A Voyage of Discovery

Categories: Winnthinks

My sector is full of terminology. Just think about the word ‘learning’: you’ve got blended learning, online learning, bitesize learning, agile learning, experiential learning, micro learning, e-learning, lunchtime learning, self-directed learning to name but a few. And we haven’t even started on ‘training’, ‘coaching’, ‘mentoring’ and the rest. They reflect current trends and approaches of the moment, but I like to think of them all as simply one thing.


Learning something is either about

  • Discovering something completely new, or
  • Discovering more about something you already knew, or
  • Rediscovering something that you may have known about for some time, but never fully appreciated its significance.

That third one really interests me, because it can be a slow burn and is often where we gain the most. Let me give you an example…

Back in the last century, when I began delivering training, it was a pretty informal affair. My boss felt I was a good listener, OK at explaining things and not too scary for the new starters who were joining our growing business. So lots of them wound up sitting with me and, by a process of osmosis, one day I found myself part of a newly formed training team. Good fortune then brought us an interim training manager who arranged for our entire team to undertake the CIPD’s Certificate in Training Practice. (Thanks, Debbie!).

What a revelation! All of a sudden the things I’d been observing made sense: that some people cannot sit still when listening; that people get resentful if you tell them stuff they already know; that some people need more detail than others; that some people need to sit with a concept for a while before accepting it. Doing the Certificate gave me handy labels for these things, such as ‘learning preferences’ and ‘communication styles’. Previously I’d simply thought of it as ‘People Being Human’ (which in fact remains, IMHO, a pretty good summary).

Most importantly, I discovered that you cannot embark on a Voyage of Discovery simply by looking at someone else’s holiday snaps. People really ‘get it’ when they don their deck shoes, step aboard, feel the wind in their hair and get to steer the ship for themselves. To stretch the metaphor even further – you can learn how to tie a nautical knot from YouTube, but until you do it for yourself you’ll never really know whether your knot would keep the ship attached to the moorings. The correct terminology for this is ‘Self Discovery Learning’, or ‘Experiential Learning’. Yes, I like those labels.

As with most long journeys, my own Voyage of Discovery in the world of learning has lent me some spectacular views of jaw-dropping insight and clarity. There have also been impenetrably thick banks of fog, and horizons I have yet to reach. I’ve still got a long way to go – we are never the finished article, thank goodness, that would just be too boring – but here are some marker buoys I’ve charted along the way so far:

  • In wider life, as in the training room, there are dynamics between people that need to be read, understood and worked with if we are to communicate meaningfully with each other.
  • People are usually smarter than they know, and the coach / trainer / manager / parent / partner / friend / colleague’s job is to help them discover that for themselves.
  • The learning you discover for yourself is a million times more meaningful than any facts you are force-fed.
  • The best workplace learning does something to develop the whole person – because we bring our whole selves to work, not just our job title.
  • That ‘L&D’ really stands for ‘Live and Discover’.

“The real Voyage of Discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust.

Why, shiver me timbers! How nicely put.


  1. Have just picked up this blog and had what one of my tutors used to call an ‘aha moment’. Telling people in my job rarely has the desired effect but getting them out onto the shop floor, often with my friend Sydney, you can see the lights come on.
    Thank you as always for a beautiful piece of clear and focused writing 🙂

  2. Thanks, Sarah! We never stop having those Aha! moments do we – thank goodness! Life would get so stale.

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