Play-based learning to children is what "learning sandpits" are to adults.
My daughter absolutely loves sandpits.
When the weather is warm, she would spend hours in the sandpit, scooping the sand, making shapes, and just having fun with it.
Once we get home, the sand goes everywhere. In the car, at the entrance of our house. We vacuum everything and send her straight to the shower before the sand has a chance to venture any further in our house.
Even though I find sand really annoying to clean up, I still volunteered for her kindergarten worker bee day (before COVID) and even spent a few hours sifting the children’s sandpit to get rid of all the leaves and twigs so the children could enjoy a clean sandpit in the new term.
I did it because I know that my daughter enjoys learning through play.
Play-based learning encourages children to be curious and discover new things through hands-on exploration of the world around them.
This got me thinking about the parallels between play-based learning for children and my own version of a digital learning sand pit.
Play-based learning to children is what "learning sandpits" are to adults.
Learning sandpits are avenues to discover, experiment, create, iterate, and imagine in a way that is driven by your intrinsic motivation.
I learn better by doing rather than over-thinking it. I learn best when there is skin in the game. Learning is a whole lot more fun when I get to experiment ideas outside of work without the red tape.
What motivates me to build a learning sandpit?
I believe in maximizing opportunities around you to learn new skills. The biggest reason of all is that I find that when I apply skills across different situations - this is what actually what makes me learn more effectively and makes me enjoy the learning process as well.
Those of you who have worked with me years ago will know that my initial career experience and qualifications were in a completely different area to what's expected for a career in communications.
I knew that if I wanted to add communications to my talent stack, I had to be creative in how I build credibility in order to break into this area. I had to be creative with how I learned if I wanted to differentiate myself and be known for this skill midway through my career.
I knew I didn’t want to go back to university for this, so I started thinking about what I could do in my spare time and on the weekends to build this experience.
My learning sandpit includes things like:
Starting a blog to learn how to write copy that sells and drives traffic.
Producing and hosting a podcast to learn how to create niche content, be a better communicator & build a personal brand that is broader than your career.
Writing a book to learn how to structure my thoughts and package my message in a way that is easy for people to understand my ideas.
This was in addition to other items on my #learningplaylist, such as online learning, joining communication-related networking groups, following copywriting and information design experts on social media, and subscribing to newsletters with creative copy so I could even learn from my inbox.
Using sandpits to experiment with my learning, I was on a mission to multiply what I could learn - such as branding, marketing, public speaking, teaching online, creative writing, and content creation to name a few.
Learning felt intoxicating when I could see the results from applying what I learned and see tangible results. The results were certainly not overnight. Along the way, I would learn about one aspect of a skill I wanted to improve at a time and experimented with it until I got the result I was aiming for.
Over many years of experimentation, website traffic to my blog grew from strength to strength, brand collaboration opportunities were forged, my blog was featured on Forbes.com, In Style Magazine USA and I earned a profitable side income (more like play money) through what initially started as a learning experiment.
At the end of the day, learning comes before profit when it comes to my goals for setting up every new learning sandpit. Regardless of the learning goals I set for each experiment, what I am also building is adaptability and agility in how I build upon one idea to create the next.
If you’re always improving yourself, trying new things, and learning from mistakes, the next leap doesn’t seem so far fetched at all.
Incremental Challenge #1: Pivoting to a new niche
In my case, I created online content for five years before podcasting, so content creation and building a unique voice online was a concept I was already familiar with. It only took me only two months to launch the podcast, because the incremental challenge this time was more about refining my new niche, getting comfortable behind the microphone when I’m actually introverted, learning to ask questions and pitching to both experienced and inexperienced guest speakers.
Although the podcast was started from scratch, the skills I had gained from creating content on an entirely different topic were transferable in helping me accelerate the process from idea to implementation.
The podcast is now my avenue to learn new digital skills and flex my creative muscles to see the connections between ideas that I wouldn’t otherwise have noticed. It also allows me to connect more purposefully with like-minded people and share the learning together across a global community.
Incremental Challenge #2: From podcast creation to writing a book
You may have heard me mention online that I am in the process of writing a book right now.
With writing the book, I didn’t need to start from scratch as I had over a year and half of micro content from the podcast and past interviews and talks I had shared on social media. The incremental challenge (by no means is it an insignificant one) in writing this book was to structure and package my message in a way that flows end to end.
The third incremental challenge was for me to merge my public brand with my career brand, which deserves its own post and I'll save that for another day.
Ticking other boxes
My learning sandpit is also a space for me to tick boxes in terms of new experiences or challenges that I wouldn’t be able to do so with my employer, such as diversifying my network across a wider range of industries and different countries:
Building relationships with Public Relations and media.
Collaborating with Clinique and Mecca Maxima on a lipstick campaign.
Learning about what it’s like to wear the hat of both employee and small business owner in establishing a portfolio career.
Collaborating with thought leaders and C-suite executives to share their career advice and experience in a more conversational way rather than on stage.
"Learning the lyrics" of employees from around the world, to find out what's really on their mind - in their own words - when it comes to navigating career development in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
With each learning sandpit I created for myself, it started with recognizing a void out there in the kind of content I want to consume as an employee trying to reinvent herself and be proactive about owning her career.
If you have an idea that fills a void in fulfilling a need that matters to you, try creating your own version of a learning sandpit.
What minimum viable idea can you experiment with?
How do you intend to gain first-hand experience in understanding the needs of your target audience and trial new solutions?
Set incremental challenges along the way.
Learn from each experiment.
Bring others along your journey by sharing your story.
And never lose sight of the spark that inspired you to look at problems in new ways.