The current trend for self and social learning has some people wondering if we are approaching the end of formal learning as we know it. And even if there is always a need to train people to acquire first-time skills or to upgrade their current skill set, learning and development professionals will increasingly consider the option of leaving some learning needs to other nonformal approaches. But if people are to start learning by themselves, we first need to be sure that everyone is competent to learn.

1. Be able to clearly formulate (learning) objectives. This is one of the first habits of successful people according to Covey, and one of the first things learning professionals do when kicking-off the design phase. In many companies, learning objectives are formalized by the golden triangle of learner, manager, and HR. For independent self-learners with intentional learning needs, it is imperative to start by setting well-formulated, SMART, motivating, results-oriented objectives. Looking at many learning objectives noted in performance evaluations in my years as a corporate training and development manager, I’m quite sure some people should improve this first self-learning skill.

2. Be able to identify good information sources. In the new world of work, knowledge of all topics will be accessible by all people at all times. But the big-data mass of useful information goes hand in hand with an equally abundant mass of useless information. During the 2012 ASTD Conference & Expo, Tracey Wilen-Daugenti of the Apollo Research Institute underlined the need to skill learners in the ability to make sense of this massive flow of information. Harold Jarche, in his Personal Knowledge Management blog series, has underlined the need for five key sense-making skills that self- and social learners will need to master in order to ensure quality for themselves and others: filtering information, validating quality, synthesizing (describing patterns and trends), presenting information, and customizing or contextualizing.

3. Be able to operate well within a functioning network. The worker of the future will be like a “connecting-node” in a network. The best nodes are the ones who understand the three-sided importance of the networking triangle: giving, asking, and thanking. Network-connected self and social learners must not be afraid to share, nor to ask for input from their network, or the network of their network. As an independent trainer in the IT sector, I have met countless young consultants who, despite their ability to post 36 Facebook status updates a day, don’t really appreciate these first principles of networking and rarely take the initiative to “get out there” and find what they need from their own networks.

4. Be able to identify and profit from infinite learning opportunities. This is key to the successful propulsion of self and social learning. Eyes and ears sufficiently open, the self-learning worker of the future must be aware that 70% of learning takes place on the job. To profit from this, learners will need what Vicki Swisher of Korn/Ferry International calls “learning agility.” They will need to drop their learning egos and stay fresh, seeking out diverse learning experiences. They will need to be open to change and able to show empathy for new people and things. They will need to be flexible in their approaches to work, processes, and technology. Which brings us to…

5. Be prepared to master new technology and Web 2.0 tools. At the birth of the Internet, only a small percentage of people were able to put things online. In 2012, everyone can be the curator of his own personal learning network, with access to Twitter, LinkedIn, blogging sites, YouTube, Pearltrees, and the 10 other social sites that will have been created by the time you have read this article. New skills are required: being able to identify and use the right tools for the right learning jobs; being disciplined, regular, and pertinent in one’s own usage; and being able to organise one’s own resources.

There are many more competences, such as self-coaching, concentration, and ability to give and receive feedback. Self and social learners of the future will certainly learn more without the intervention of learning and development professionals. But they will need to be competent first, and L&D professional will need to help them with that.