Integrating Learning with Life: Insights from Sarah Nicholl's "Learning Habits

Sarah Nicholl shares her motivations and insights behind her book Learning Habits, which merges the spheres of behavioral science and continuous learning within organizations

Integrating Learning with Life: Insights from Sarah Nicholl's "Learning Habits

Sarah Nicholl's journey in writing Learning Habits was primarily fueled by her passion for behavioral science and its application in learning and development. Inspired by the works of notable authors like Wendy Wood, Nir Eyal, BJ Fogg, and James Clear, and particularly influenced by Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, Nicholl aimed to bridge the gap between academic research and practical application in corporate settings. She emphasizes the underutilization of behavioral science in adult education, noting the challenges professionals face in translating theory into practice.

The second driving force behind Nicholl’s book was the need to support her clients in embedding continuous learning within their organizations. She critiques the conventional approach of episodic learning interventions, which often fail to facilitate ongoing learning engagement at the organizational level. Learning Habits provides a framework for integrating learning into daily routines and existing organizational habits, promoting a culture of continuous development.

Acknowledging the constraints of modern professional life, Nicholl prioritized ease of use in her book’s design. Her strategic formatting, including a helpful 'How To' section, ensures that the book is not only accessible but also actionable, enabling readers to readily apply its concepts.

“People have limited time and I appreciate the time they invest in reading the book, so I wanted to make it well organized and easy to use.”

Reflecting on her career, Nicholl highlights pivotal experiences that shaped her perspectives, such as her academic pursuits in adult education at the University of Toronto and a significant collaboration with Steven Turner at Walmart. These experiences deepened her appreciation for academic research and its practical implications in corporate learning.

“After going back to university, I found such a wealth of research that was sometimes left in the academic world and not applied enough in corporate learning.”

Nicholl sets her work apart by focusing specifically on the anatomy of learning habits rather than general habit formation. By tailoring the science of habits to learning-specific scenarios, she provides clear, applicable examples that readers can immediately implement.

“Change that is forced on us is the most difficult but when we can harness control back and move in a positive direction, it makes the change better.”

One standout example from the book is the concept of executive-led dedicated learning time. Nicholl discusses how genuine executive support—demonstrated through visible and consistent endorsement—can solidify learning as a core organizational value, thereby fostering an environment ripe for innovation and growth.

Looking ahead, Nicholl is engaged in research at the London School of Economics, which she hopes will seed material for her next book. The success of Learning Habits is measured not just by its reception and endorsements from thought leaders but also by its impact, as reflected in the engagement and feedback from global corporate audiences, and the personal pride of her family.

Nicholl’s work in Learning Habits serves as a vital tool for professionals across various industries, empowering them to integrate learning into the fabric of organizational life and personal growth. Her innovative approach offers a new perspective on how continuous learning can be seamlessly woven into everyday work practices, benefiting individuals and organizations alike.

Learning Habits is available from Kogan Page.

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