Getting the Most Out of Professional Development Experiences

Every profession has a need for its members to stay current and well versed in trending performance models. To do this, organizations and systems create educational portals known as professional development opportunities (PDO). These experiences may be online, real time, or a blend of both. Some are specific and required for continued licensing (i.e., accountants, doctors, pilots, etc.) and must be taken within a set timeline (e.g., one, three, or five year cycles). Others offer opportunities for professional or personal growth and do not carry as stringent a timeline for completion; however, typically, there must be a level of accumulation of PDO experiences over time. The endgame, regardless of the format and timeline, is to provide a professional and valuable experience that will translate into improved workplace performance.

Because PDOs come is varied sizes and formats, they offer unique challenges for the participants’ learning styles. If you are a visual leaner, then Power Point or Prezi style presentations may be of benefit. If you are an auditory leaner, then dialogue centric presentations will be more productive. If you are a tactile engagement learner, then a PDO with multiple problem solving breakouts may be best. Usually, PDOs have some blend of all three. However, central in each experience is the need to take away as much useful information as possible.

Over time, I have come to look my PDO experiences as a “panning for gold” opportunity. My hope is that somewhere within the experience I shall find a nugget or two or three that I can bring back to my space and use it to improve my performance.

If you’re like me, you find it frustrating to be back in your work space with the memory of something you learned in a PDO and not be able to bring it into focus. Revisiting margin notes on handouts sometimes helps, but it is a hit or miss proposition (my hen scratches do not always make sense a week later). Contacting other PDO participants is also helpful, but I’ve found that my unique take on the information may not sync with how another person may have seen or felt the experience. In the best of all worlds, reaching out to the author or presenter is the ideal way to rekindle the embers, but it is often difficult to reconnect in a timely way. So, I have come to use an action process that helps me hold what I learned in a PDO and to transfer the knowledge to my work or study situations over and over again. The process is not difficult, but it does take some pre-PDO planning.

When you learn of the PDO topic, the first thing you want to do is to define some outtake experiences that you want to have at the end. That is, what do you want to have in your hands when the PDO is finished? By establishing these expectations, you have a focused agenda entering the PDO experience vs. simply a time and place to be present.

Once in the PDO experience, listen for major themes or specific ideas that are coming through in the presentation itself, through side bar conversations, or Q&A opportunities that relate to your outcome expectations. This is the “panning for gold” metaphor in action.  To keep from being overwhelmed, be sure to take down only themes or ideas that apply to your already established outcome expectations. In this way, you will harvest only what you need. Do not try and capture everything; keep only the richest nuggets. Obviously, if there’s an “ah ha” moment, you’ll want to capture it as well, but place it a separate “parking lot” in order not to clutter your main information data.

Once you have captured a nugget, quickly define how it will apply in your current situation or outcome expectations and jot it down. This is a fluid process and needs to be done throughout the PDO. Do not wait until the end of the PDO to do this. It is important to marry the nugget and its use to you quickly so it will make sense at a later time.

Once the presentation is over, and in as close a proximity to the finish as possible, create a grid that will allow you to memorialize the value takeaways from the PDO. Start with the outcome expectations as first level statements. Next, in tier two, place the themes or main ideas that you captured underneath each outcome to which they apply.

In a third tier, consider what it is you want to happen in each category and put these thoughts down underneath each theme or main idea.  You have now created a three step guide on how what you learned can be applied in your work or study space.

It is now time to reflect on whether or not these good ideas have any traction.  That is, consider what obstacles exist that will prevent you from implementing the new knowledge or skills.  This is the next layer in the grid. Hopefully, you will not experience obstacles; however, if they exist, you want to review them before you try and implement any new concepts or strategies.

The final tier of your grid is a reflection on how you can overcome the obstacles, if there are any.  This is an important step as it will allow you to drop off any theme that cannot be successfully implemented and avoid the exasperation of finding out after you’ve expended time and energy to do a trial run.

If the PDO is high caliber, you should also be provided with multiple resources (e.g., websites, books, articles, and blogs). There also may be a list of people contacts as well that you can reach for clarification if needed. It is a good idea to place these references in another resource document as well for future use in other situations.

Posted in: Organizing for Success

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