Quiz: Have you got the New Workplace Learning mindset?

Following my recent posting, Social learning is not a new training trend, I’ve had a few comments from readers that suggest they were not able to see the difference between the two workplace learning approaches I described –  in particular the difference in the “mindset” involved.

It seems to me that there are 5 key differences (probably more) but before I discuss them in more detail, here are 5 questions to test you as well your organisation’s mindset.

Click on the link below if you want to participate in the survey (anonymously), or read on if you just want to see the questions and my thoughts.

These are very general questions.  I couldn’t pack all the nuances I wanted into each question so there probably should have been more than 5 questions  – but I wanted to keep them simple and to the point.

Anyway, if you (and/or your organisation) answered at least one of these questions with a Yes, then it is very likely you still have a foot in the traditional workplace learning mindset.

But  let me now discuss the 5 questions I asked.

(1)  Do you think that formal learning (ie training, workshops, courses, e-learning) is the only appropriate way that people should learn to do their jobs?

Learning for most people means acquiring skills and knowledge in a formal way – “studying” if you like. Most of us have been conditioned to think like this because of school, university and now training.

Although in recent years it has been shown most of our learning in the workplace takes place informally (outside formal interventions) – as we do our jobs, in the workflow – there are still many who are dubious about it this. They usually point out that they wouldn’t want a doctor operating on them, or a pilot flying their plane who had only learnt how to do this “on the job”.  But Dave Cormier has shown that learning as they do their job is exactly how doctors learn, and Stephen Downes has also made a point-by-point recently rebuttal of some similar remarks.

So thinking that formal learning is the ONLY valid way of learning in the workplace is clearly the  traditional view of learning, the new mindset is to think that learning is about acquiring skills and knowledge in many different ways – formally and informally.

Of course, as Tom Gram points out  it is clear that there are some job roles where tasks are highly standardised – eg fast food sellers, bank tellers, which require more formal interventions, but for knowledge workers, it is in informal learning, where, as Charles Jennings, puts it, the  “real learning takes place”.

So it is probably L&D’s understanding of the term “learning” that is holding many back; and until they can see it doesn’t just mean “studying” but also means “finding out” and “discovering” and so on, they just won’t be able to appreciate that people can learn in many other  relevant ways.

(2) Do you think that learning needs to be designed to solve every business or job problem?

This question leads on from the previous one.  It is clear that for those who think formal learning is the only appropriate way to learn, that this means a learning solution has to be “designed” to solve a business or job problem.  But, what is more unfortunate is that even those who have begun to realize that informal learning is an important part of workplace learning, still think that informal learning can be “designed”, or “blended” with the formal. When in fact, by doing this, they are simply formalizing informal learning. In other words if you require or suggest someone read an article or blog post as part of a programme or course, just because that content is informational rather than instructional, does not mean that this is informal learning.  It is still a formal learning intervention.

As I have said above, informal learning is learning that takes place outside formal learning interventions – so it cannot be designed or managed top-down.  It usually cannot be measured either – particularly as much of it takes place unconsciously, so even the individual does not know they are “learning”. Individuals might only realise they have learnt something, when they are able to do something they couldn’t previously do – but in most cases as informal  learning is such a natural process; they are probably not even aware of the fact themselves.  So although their brain is actually “managing” the learning process, they are often not really consciously aware of it.  Hence believing that an enterprise system (like a LMS) can manage people’s learning is absurd; all such systems can do is track access to instructional and informational resources – but that certainly does not prove that any learning has taken place.

But the question goes further than this it, as it asks if learning needs to be designed to solve EVERY business or job problem.  The traditional answer would again be Yes, since many believe that training is the only way to address a performance problem.  But in fact most performance problems don’t need a training solution – as some including Marc Rosenberg have pointed out.  Many performance problems can usually be solved in far less costly and more effective ways – through the use of performance support, job aids, or other productivity tools, through improved team communication and collaboration, or even through changes in processes.

Often training only addresses the symptoms of problems; it is the root cause that needs to be identified and addressed, and this requires a deeper performance consulting approach, which might include workflow audits (ie watching individuals and teams do their jobs to see where the bottlenecks/issues are), and then deciding on the right course of action.   As Harold Jarche says:

“Too many people in the training department make the leap from a performance issue (lack of skills, abilities, knowledge; lack of access to appropriate data and resources; etc) directly to training as the only solution. This is the wrong approach and the most costly. Management plays into this, with statements like “We have a training problem” and no one challenges that statement. There is no such thing as a training problem.

Oh, and “performance consulting” is not another fancy new term for a TNA (Training Needs Analysis) either – since the solution is not necessarily training –  in fact it’s probably the last thing that should be considered.

So, no, learning doesn’t have to be designed for every problem.

(3) Do you think that social (learning) approaches  should be mandated and managed in the workplace?

Now,  that “social learning” has become the latest buzzword, L&D are considering how they should “implement” it.

