5 Stages of Workplace Learning (Revisited)

Back in May 2010 I posted a diagram that I had created that showed what I considered to be the 5 stages of Workplace Learning.  My ITA colleague, Jay Cross, re-worked it so that I looked like this.

Back in May 2010 I also wrote: “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.”

Today, in December 2011 it is clear that although many organisations have now moved into  Stage 4, some have also taken the leap into Stage 5.

So what does it take to move to Stage 5?  Well, as I said in May 2010,  it’s  not about new tools but a new mindset. Some of the key mindset changes that will move organisations into Stage 5 include the recognition that:

  • working=learning; learning=working
  • informal learning needs to be enabled, supported and encouraged – not designed or managed
  • autonomous, independent and inter-dependent, self-directed learners are essential  in an agile organisation

Those organizations already operating in Stage 5 clearly understand that although formal training will continue to have a part to play in workplace learning,  it is even more important in today’s workplace to support continuous learning and performance improvement – in non-training ways.

If you are looking to move your organisation into Stage 5, but are struggling to understand HOW to do this, you might be interested in a C4LPT sub-site which I am continuously updating with resources: The Non-Training Approach to Workplace Learning


  1. I understand the underlying concept but I don’t like the idea of ‘stages’ which implies to me a linear progression from 1 through to 5. All of these ‘channels’ are important for effective learning in the workplace (or elsewhere); the challenge is to play to the strengths of each and to successfully combine them to create learning experiences that work for all types of learners.

    1. Anonymous

      This graph shows the stages that workplace learning has already gone through (1-3) – see more at http://c4lpt.co.uk/slhandbook/an-introduction-to-workplace-learning/ Stage 4 is what is currently happening – where “social” is now just being added onto the traditional model of learning – ie adding it into the “blend”. Whereas stage 5 (where some organisations are already at) represents a complete new mindset in terms of how learning takes place in the workplace – and the new role of L&D has in supporting that process.

      I agree it shouldn’t be seen as a linear progression – as I wrote in my May 2010 posting http://www.c4lpt.co.uk/blog/2010/05/07/5-stages-of-workplace-learning-2/

      “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.”

      Furthermore, Stage 5 is not about “creating” solutions but supporting and enhancing learning where it is already taking place in the workflow – in most cases by individuals and teams bypassing L&D http://c4lpt.co.uk/nta/introduction/

      So what is needed to support this type of learning is a non-training approach – http://c4lpt.co.uk/nta/the-difference-between-training-and-non-training-initiatives/

      That is going to be the biggest challenge for some in L&D (and elsewhere in organisations) – shifting from thinking “learning” ONLY takes place when they create and manage the solution. But as I said before, many are already thinking quite differently about this.

  2. Karen

    Brilliant blog. Workplace learning is absolutely going organically informal, social and non-linear/non-systematic training, whether training providers like it or not. Learning is everywhere and widely accessible. “M-Learning” and mobile learning has a role too and the powers that be are bound to feel threatening as learning is linked to change and control. Companies will soon ask, “Why do we need a training department when we can go to Lynda.com (or something like it), for low-cast, or free, just-in-time learning that results in performance?” The days of the Training department are nearing an end as the day the performance or results-focus from workflow learning begins!

  3. Juergen Henrici

    Even i like most of your ideas, this chart has a huge mistake included. The idea that a classroom training inevitably has to be under topdown control and formal is plain wrong. It depends on the trainers learning strategy. a trainer (stage 1) can be a facilitator (stage 5). So from my point of view you should rephrase the word “trainer” into something like lecturer

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