Digital Lab. Tom Beardshaw. Learning about Learning.

Digital Lab. Tom Beardshaw. Learning about Learning.

By Tom Beardshaw


Tom Beardshaw, digital marketing expert, accredited coach and Mentor at AMA Digital Lab stresses the importance of learning about learning.

Each year, as the AMA Digilab gets underway, and I receive the details of the individuals that I will be mentoring, I note the extent to which the field of Digital Marketing is growing in the Arts in the UK. When we began in 2014, I found myself mentoring mostly general Marketing staff, who were grappling with the inevitability of using digital marketing in order to fulfill their remit. This year, I have found myself working with people with job titles such as “Digital Marketer” (including the first “Digital Marketer” ever employed by their organisation) and even “Digital Content Creators”. Times have changed. 

Six years of change

One of the consequences of this growth in the UK field has been that the people I’m working with have a much higher level of digital skills than they used to. In 2014, the challenges my mentees faced included installing Google Analytics, using an informal voice on Social Media and dipping their toes into the world of Social Media advertising. Today, the challenges are of a totally different order - including using Google Tag Manager to track in page activity, analysing the behaviour of CRM identified audience segments within Google Analytics and using DataStudo in reporting. I’m encouraged and challenged by the swift improvement in the level of the skillset that AMA Digilab fellow arrive with. 

The Learning Cycle

One of the core challenges, however, remains. At the heart of the Digilab experience is learning about learning, an experimental approach to work, and the importance of baking learning experiences into the rhythm of work. I use the “Learning Cycle” model with the fellows which models a four phase process of learning which can be knitted into the pattern of work. Here is a simple diagram which shows the Learning Cycle: 

The first part of any learning process is to act. Whether that is by trying out some simple phrases in a new language that you’re attempting to learn, or by posting a marketing campaign on a platform such as Facebook. Action provokes a reaction, and the second part of the cycle is observing and reflecting on what happened. Following this, we turn our observations into theories - learnings that we can take into the future. The final part of the learning cycle is to take these abstracted learnings into our planning of the next action we take.  

Think about your learning bias

This looks simple enough, and is familiar to all of us, but a key insight is that we all have individual and organisational preferences for (and against) parts of this cycle. Learning styles questionnaire was even developed (by Peter Honey and Alan Mumford) which identifies your own biases, based upon the work of Kolb. Some of us really enjoy the action part but don’t like the reflection or theorising stages, so we often skip them and as soon as one campaign is complete, launch straight into the planning for the next one. Many cash strapped organisations (of which Arts Organisations are often examples) exhibit this action-planning preference - launching from one campaign (or production) to planning for the next one without much reflection about what happened in the last one.  

Understanding the learning curve and changing the way that you work to incorporate a thorough learning process into the way that they work is one of the key challenges that still contronts anyone embarking on the AMA Digilab. The most common challenge is to get the reflection and theorising parts of the cycle programmed into the way that they work. That’s where the technical challenges of getting the right data available, reading and understanding it and learning about the characteristics of the unique audience you’re addressing begin. 

Tom Beardshaw, digital marketing expert, accredited coach and Mentor at AMA Digital Lab

Resource type: Guide/tools | Published: 2020