Productivity & Effectiveness

My two learning styles – and how to use them with a Personal Knowledge Management System

By 09/03/2021 March 14th, 2021 No Comments

One of the core themes running through my work is the need to keep learning. In this post and video, I will introduce my two main learning styles, and why one may be better than the other, along with a recap of my Personal Learning Management System.

You can watch the video here, or read on below.

Two Main Styles Of Learning

I approach learning using two main styles:

  1. Information Acquisition
  2. Task Acquisition

Information Acquisition Learning

Information acquisition is the consumption of information. It’s not yet knowledge as it hasn’t been put into action, it’s merely information. It’s very useful to consume information.

In fact, many people in the industries of coaching, mentoring and consulting do a lot of this information acquisition. Sadly, they then spout this back as knowledge, when they have never actually put this information into action.

Think about these people who read 100s of books a year and attend every conference, yet they rarely, if ever, put this information into action to create knowledge.

Reading, studying, remembering facts and consuming information is important, but it’s made more useful by turning it into action.

I like to use the idea of learning to play the drums. My three sons are all learning to play the drums. Now, they could simply read a lot of books about how to play the drums. They could watch YouTube videos about drumming. They could learn to read music and learn the great theory behind drumming. But until they pick up the drumsticks and play, they won’t actually be able to play the drums.

It’s the same in work and business. Management consultants consulting on management, having never managed before. Agile coaches coaching on scrum after sitting the course but never having experienced when it doesn’t work, or what alternatives may look like.

Knowledge, true knowledge, comes from action.

Task Acquisition Learning

This is where task acquisition comes in. The art of learning through doing. Going back to the drums it’s entirely possible to learn how to play the drums by simply picking up some drumsticks and playing. There are many self-taught photographers, musicians, artists, business owners, managers and  more. All learning by doing the work.

In fact, in business, the best learning comes from doing the work.

You learn more about running a business by running a business. You learn more about management by being a manager. You learn more about marketing from doing marketing.

It’s why I always recommend on the job training as the first form of learning; nothing like learning how to do the work by doing the work. But this is even more powerful when you have feedback, coaching and direction from someone who is already good at the work.

It’s why we pay for a tutor for my sons drumming. Someone to give feedback, pointers and advice – all forms of task acquisition.

And it’s even more powerful if you combine task acquisition with information acquisition. Learn the theory and put it into practice, ideally with coaching and guidance from someone who’s already really good at the work.

The business world is awash with learning management systems, online courses and training sessions, but most of them are merely information acquisition. They are designed for people to consume information. Which is good, but not if people then don’t practice it with guidance or have the opportunity to put that information into action.

As such, my preference when taking on any learning challenges, is to start with task acquisition, ideally with some form of coaching and mentoring. Then to add information acquisition to the mix.

Personal Knowledge Management System – PKMS

So, how does this tie to a Personal Knowledge Management System? Well, I’ve already done a popular post and video on this before, so I won’t go into great depth here.

In my PKMS process I weave in both task and information acquisition.

The first step is to capture information. This could be basic theory or ideas from books, or web clippings, or conference notes, or ideas that come to you.

I capture them and everything ends up in Evernote.

But there is little point in merely capturing and storing every piece of information. It needs turning into something.

So, the next step is curate. During this stage I ask a fundamental question about the information I have in the system:

“Do I still want this?” After all, I find I often capture information I think may be useful but on later reflection is not useful or pertinent to my learning task.

I delete anything I know I won’t want again. I move anything useful for reference to a folder called Commonplace. And everything else, that I want to keep, is tagged carefully, tidied up and organised.

I then crunch this information. This is about mashing this information together with my existing thoughts and ideas. I use a simple paper journal to store my knowledge on communication, management and anything else that interests me.

Does this new information go against what I already believe, extend it or compliment it?

It’s still not knowledge at this point, so I ensure I always try to put this information into action to create knowledge. This is about trying it, experimenting, reflecting, testing and action. This is the best way to learn whether the theory holds up to reality.

I then contribute this back. This could be at work through my knowledge and experience, or it could be this blog (like this post – how meta), or from the stage, or via a podcast, or at a local meetup.

It seems a shame to learn, truly learn, how something works and then not share it with others. We all grow.

When I try to teach others how something works, I need to learn the subject more thoroughly, so it helps to make my knowledge even richer and deeper.

When doesn’t it work? How does it work? Why does it work? How can it be made better?

If you’re a manager or leader consider on the job training first with support from someone who’s already really good at it. Then focus on Learning Management. Sadly, it seems many companies have that the wrong way around. It’s cool, trendy and seemingly the best approach to focus on learning centres and online management systems, but it’s not effective in my experience.

Training and learning are about changing behaviours – and the best way to change behaviours is to do the work (task acquisition) with guidance, feedback and support from someone who’s already really good at it (mentoring, coaching). All supported by understanding how something works and why (information acquisition).

I try to combine the two styles and always use my PKMS.

I hope this helps and you find it useful. I don’t have comments switched on, but I am always happy to chat about this topic and more over on social.

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