How can we help others develop strong learning practice? 

Last week at the Learning Technologies conference, I was glad to have chaired sessions with Harold Jarche and John Stepper. Both are well known in the field of L&D, particularly via social media. I’ve followed both their works for some time and it was helpful to hear about their work from themselves. If you’re not familiar, Harold often writes about Personal Knowledge Mastery and John about Working Out Loud.

Harold talked about how the connected world can create serendipitous outcomes that we may not have not known about before, and that there may be a way to cultivate those connections which helps us achieve the outcomes we seek. He explained that the ease with which we can connect to individuals from across the world creates a natural network of people we may never have known were great to be connected to. 

I can attest to that. I’m connected with people in other countries because of my blog and Twitter who I wouldn’t know otherwise. They help me understand not just cultural differences, but also how the world of L&D looks and feels in other countries. That’s a kind of knowledge I can’t google or see if Wikipedia has an answer for.

Harold said that it’s through open knowledge sharing platforms like blogs and social media that opens us up to being connected with like minded people. That’s a boon as much as it’s a challenge, as it means the same opportunities are available to those with bad intentions/motivations as those who want to do good in the world in various ways. Through blogging – and now through other means like podcasts and vlogging, we can write expressively and explore topics of interest. This reflection and exploration method is helpful to becoming better learners ourselves. It helps because we refine our thinking by committing to sharing and articulating what we think. It’s a critical thinking process as much as it is to share and reflect.

He also described how forming communities of practise can help to strengthen those types of knowledge that you didn’t know you needed to strengthen. He gave the example of knitting. There are thousands of videos of people showing their knit work, and this is a highly valued community of practise who unknowingly created it! It also shows that through very accessible methods, we can bring people together to share their learning, support one another and build their practise.

In an organisation, that can and does happen around things like project management, presentation skills, and coaching skills. If there are individuals trained in those respective skills, providing a forum for them to come together, to discuss what they know, what they experience, what they learn they learn and what they want to know more about is a highly valued form of learning and highly relevant to the individual and their performance at work.

In his talk, John took some elements of Harold’s talk and expanded on them by talking about a concept he developed called ‘working out loud circles’. Using this approach, individuals can come together, in a supportive group, complete established weekly tasks, and be on the path to succeeding their goals after a 12 week period.

It’s an interesting approach as it puts the onus of completion and participation firmly in the hands of the individual and does not need or require direct involvement from line managers or L&D or other formal structures.

He has made the methodology completely open to use for anyone on his website. I appreciate that approach as it means he’s less interested in licensing and charging for usage around his technique, and more interested in people taking charge of their own learning and goal achievement.

I didn’t know before the session that forming circles requires about 4-5 people, and that they can be any group of people – they don’t have to all be from your function or line of work or any other common factor. In fact he encourages the more diverse a group the better for dynamics and the variety of support you can gain.

Some of the elements we might think we know around working out loud, such as blogging, and sharing our work with others in open and transparent ways, for John are important activities in themselves, and part of the circles methodology.

I haven’t fully thought through how I might myself use the above insights and I hope this is useful sharing. I’m interested to know what it makes you reflect on and what it gets you thinking.


Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

3 thoughts on “How can we help others develop strong learning practice? ”

  1. I am new to the L&D tribe. I am an incomer. Not an L&D pro. A business consultant/project manager delivering corporate web-based systems across the UK. An increasingly voracious appetite for learning. Fell into the deep end of MOOCs with my very first one – MIT’s Learning Creative Learning in 2013 – with tens of thousands of learners hammering away at YouTube live streams/catchup and a G+ community, all totally open on the web. 20 MOOCs later, completing every one, I started – a classic Belbin completer/finisher (summary: I am now moving on.

    Got sucked in to #PKM, #WOL, Twitter Chats, #PLN etc (& by implication the L&D tribe) by Michelle Ockers (from Sydney: when I stumbled over her in June 2016 (how is that not even a year ago!) via her #ATD2016 tweets while I was backchannel-ing.

