Blog: Life-long Learning - At and Outside of Work

Manny Becerra as a child

November 2016

Working in the tech field, it seems like there's a new thing, product, library, framework, etc. every other week, if not day that promises to make your life easier. It's hard to keep up with all of these changes and new things, and realistically, it's unrealistic to try to keep up with it all anyhow. If there's something I have found to be more constructive, obtainable, and fun to embrace and cultive in the workplace, it is an attitude for life-long learning, including an environment that supports this perpetual learning experience.

There is an inherent and equal responsibility on the part of an employer to foster and create the environment for life-long learning for its employees.

2-Prong objectives

The attitude and environment of life-long learning, as I presently see and experience it, isn't centered around keeping up with the latest "shiny red quarter" out of Silicon Valley (or any other part of the globe), it revolves more around two things:

  • The intrinsic joy of learning; we are by nature a curious people, and
  • The extrinsic, tangible value that the continuous learning environment yields to both employee(s) and employer in perpetually meeting immediate and long-term goals.

As a result, you and your co-workers are less stressed about finding the time to keep up with the latest thing to use at work--e.g. framework, library, product--as your workplace culture has continuous learning intentionally baked into it so you can properly keep up with the changes that are of, both, interest to you and beneficial to what you are working on.

Who's responsible?

While an individual alone can try and achieve life-long learning on their own, and a many do, there is an inherent and equal responsibility on the part of an employer to foster and create the environment for life-long learning in the workplace.

A triple bottom line (3BL) model further underscores the value of an interdependent attitude, and not just amongst individuals and teams in the workplace, but outside of it: in everyday life; in society.

What does a company get out of it?

An intentional, continuous learning environment lends itself to giving employees achievable pathways to develop skills that are going to be transferable so they can be more fluid and relevant as they advance through their careers at your organization. And, these are not always going to be technical, hard skills, they are going to be soft skills valuable to, again, both the individual and a company, such as communication, problem solving, critical observation, teamwork, prioritizing tasks and objectives, and adaptability.

If we embrace and value an interdependent attitude in the workplace, at all-levels of an organization, the results become clear fast: investing in employees' continuous learning is a win-win for both the individual and company. The company maintains a competitive, innovative edge, and employees maintain relevance in an ever-changing workplace landscape that is moving more-and-more toward automation, which stresses the importance of employees upkeeping their soft skills.

Triple bottom line model (3BL)

What's more, not everyone, generally speaking, has the same opportunities and resources to be able to invest in learning outside of the workplace, even if they wanted to. This is why, among other reasons, I personally and professionally value companies, small and large, that are adopting a triple bottom line (3BL) approach with their business model, and that is: financial, environmental/ecological and social. This framework, 3BL, further underscores the value of an interdependent attitude, and not just amongst individuals and teams in the workplace, but outside of it: in everyday life; in society.

These are not always going to be technical, hard skills, they are going to be soft skills valuable to both the individual and a company, such as communication, problem solving, critical observation, teamwork, prioritizing tasks and objectives, and adaptability.

What can I do?

It is this type of environment, one of continuous learning, that I perpetually seek to cultivate at Tesla for and with my co-workers at HQ and at Gigafactory 1. If you would like to do the same, below are some low-hanging fruit actions you might consider doing to get the ball moving in a similar direction at your own workplace.

Individual / contributor

If you are an employee at a contributing level, and would like to create a more continuous learning environment, first ask yourself: what does a continuous learning environment look like to me? What do I want to get out of such an environment? Then, reach out to your supervisor to setup a 1:1 to share your thoughts, and ask for their support in helping create such an environment at the team-level, for starters; perhaps, you might even be your team's point on the learning environment to help get it off-the-ground.

Team Leader, Manager

If you oversee a team, or teams, start out by taking the individual / contributor level approach outlined above, then reach out to your teams asking them to compile their own ideas to share with one another at a future day and time. When you meet, you can then prioritize together what and how the intentional learning environment should and can realistically be shaped. Inherently, this process can build team collaboration and trust.

Long-term, having a dedicated learning and development team within an organization can be invaluable to ensuring a life long learning culture is actively curated and enhanced for everyone's benefit.

Folks working in the tech field might be all too familiar with the feeling of being both proud of the work their team and co-workers bust out regularly, but not having an idea what the projects' details, even at a high-level, entail. As a manager or leader of a team, somethings you can foster amongst individuals to help raise visibility on a project and deliverable is having a periodic project sharing session where an individual owning, or leading, a project does a sort of "show-and-tell" with their teammates. This accomplishes several things: it places the leader in the teacher role, which allows them to further hone-in their own understanding of their project or product. And it fosters a seamless knowledge transfer session of the project or product to other teammates, which can also help you, as a leader, scale and shift people resources as necessary. For example, Pedro is heading to paternal leave next week for a few weeks and you need someone on the team to cover his critical project. No problem, Sandra has a good understanding of the project because of the team review sessions had. And, if Sandra is out, Megan can jump in as well. This learning and collaboration culture, as a result, allows you to properly move folks around in support of one another in their personal and professional lives.

C-Level, Human Resources (HR)

If you are in charge of people satisfaction and experience, such as HR, or are a C-level leader, one thing you can immediately do to help assess your organization's learning environment is 1) survey employee attitudes and perceptions on the learning opportunities within the organization, and 2) include yourslef in this survey. You can ask yourself, for example: what resources do my employees have to continuously learn and grow in their roles, individually and as teams? And, what delivery methods are there, if any, and would be most conducive to employees.

Once you have feedback from employees to analyze, you can prioritize results accordingly and align them with your organization's vision strategy and mission objectives. Once this is done, each step thereafter will be easier to implement a learning environment that is realistic, conducive and beneficial to both the organization and the individual. Long-term, having a dedicated learning and development team within an organization can be invaluable to ensuring a life long learning culture is actively curated and enhanced for everyone's benefit.


I have helped to create intentional learning environments and project sharing sessions with my team at Tesla, and have found them to be quite valuable. I have helped explore, support and implement different learning delivery models as well. If you have questions, thoughts, or want to exchange ideas, please feel free to reach out to me—I'd very much like to hear from you and what you're doing to create an active, learning environment at your workplace.

Here's to learning. Continuously.


Manny


I have a passion and successful track-record for creating usable, online, experiences with a focus on and deep appreciation for web standards, modularity, education, accessibility, and inclusion. I build and lead happy, productive and empathetic cross-functional teams within a continuous learning culture. I am a speaker, advisor, community builder and advocate. Learn more.