5 Stages of Workplace Learning

I interrupt my series of postings on Collaboration Platforms, to talk a little about the stages of Workplace Learnng

As I have read the comments on my recent postings as well as tweets and postings on other blogs,  I’ve identified what I think are 5 main stages of workplace learning.  I’ve tried to capture these,  in a very rough and ready way, in the diagram below.  (Click the diagram for a larger version of the diagram)

What Harold Jarche and I have been talking about recently on our blogs is Stage 5.  Although our recent postings have focused on how we believe a collaboration platform will replace the LMS  as the core (learning) system in use in organistions, this is only part of what we, and our Internet Time Alliance colleagues believe is the future of workplace learning.  Fundamentally it is about a change from focusing exclusively on centrally diirecting and managing formal learning (aka training) in a LMS to supporting and enabling a collaborative approach to learning and working across the enterprise.

In my opinion, most organisations are in Stage 3, but as the L&D conversation circles around the concepts of social and informal learning, I’m getting the impression that many are drifting into, what I would consider an interim stage, 4 ; which is simply adding-on social (and even informal) functionality to the traditional model of learning.  One reason for this, is because this is where a lot of vendors are targeting their new products.

The difference between Stages 1-4 and Stage 5 is actually NOT just about a change in tools but a change in mindset. I’ve talked a lot about this in my State of Social Learning article and charted this in my recent table.  But some of the key mindset changes that will move organisations into Stage 5 are:

  • recognising that working=learning; learning=working
  • understanding that informal learning needs to be
    enabled, supported and encouraged – but not designed or managed “letting go”, so that there is a
  • move from learner control to learner autonomy realising that autonomous, independent and inter-dependent, self-directed learners are essential  in an agile organisation

My colleagues at the Internet Time Alliance, firmly believe that you don’t need to go through all the stages to reach Stage 5, even those still stuck at Stage 1, could simply leapfrog to the future.  Some forward thinking organisations are already there, and we, at ITA, believe that in this fast-changing, complex world, this is
the place that organisations need to be.


Jay Cross, my Internet Time Alliance colleague, has re-worked this model to show the 5 stages of Workscape Evolution

Harold Jarche has posted: The networked enterprise and learning support

11 thoughts on “5 Stages of Workplace Learning

  1. Seija Jäminki

    I totally agree with the main principles stated: informal and work-related learning has to merge if we want to support life-long-learning. In authentic learning the work place forms the study context but the learning community may be flexible; members from different work places, cultures etc. However, I would’ t like to separate different phases; personalized platforms may include various media and implementations. Seija

  2. Ingrid

    The context for your stages is not clear.
    On-the-job training and informal learning have been part of the workplace long before there was classroom training. Elements of Stage 5 exist in all of the previous stages. Your Stage 5 is what workplace learning has been and continues to be. Technology could make Stage 5 easier but does not make it new.

  3. Jane Hart

    Ingrid, Stage 5 represents a fundamental shift in most L&D’s view of workplace learning. Currently they focus on “training”, formal learning and not supporting personal or group-based learning/working and performance support. See my State of the Learning article and postings from Harold Jarche jarche.com Jay Cross internettime.com and informl.com for more on this. As I said my diagram was “rough and ready” and provides overview of stages of workplace learning – with particular regard to technology.

  4. Ken Otter

    Ingrid wrote, “on-the-job training and informal learning have been part of the workplace long before there was classroom training,” and I concur. What I find important about what is being presented here is the value of making this learning explicit and intentional on the part of workplace learning designers.
    As a learning designer myself, what I choose to pay attention to, to provide resources and support for, and to develop competencies in, reflects my particular “mindset” of what counts as legitimate learning and training. All too often the reality of “informal learning” and other expressions of group and social learning is ignored. And while it happens anyway, it is rarely given any the kind of nourishment. When it is, the engagement, innovation, and generativity is astounding.

  5. Craig Taylor

    Hi Jane,
    As always an extremely useful an insightful article. Admittedly, elements of Stage 5 are quite likely to be inherent within the first 4 stages, however as you state it is ‘rough and ready’.
    Having said that, it quite clearly and graphically displays these stages and the likely resources and mindset that usually accompany each stage.
    I have re-created your model within PPT along with some additional slides/media to visualise each element. I would like to use this PPT in the coming weeks when I pitch to my MD on the subject of social media (or the lack of it) within our organisation, however as the PPT is based around your model I am obviously seeking your permission. Naturally I will ensure that you are credited as appropriate.

  6. Jane Hart

    Craig, Thanks but just to repeat the BIG difference bt Stages 1-4 and 5 is the MINDSET change required. Stage 5 means a move about from just managing and contrloling formal learning in the organisation to enabling and supporting personal, group and intra-organisational learning – without trying to control and dominate it. Anyway, good luck with your presentation to your MD.

  7. David Grebow

    Several years ago I was presenting to executives around the country, showing them the tip of what I was calling The Digital Uprising. I was working with Global Business Network before it was taken over by The Monitor Group.
    The point is that I was highlighting economic paradigms and how, at the beginning of each new one, there’s a period of confusion. The people and companies that can sort through the fog and see where the economy is moving become the New Economy Leaders with all that implies.
    Part of the presentation included the following side-by-side comparison:
    Industrial Economy / Knowledge Economy
    Command & Control / Matrix Organization
    Hierarchical / Decentralized
    Citadel Mentality / Work Anywhere
    Rigid Work Hours / Work Anytime
    Importance of Titles / Importance of Results
    Dress Code / No Dress Code
    Learning is Work / Work is Learning
    Formal Classes / Informal Sharing
    Corporate Silos / Corporate Web
    The ones that “got it” are now among the leaders so often cited as Web 2.0 companies. Many of the ones that did not listen are gone.
    The same is true for every major economic paradigm shift. The takeaway is that what you are saying is a signpost to the inevitable, part of this new economic model. The smart companies will listen, learn, adopt and adapt.
    The others will disappear in the fog …

  8. Ryan Tracey

    I’m so pleased to read this post because it complements the thoughts I’ve been having lately about the maturation of organisations, particularly in terms of e-learning, blended learning and social media. When used well, these shift the organisational culture towards informal learning and bottom-up control (to borrow from Jay Cross).
    Beyond L&D, I suggest that Stages 4 & 5 also indicate the level of engagement the organisation has with its customers.

  9. Pingback: Del Social Learning a Organizaciones que Aprenden | Conecta13

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