My two recent Learning in the Workplace surveys showed that (a) people consider that informal learning is much more important, if not essential, to them than training, and (b) that they learn informally on a much more regular (if not continuous) basis than they learn formally. These findings are of course in line with study after study that shows that most learning in the workplace happens outside of formal training.
But how many organisations are actively supporting informal learning in the organisation? My own analysis of the situation is that many are still focusing on creating, delivering and managing formal learning (whether it be face-to-face or online (e-learning) and are simply introducing informal content (and social aspects) into this traditional way of doing things, for example, by extending structured programmes into the workplace with both pre-and post-training activities.
I refer to this as informalizing and socializing formal learning – and it is of course a good first step, but it is not addressing the bigger picture of how to support learning as it is really happening informally and socially in the workflow. “Informal learning” involves more than an individual being required to access informational rather than instructional content; it is fundamentally about the individual organizing his or her own learning.
And this is undoubtedly where the problem lies. It means there a number of mindset obstacles that need to be surmounted, before organisations can accept what it means to enable and support informal and social learning in the organisation. I call these the Course and Control hurdles – and they are closely related.
1 – Course hurdle
- defining “learning” as only about acquiring knowledge or skills that you have been taught. (We have been conditioned to think like this, because this was how we learned ourselves, It’s what Mark Britz calls “learned (learning) helplessness”)
- believing that training is the only valid way to learn in an organisation
- thinking that the new ways of learning need to forced into this old model.
Change required is
- broadening the definition of learning to include formal and informal learning
- accepting the fact that many people prefer to learn informally and are doing so continuously – because they now have the tools and easy access to sources to do so.
- recognizing that “the toothpaste is out of the tube” and that now individuals and teams have the tools and access to the resources to learn for themselves; and will continue regardless
- realising that many people are no longer dependent on the training department to provide them with all they need to know to do their jobs
- understanding leaning professionals now have an additional (and different role) to play in supporting learning in the orgnisation
2 – Control hurdle
- wanting to plan, organise, manage, track and measure everyone’s informal learning
- trying to control the whole learning process.
Change required is
- understanding it is about enabling and supporting self-organised learning by teams and individuals.
- realising that it is about measuring success not in terms of learning – but in terms of chnges in performance that results form it.
- being able to “let go”
- becoming “learning enablers”, “learning advisors” “learning supporters – not just “learning deliverers”.
- moving from the “command and control” model to one of “encourage and support” to help “connect and contribute”.
Once organisations overcome these hurdles they then find themselves in new territories where they are having a much bigger impact on supporting continuous learning and performance improvement in the business.
However, if organisations are having difficulty adjusting to the idea of supporting workplace learning more widely than just through training, then there is an approach that might help to pave the way. I’ll talk about that in a subsequent post.