Using your learning edge
Part 3 – Using your learning plan
Jeff Mitchell – Community Sport Advisor – Sport Auckland
So far in this series we have looked at the role of learning and how to work at your learning edge – the area where the greatest learning takes place. In this article we will look at how to put together a learning plan to ensure that you spend as much time in your learning edge as possible.
A learning plan is a document that details the specific process you will go through to achieve your learning goals. The purpose of the learning plan is to help you to identify the priorities for your development, to determine your learning objectives, and to be clear on what you will do to develop the required learning. It should be a simple document: often one or two pages should be enough. The learning plan is related to your Coach Development Plan as it details how you will address the areas you need to improve if you are to achieve your coach development goals.
There are a number of ways that you could structure your learning plan. The best plans are those that are clear and simple; you want to spend most of your time implementing the plan, not writing it. There is an example of the structure of a learning plan at the end of this article, and you can view a template here. This plan contains the following components:
- The priority areas to be addressed (from your Coach Development Plan)
- The objectives you want to achieve (the learning to take place)
- The learning strategies you will use to achieve these objectives
- The learning resources that are available to help you to implement these strategies, and
- Deadlines for when you want to achieve each objective.
Let’s look at how you can write your learning plan by examining each of these components.
Creating your learning plan
The first step is to decide on a format that works for you. The format should be simple and allow you to clearly identify the key aspects of your plan (your objectives and strategies). The following discussion will look at how you can write a plan based on the template mentioned above.
Identifying priority areas
Once you have identified a format for your learning plan, your first step is to identify the areas that are a priority for you to develop. These should come from the profiling section in your Coach Development Plan. These could include areas that you regularly struggle with (where you operate in your anxiety zone), skill sets that are required for a new role, or areas that are directly related to achieving the goals in your Coach Development Plan.
Identify the areas that are most important for you to address in your current learning plan by thinking about your long-term objectives and your short-term challenges. These priorities will determine where your focus is directed so it is important that you identify areas that are most important for you.
Any learning that you undertake should have a purpose. It is important with your plan that you are clear on what you want to be able to do as a result of your learning. To identify your learning objectives, decide what you want to learn or be able to do in the priority area. The objectives should contribute to the achievement of the learning outcomes in your Coach Development Plan.
It is a good idea to state your objectives as something you will be able to do, as this will allow you to identify when you have achieved them. This will be more motivating, as it is clear where you are heading towards (what you are able to do), and you will be clear on how the objective will improve you. If your objective is to increase your knowledge rather than your ability to do something, write the goal in a way that you can test what you have learnt. This will make the goal more objective, making it more effective.
The example below shows two possible learning objectives. The first objective is something that the coach wants to do – to achieve their Level 3 accreditation. The second objective is based on the coach wanting to learn the components of an effective session plan. Note that they have not just said “to learn the components of an effective session plan” but instead have worded it in a way that it can be tested – whether they can actually use the components that they have learnt when writing a session plan. This is more objective and easier to measure (and therefore to know when it has been achieved).
Determining learning strategies
In your Coach Development Plan you identified actions to take to achieve each of your goals. In your learning plan you will also identify actions that you will take to achieve your learning objectives. These actions will be detailed under your learning strategies.
The learning strategies are the core of the learning plan as they detail what you are going to do in order to learn. There will be a number of different options available for how you go about achieving any objective that you set. Many of the strategies detailed in the Taking charge of your coach development series are also relevant here.
Some of the options for learning strategies could include:
- Researching the topic to acquire knowledge
- Working with a mentor
- Observing someone performing in the priority area
- Practicing the skill or trying to put it into action in a practice environment
- Applying the knowledge that you have gained.
Select learning strategies that will lead to the achievement of your objectives and that you are capable of implementing. Make them realistic by thinking about how much time you can commit and the resources you have available, and interesting enough so that you will stick with them.
Determining learning resources
An important step in your planning is to identify the resources that are available to increase your learning and help implement the strategies that you have identified. This step will get you thinking about what you have available and what you can try to source. By identifying the resources in your plan you are also more likely to actually make use of them.
There are a number of possible resources that you could consider when identifying how to support your learning. Some of these resources include:
- People (mentors, coaches, players)
- Workshops, and
- Courses or qualifications.
When identifying your resources, be specific with them. This means rather than stating ‘books’ in your plan, state the title of the books you could use. For websites, list the websites rather than just saying ‘Google them’. This makes it easier to find the specific resource and makes your plan more complete.
Selecting a deadline
The use of a deadline is important for any goal that you set. This helps to keep you on track and provides you with some accountability. The deadlines can also provide you with a timeline for working through your strategies and help you to identify when to review your progress.
Take the following into consideration when setting your deadlines:
- The time you have available to spend working through the plan
- When specific objectives need to be achieved by (e.g., prior to coaching a new team)
- When certain resources are available
- When certain strategies can be implemented (e.g., if dependent on when you are coaching)
- The order in which objectives need to be achieved or strategies need to be implemented, and
- How the plan fits into your Coach Development Plan and overall coaching schedule.
Having worked through this process you will now have a learning plan. This was the easy part. The key now is to make sure that you actually use the plan so that you continue to grow.
Using your learning plan
The greatest risk with any planning document is that it is left in a drawer gathering dust; you need to use your plan regularly in order to get the most from it. Make a point when you are doing your weekly planning of identifying what you are going to do from your learning plan. Pick out some relevant strategies and make a commitment to take action on them during the week – ideally every day.
The best way to improve an area of your coaching is to consistently work at it. You want to keep pushing yourself into your learning edge so that you keep learning and growing. Each week, try and do something that challenges you – that pushes you out of your comfort zone and causes you to really focus on what you are doing. Pick strategies that will put you into your learning edge and take actions that will help you to grow – every week.
As you are planning your week, consider how you can incorporate your learning plan into it. What opportunities are there for you to use some of the strategies? When will you have some down time that you could use to do some of that research? What have you got planned that could allow you to push yourself out of your comfort zone? Use your learning plan to help you identify the opportunities for working in your learning edge.
Reviewing your learning plan
It is important to know how you are tracking with your objectives and if the strategies that you have selected are being effective. You also want to be able to tick off objectives that have been met and strategies that have been implemented, so that you can start working on some new areas. A good way to do this is to periodically review your learning plan. This helps you to keep focussed on it and to make sure that it is still current. It also allows you to make changes if the plan is not proving effective, helping you to get back on track quicker.
In Issue 9 we look in more detail into the evaluation and review of your learning plan. As a starting point, when reviewing your learning plan you could consider the following:
- Have the objectives been met? If so, what are some new objectives?
- Which strategies have you implemented? Are you now able to come up with some new ones?
- Which strategies have been effective? Ineffective?
- Are there any further resources you could access?
- Are you on track for the deadlines? Do these need to be changed?
- How often do you use the plan? What could you do to improve this?
Using a learning plan is the best way to ensure that you are making progress in the areas that you want to develop. The learning plan should tie into your Coach Development Plan and challenge you to keep working within your learning edge. Use it regularly to ensure that you are on track to achieving your learning objectives. In our next issue we will look at the role of mistakes in the learning process.