Many heads learn better than one

Beyond Testing
4 min readFeb 6, 2023

Last week, I had two very powerful experiences in the theme of learning. The first one was at work. At Accuteque, we are encouraging our team to engage in the space of Cyber Security, and many in the team have taken up the opportunity to sign up for the foundational “Certified in Cybersecurity” offering by ISC2. The cohort who are working toward this certification is a varied bunch — ranging from system testers, business analysts, project managers, test automators all the way to enterprise architects. As this is a new field for many on the team, we have set up an informal study group that meets online at lunchtime twice a week — yesterday was the first session. The second experience was a similarly online study session over a video call that I had with my niece who is in India.

In the session with my work team, the group had a common study objective — we are either preparing for, or have just completed, the same certification. There was a common subject matter, which create a space for people to ask questions, discuss concepts and gain more confidence in their endeavours. The ones who had gone before made themselves available to share their experiences. The study session with my niece, on the other hand, was very different — she was working on fluid dynamics and I was studying concepts of defining secure requirements for software applications. Although I have “gone before” in terms of high school physics, it has been almost three decades, so I didn’t have a lot to offer in terms of subject matter (beyond a love for the subject of physics in general). We both needed to have a deeply focussed block of time to study and agreed to hold each other accountable for the duration.

But what both sessions shared was a space in which we came together to learn — our focus was not on completing tasks or generating ideas, but to take in new knowledge and incorporate it into our existing understanding of the subject. Each person was learning at their own pace and in their own style — reading, viewing video tutorials, writing notes — doing it with even one other person created a space where learning became the norm. Studying deeply technical concepts — whether it is fluid dynamics or secure software — can feel like a lonely endeavour if you are not in a classroom scenario. Having a study group, a study buddy, or even a “body double” — someone who is in the room doing their own thing while you’re studying — helps keep the focus on the learning activity and a sense of safety that you are on out there on your own.

So here are my tried and tested tips to set up a great learning environment at work:

  • Make learning the norm — valuing learning can become the norm when leaders who may not be formally enrolled as students are openly enthusiastic about concepts they have learned and share their challenges and triumphs.
  • Explore possibilities — in conversations about career growth discuss areas of interest where your team member may want to explore learning or further education. Often, they may not be aware of areas within the business where their interest can align with delivery priorities.
  • Eat your own dog food — as a leader, don’t ask people to commit to learning goals and effort unless you are willing to do the same along with them.
  • Celebrate milestones — successfully completing course modules, clearing certifications, a high grade on a university course, all of these are causes for celebration with the team.
  • Learn together, even if you’re not learning the same thing — my experience with the two very different study group sessions showed that just the act of learning together at the same time in parallel can raise the motivation all around!
  • Knowledge shared is knowledge expanded — if you have expertise in a field someone else is beginning to learn, offer to help with questions or even offer some tips and resources you found useful. Their questions can help you develop your own understanding better, and the sum of knowledge in your team will grow!

I’d love to hear what other practices you find useful in creating a space for continuous learning. I’m planning to make the intercontinental study sessions with my niece a regular occurrence, just like the study group at work. Stay curious!