, meaning, performance and growth. A leader creates this ecosystem through conversations, communication (leading to clarity), connection, systems, rituals, processes and decisions.

Leandro Herrero, in his post, “Five spaces that the organizational leader needs to design and nurture”, calls leader a social architect. The idea resonated very strongly with me since social architecture (physical and psychological spaces) is a way to create the ecosystem of high performance. 

“Yes, leaders need to see themselves as architects, as space designers, creators, and implementors. This is an area where what the leader says counts less than what the leader does in this social engineering. It is therefore very silent, but the spaces will be very visible and the legacy will be enormous.” – Leandro Herrero

Here is a quick sketch note I created based on the ideas presented in the post.

Related Posts/Sketchnotes at QAspire:

How Our Brain Learns

As someone who is committed to lifelong learning, I am very curious about how we learn (sketchnote here). We learn the most during our early years and observing/helping my own kids learn and explore new things is such a wonderful learning experience as well. I learn a great deal about learning when I see my 4 years old son trying to explore language in new ways and my 9 years old daughter learning how to swim.

This observations enable me to appreciate different learning styles, pace and challenges. It tells me that learning is not easy, especially when we grow up. Learning anything new makes us uncomfortable in the beginning and a lot depends on how we embrace the discomfort of learning. That we need to build our capacity to map learning across the contexts and make connections. That is how we become effective lifelong learners.

I recently came across an interesting article on Crew Blog by Belle Beth Cooper titled “6 important things you should know about how your brain learns”. The article underlines the importance of visual learning, role of sleep and sleep deprivation in consolidating our learning and interleaving new information for better learning.

I recommend you to read the full article and here is a sketchnote summary of key points I gathered from the article.

When Does Real Learning Happen?

Learning, the real learning, happens…

  • When you are intentional about learning
  • When you are driven by an intrinsic need to advance and not only by external triggers and rewards.
  • When you ask more questions to get to the WHY of things (and then to what and how)
  • When you carry an open frame of mind that is receptive
  • When you look for process and patterns even in discrete situations
  • And when you use your understanding to connect the dots and look at a larger picture
  • When you enjoy the process of learning without getting too anxious about the results and goals.
  • When you are self-aware (of your own beliefs, thoughts, values and perceptions)
  • When you experience, execute, iterate and test your hypothesis
  • When you reflect deeply on your experiences
  • And when you share your lessons (and process) with others generously so that they can learn (and also contribute)
  • When you surround yourself with passionate learners, mentors and coaches (and be a part of a learning community)
  • And engage others (community) meaningfully in collaborative problem solving
  • When you are able to collect, synthesize and process information from varied sources
  • When you solve interesting problems
  • And be able to create a map on the go (rather than relying on tried and tested methods)
  • When you overcome the fear of making mistakes
  • When you think critically
  • When you execute in short bursts, fail small and realign your approaches
  • When you Unlearn (let go of the old ways of thinking and doing)
  • When you apply lessons in line with unique needs of the context
  • When you synthesize your lessons and apply meta-lessons in across disciplines
  • When you are generous enough to share what you know, teach, coach and mentor others
  • When you are comfortable with inherently ambiguous nature of learning (and ability to hold two contrasting thoughts without being judgmental)
  • When you are comfortable also with the emergent nature of learning
  • When you don’t allow your learning to crystallize but keep it fluid and evolving.
  • When you truly start believing that self-directed and self-initiated learning is the best way to learn (for a lifetime).

Disciplines of a Learning Organization: Peter Senge

If there is one book that has influenced my business thinking the most, it is Peter Senge’s “The Fifth Discipline – The Art and Practice of Learning Organization” and I have referred to it many times over past years on this blog. Written in 1990, the insights contained in this book are even more relevant today when the rate of change has only accelerated – probably a reason why HBR identified this book as one of the seminal management books of the previous 75 years.

A couple weeks ago, I posted a sketch note on Why Organizations Don’t Learn? based on an HBR article by the same title and someone ended up asking me,

“How do organization’s learn?”

This question immediately reminded me of five disciplines of learning organizations that Peter Senge outlines in this book.  They are:

  • Personal mastery is a discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively.
  • Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures of images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.
  • Building shared vision – a practice of unearthing shared pictures of the future that foster genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance.
  • Team learning starts with dialogue, the capacity of members of a team to suspend assumptions and enter into genuine thinking together.
  • Systems thinking – The Fifth Discipline that integrates the other four.

Source: Wikipedia

In the book, Peter Senge offers a wonderful analogy to introduce systems thinking:

A cloud masses, the sky darkens, leaves twist upward, and we know that it will rain. We also know that after the storm, the runoff will feed into groundwater miles away, and the sky will grow clear by tomorrow. All of these events are distant in time and space, if they’re all connected within the same pattern. Each has an influence on the rest, and influence that is usually hidden from view. You can only understand the system of rainstorm by contemplating the whole not any part of the pattern.

Businesses and other human endeavors are also systems. They, too, are bound by invisible fabrics of interrelated actions, which often take years to fully play out their effects on each other. Since we are part of that lacework ourselves, it’s doubly hard to see the whole pattern of change. Instead we tend to focus on snapshots of isolated parts of the system, and wonder why our deepest problems never seem to get resolved.

While the book is a must-read if you want to gather better understanding and context behind these disciplines, here is a short summary of five disciplines of a learning organization in form of a sketch note. 

Hopefully, this will help others in acknowledging the foundation of what it takes to create a learning organization.

Related Posts at QAspire Blog:

Why Organizations Don’t Learn? #Sketchnote

Organizations that don’t learn constantly, adapt continuously and execute relentlessly are more likely to be disrupted by constant change and competition.

Peter Senge, in his book defined a learning organization as:

“where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.”

We have to go beyond formal learning methods if we have to truly build learning organizations in a rapidly changing world. A learning organization is not possible without learning individuals and individuals learn the most with each other in a network and  and through their work in an culture that promotes informal learning.

I emphasized culture because it can be one of the biggest bottlenecks in how organizations learn and apply what they learn to create meaningful results. It doesn’t matter how much you invest in formal learning, tools and methods, if you do not have a culture where people are encouraged to share without any fear, learning may not come to the fore.

Why do companies struggle to become and remain learning organizations? In November 2015 issue of HBR, I came across an article by Francesca Gino and Bradley Staats titled “Why Organizations Don’t Learn” where they outline the cultural and individual biases that don’t allow organizations to learn. They also provide useful tips to overcome those biases.

Here is a sketch note I created to distill key biases that prevent organizations from learning. To know what you can do to overcome these biases, I recommend you read the full article at HBR. 

Related Posts at QAspire Blog: