I am fascinated by equity. Equal representation, of course but also how we build financial equity that helps us sustain and thrive. We plan our finances in a way that helps us build the life we want, stabilize when things get rough and let the equity grow over time.

Why can’t we do the same with our learning? 

In this blog, we will dive into building a learning ‘bank’, what might that look like and actionable takeaways to put this into movement starting today. 

What is a learning ‘bank’?

In short, a learning bank is an accumulation of skills that work towards your growth, on demand and off demand. For example, when we invest money or put a certain percentage in our savings, we receive returns from it. On demand returns are when we withdraw money for an event like buying a commodity and off demand is when the money keeps driving interest when it’s in the savings account without any action. We should be taking the same approach with our learning. 

There are two mindset shifts to look at learning from the same lens as finances:

1. Invest for the long term:

We look at finances as a long term game. We earn, spend, invest and build a bank to be able to lead a comfortable life. Let’s look at learning similarly. 

a. Become a lifelong learner

To instill the mindset of a lifelong learner, we should embark upon a journey that helps us understand the future, what it holds for each individual and how we can build our skills to support it. 

Gerhard ​​Fischer, founder and director of the Center for LifeLong Learning & Design at the University of Colorado, Boulder explains lifelong learning as ‘an essential challenge for inventing the future of our societies; it is a necessity rather than a possibility or a luxury to be considered. Lifelong learning is more than adult education and/or training-it is a mindset and a habit for people to acquire. Lifelong learning creates the challenge to understand, explore, and support new essential dimensions of learning such as self-directed learning, learning on demand, collaborative learning, and organizational learning.’

2. Portfolio of learning

We don’t put all our savings into one basket and call it a day. We mitigate risk by diversifying our portfolio. Let’s follow the same mantra for learning. 

a. Acquire a T-shaped expertise

To unlock the superpowers of problem solving, we should aim at a balance of breadth and depth of expertise. An interesting analogy here is how kids are able to learn multiple languages through exposure. While they have a primary language that they think and speak in, mere exposure and conversations helps their comprehension in other languages.

There is one common answer to building a learning ‘bank’ – Side Projects. Side Projects come in all shapes and sizes. There are no right or wrong side projects.

To build a learning ‘bank’, there are guiding principles that we can follow to treat learning like it’s a portfolio:

1. Build in public: We are all experiencing the trend of building in public and it is booming. Pick a side project that you can test with an audience. Focus on short cycles of build, test and iterate. 

2. Build what is exciting to you: A side project needs time commitment and consistency. Pick a topic or skill that you like to sharpen consistently. If you look at your T-shaped skill set, you will find what excites you and is sustainable

3. Build what is scalable: Here, scale is based on perspective. If your project has 60 committed visitors, that is 60 first degree connections and their network is going to follow along. Side projects that are successful are built on the principle that one person finds value, speaks about it and that creates a ripple effect. Imagine 60 people finding value and so on. 

4. Build what is relatable: Side projects that are relevant to you, your network and your industry are likely to get traction. Side projects should help build your learning bank, so let’s not confuse hobbies and side projects as one. 

5. Teach and reflect in public: A learning ‘bank’, which is a portfolio of side projects can eventually become your secondary income. For that, make sure to teach what you learn, reflect, share your failures and future. 

My biggest takeaway from building Unlearning Labs in public is to keep sharpening the learning muscle. Like we keep assessing our investments and financial portfolio for the best returns, our learning bank should be assessed and calibrated to help us grow. 

Unlearning Thought

Imagine if we got complacent about our financial portfolios just as with our learning banks. 


Read an abstract about Lifelong Learning

Read Jason Yip’s article on T-shaped people

Sharing my favorite creators who build in public, sharpen their learning portfolios and find divergent paths from their side projects:

Follow these creators to learn how to build a learning ‘bank’!