Four Things I Have Learned About Learning

CCP's Tara Sullivan shares lessons she's learned from her 15 years of working as a leader and instructor in knowledge management and learning.

This post originally appeared in MSH’s LeaderNet.

People often struggle with how to capture and share learning, how to create meaningful and productive learning opportunities, and how to measure success. Here are some lessons I have learned from my 15 years of working as a leader and instructor in knowledge management and learning.

Keep it simple and systematic
As public health professionals, we often have ambitious goals, but possess limited time, money, and human resources to execute our work. We must rapidly learn what works and what does not and quickly adapt our work. One simple tool I have used successfully is the After Action Review (AAR). Once an activity ends, our team immediately sets a meeting to capture what we learned while it is fresh in our minds. You can find information on how to conduct an AAR, along with other guidance for systematically incorporating learning into your work processes through K4Health’s Building Better Programs: A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Knowledge Management in Global Health.

Make it interactive
Many of us have attended events where participants listen to speakers for hours on end. You know the ones – by the end, you’re exhausted, not energized. Thankfully, there is another way to host events that taps into all of the knowledge in the room– Share Fairs. Recently, in partnership with the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP), K4Health hosted the Collaborating and Learning Towards Treat All Share Fair. National AIDS program managers and civil society representatives from the Caribbean region participated in an interactive event, while tackling the serious issue of achieving the UNAIDS 90-90-90 HIV treatment targets to get countries to Treat All. Using participatory techniques, the event sparked deep conversation, provided meaningful learning, engaged participants, and supported stronger collaboration. Want to learn how to host your own Share Fair? Check out our guide, How to Hold a Successful Share Fair.

Share your experience
Five years ago, K4Health established the Global Health: Science and Practice (GHSP) journal to meet the need for public health professionals to learn not only about research, but also program implementation. The team mounting this new journal had no previous experience, but learned from others’ experiences and by doing– identifying the right people (editorial team, authors, and reviewers), creating processes (author and reviewer guidelines), and establishing an online platform to automate and expedite processes. We were happy to share our experience when the East Africa Health Research Commission (EAHRC) asked us to collaborate to form the journal: The East African Health Research Journal. Our GHSP managing editor worked hand-in-hand, all virtually, with EAHRC to identify the appropriate staff, create processes, and develop an online platform. Sharing our experience allowed the new journal to be established and on the path to sustainability in record time.

Measure it
Have you heard the saying, “What gets measured gets done?” The same is true when it comes to learning. Coming from a monitoring and evaluation background, I was surprised to discover when I first started work in knowledge management and learning that there weren’t frameworks, standard indicators, or overarching guidance on how to measure the contribution of these efforts to global health programs. I’ve had the pleasure of working with colleagues from the Global Health Knowledge Collaborative (GHKC) to develop this needed guidance, currently found in the Guide to Monitoring and Evaluating Knowledge Management in Global Health Programs and in the GHKC KM Indicators Library, which features three new topic areas: organizational partnerships, adaptive practice, and social interaction.

As you embark on your learning efforts, I hope you’ll keep these lessons in mind – keep it simple and systematic, make it interactive, share your experience, and be sure to measure it!

Tara Sullivan leads the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs’ knowledge management program, is the project director for Knowledge for Health (K4Health) and teaches in the Department of Health, Behavior, and Society at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

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