How to Create a Personal Learning Plan

Taking Control of Your Career Development

In this article, we'll examine how you can take a proactive approach to your development by creating a personal learning plan.

How to Manage Your Professional Development

Let's walk through some practical steps that you can take to manage your own professional development.

1. Apply a "Growth" Mindset

In her 2007 book, Mindset: Changing the Way You Think to Fulfill Your Potential, psychologist Dr Carol Dweck argues that it's not just our innate abilities that bring us success – it's whether we approach work with a "fixed" or "growth" mindset .

People with a fixed mindset tend to assume that they're born with a particular set of skills that they can't change. However, people with a growth mindset believe that intelligence and talent are just the starting point, and that success comes through attitude, effort and learning.

With a growth mindset, you'll respond to setbacks or challenges with hope and confidence. And you can prepare yourself by working to understand your development needs. This involves a process of self-reflection and self-auditing , a willingness to be open and curious about your strengths and weaknesses, and a commitment to improving your personal situation and working life.

You will need to assess:

  • Your current skills : Are they adequate for your present role? Do they align adequately with your team or organization's priorities, mission and vision ? It may be useful to revisit your job description to clarify your key responsibilities. What are the targets that you've agreed with your manager? Ask yourself, honestly, what you could you be doing better.

  • Your past skills : This may sound counter intuitive, but look back, too. Are there skills you have used in the past that could help you now? Are those skills a bit rusty, or are your working practices out of date?

  • Your future skills : What skills or knowledge gaps do you need to bridge? It may be helpful to test yourself with some self-assessment quizzes, or to sound out someone you trust (perhaps a mentor ) for some honest feedback. Think about how you compare with your peers in terms of knowledge, skills, experience, attitude, and behavior. What does your team need that you would like to offer? Put yourself into the shoes of a customer, colleague or supplier. What would he or she want you to know, or to be able to do?

2. Design a Personal Learning Plan

Once you've carried out a thorough self-audit, and identified your goals for growth, it's time to work out how to reach them. This is where a personal learning plan (PLP) can really help.

A PLP is a tool commonly used in schools and colleges to help students to focus their learning, achieve targets (such as exam revision), and consider their wider learning objectives. But it can also be very effective in the workplace.

What you prioritize within your PLP will vary depending on your needs and aspirations. Ideally, a PLP should work to a SMART model (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound), to help you to develop the motivation you need to achieve them.

It's important to take a systematic approach to developing your skills, so they're ready when you need them. Your PLP could include:

  • An "I want to learn x…" learning goal. For example, "to become confident in my public presentation and speaking skills," or "to write clearer and more concise emails."

  • An "I will learn via…" strategy. This could mean watching online videos, signing up for speaking skills training, or taking part in amateur dramatics, for instance.

  • An "I will know that I've been successful when…" measurement. This could be achieving positive feedback on a presentation. Or it could be as simple as recognizing that you feel less stressed when you're speaking on the phone.

  • A time-based target date, deadline or schedule. This could be your ultimate learning and development goal or mission statement , or it could be stages along the way. For example, "I will learn x new skill by August, and then focus on developing y by the end of the year." There needs to be a process of regular review, evaluation and, if necessary, a complete reset. While this is happening, you can continue to seek out the training resources you need to move your career along.

3. Making Connections

Be proactive about taking up any relevant continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities. This could be online, modular training, evening classes, or even occasional weekend study, whether through your employer or via membership of a relevant professional body.

Stay hungry for knowledge – subscribe to relevant publications or web resources, join forums or networks, and get involved in an employee resource group , if your organization supports them. This will help you to gain new perspectives, and to interact with people outside of your immediate circle of contacts. Remember that networking is a two-way process: what you have to offer is just as important as what you want from other people.

4. Overcoming Barriers

Developing new skills and knowledge can be an exciting and satisfying process. But, finding the time to make change a reality can be hard. So, you'll need to work with your manager to help you to prepare for any on-the-job or formal training . You'll also need to ensure that you meet your day-to-day responsibilities, and that you're not leaving it to co-workers to cover your work.

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