As many have already said, social learning is not a new concept, we’ve always learned with or from others – both in the classroom as well as outside of it.  Social media, however, has provided us with new tools to enhance how we learn.  But as I have already pointed out above, most learning takes place INFORMALLY in the workplace and this is of course where social media is really playing a major part – and significantly without the knowledge of the IT and the L&D department.   A Forrester report has shown that around 60% of employees are already self-provisioning tools and devices to address workplace problems, and Jensen and Klein have explained that between 1/3 and 2/3 of employees are meeting their learning needs by working around L&D.

So the ideal approach would be for L&D to work with these individuals and teams – and build on what they are doing to encourage others using more social approaches to communicate, collaborate and share with one another.  Quite the wrong approach is to force social approaches into the old, traditional training model – and mandate social interactions on courses.  In fact this is very likely to be counter productive; people don’t want to told to participate and required to contribute.  Those who are happy to do so in other open places, will resent such approaches; and those who are not yet happy with using social media, will also be very reluctant to interact.

In other words you simply can’t force people to be social; all you can do within a formal learning context is provide an open framework for conversations and discussions to take place and support the co-creation of content.  So only allowing moderated comments on expert-content (in case people post the wrong things ) as well as scrutinising, monitoring and tracking all social activity is simply sending out the wrong signals.  “Implementing” social learning like this – is very unlikely to be successful; in fact I have heard of many failures due to exactly these reasons.

If you want social learning to thrive in your organisation – then let it happen organically and naturally – with encouragement from L&D and IT – but mandated social learning just won’t work well.

The traditional mindset therefore is “command and control” i.e.  mandate and enforce; the new mindset is “encourage and engage”.

(4) Do you think the only people who should decide what individuals and teams should learn and how they should learn it are L&D professionals?

In many ways the 3 previous questions lead to this point.  Do you (and/or your organisation) think L&D know best.

The traditional approach to training has been to create a one-size fits all approach – and takes no account of prior knowledge, skills, ways of working, learning preferences. (Note I didn’t say learning styles” – a concept that has been debunked). It has meant forcing  everybody down the same path – forcing them to take training sessions and/or work through online courses – whether it was appropriate for them or not,

Unfortunately, it has to be said most people don’t find e-learning an enjoyable experience; rather it is something to be endured.  Everywhere I go I hear negative comments, groans and exasperated sighs as people are forced to “do e-learning”.  And I can understand why. Much of the e-learning I have seen is simply just dumbed down content – not much more more than screens of content linked together, which often force learners  to click on every part of the screen to ensure the content has been “read” or “learnt”. Others agree with me. Geeta  Bose, for instance wrote “Adult learners are becoming increasingly frustrated at how they are being treated as idiots in how they are expected to use online courses”.  So it’s actually no wonder that I also hear all the time too, that most e-learning is simply not being  used.

The reason is simple, workers have other ideas.  If they need a solution to a problem nowadays, they don’t go to the LMS to find a course, they will use Google to find something more relevant, valuable and shorter – on YouTube, Vimeo, Wikipedia, WikiHow, whatever.  As I mentioned earlier, many people are already doing their own thing; because they know what works best for them, and the last thing they want is for L&D to get involved and start over-managing the process.

So it’s time to respect self-reliant workers, to let them get on with things and not try and interfere.  If they need help they will ask for it. And if there is something they must read, then provide it in a more intelligent, appropriate and useful format – a PDF, video, short guide, etc.

Which leads us nicely onto the last question …

(5) Do you think the primary purpose of the L&D department is to design, deliver and manage training/e-learning for the organisation?

If you think the L&D’s primary purpose is to create training/e-learning for the organisation, then you are missing out on the wide range of other ways of helping people do their jobs.  Training/E-Learning is only a tiny part of it.

Creating lots of e-learning or training might have been seen as the traditional way of proving L&D’s worth in the organisation; but in reality actually creating less training and instead helping people to acquire the knowledge and skills do their jobs in many other more relevant ways, will prove much more valuable.

For many in L&D this may seem a threat to the ways they have always done things, but it should rather be seen as an opportunity to have a much more exciting role in the organisation

Maybe it’s going to take a new name or new job title to help people understand the richness of their new role, Performance Specialist, for example.  But one thing  seems be certain, all the while “Learning” is in the title, it is holding things back.

So, finally, how did you do in the Quiz?  Is your mindset in synch with your organisation’s?  Where do you need to help them move their thinking forward?


  1. Anonymous

    Great article and thanks for this note: “learning preferences. (Note I didn’t say learning styles” – a concept that has been debunked: – Too many people are still back in the learning styles cave!!

      1. Anonymous

        Leah, see Marcia Conner’s (author of the New Social Learning) comment about “design” on my previous post http://www.c4lpt.co.uk/blog/2011/09/25/social-learning-is-not-a-new-training-trend/#comments ie “Personally, I continue to struggle with discussions I hear often about people “designing learning.” We can design training, and we can create opportunities where people learn… be it peer to peer in a collaborative way, expert to novice, or a combination… but what is designed is training or opportunity.”

  2. Anonymous

    Smart questions. I’d love to read case studies of orgs that took these questions seriously and what their designed implementation and/or natural evolution looks like.

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