    Preamble over.

    I urge you and all in your tribes to get into a WOL Circle as soon as is practicable.

    I believe every L&D professional (and all other types of professional, frankly!) needs to experience at least one full 12-week WOL circle in its purest form. This is something that needs to be experienced personally and not simply talked about and recommended to others without so doing.

    For me, now in my 5th week of my 1st WOL Circle, the purest form would be a circle of 5 which is geographically spread, meeting virtually and with none of the 5 having any prior relationship with the others and following as closely as possible the material in the circle guides.

    This might sound scary for some but in 5 weeks we have already gone from 6 strangers in the USA, Spain, UK, Barcelona, UAE and Australia to 6 close friends talking about the deepest things in our lives as we go through the circle guides and tackle our individual personal goals. Each member of the circle is committed to helping each of the others to achieve their goals.

    As per the goal worksheet (, the individual goal you choose to tackle in the circle needs to be something you care about, can make progress on in the 12 weeks, other people can help you with and that can be framed as a learning or exploration goal ( “I would like to be better at…”, “I would like to learn more about…”, “I would like to know more people who…” ).

    Every person must be able to pick something useful to do, surely? Why not do that in a circle and not just on your own?

    All of the material you need to run a WOL Circle is freely available (see link to Circle Guides below) so the only “work” involved is going through the guides, doing the weekly readings (NOT onerous), doing the exercises, taking part in a weekly 1-hour call and doing things related to your personal goal.

    We are running the circle with Zoom for the weekly video calls and Slack for all other communication. Both are free! Zoom records our calls. We host the videos in Slack for repeat watching or for those who have to miss a call. None of us had used those tools before the circle started and we would have ditched them if they had been hard work.

    In the same way that being a serial MOOC learner changed dramatically how I learn, I can see WOL Circles having a similar impact on my everyday working life. I can also see me doing WOL Circles on an ongoing regular basis to tackle specific goals and to encourage others in theirs.

    It was great to read your post. It was great to have the opportunity to build on your post by commenting and to issue a call to action.

    The WOL community online is amazing. If anyone has any questions on WOL Circles just ask on Twitter with the #wol hashtag and, if we beat John (Stepper) to it, one of us will answer 😃

    (1) I confess. We did not get special dispensation from John to go to a 6-person WOL Circle during Week 3. But when a lady from UAE turned up in the WOL Facebook Group saying “Hi” and a lady in our Circle’s goal is to move continents ASAP to live and work in UAE for 2 years, it was too good an opportunity not to ask her and the Circle if she would like to join us.

    (2) Recruiting the circle for me consisted of open invitations on Twitter, in specific Twitter Chat sessions and in the WOL Facebook Group. The circle that we ultimately became was from the Facebook Group invitation. No one was “rejected” but some people discounted themselves for timezone availability reasons. Amazing!

    (3) I am aware that there are a number of different types of WOL Circles including in-company, open as well as circles meeting in real life. I look forward to finding out about those other types in due course and understanding the pros and cons of each. Doing a virtual circle simply strikes me as the fastest and easiest way of experiencing a WOL Circle first hand.

    (4) This is a tweet of our circle: #wolmates

    (1) Working Out Loud web site:
    (2) Working Out Loud WOL Circle Guides:
    (3) Working Out Loud on Twitter:
    (4) Working Out Loud Facebook Group:
    (5) John Stepper Twitter:
    (6) John Stepper Instagram:


  2. Hi Sukh, welcome to the WOL community! I’m in my 2nd circle. And, after attending the event where I met John Stepper and Harold Jarche also met others who want to be part of a #WOLcircle. So as part of my personal growth I offered to facilitate if they can wait until Easter. Let me know if you are interested in joining us. My background is Corporate Comms but I’m keen to build relationships in L&OD & KM networks.

    Here’s my thoughts on Working Out Loud… in A Network #wolan

    View story at

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