For many people the word “learning” is synonymous with studying, lessons, classes, etc – because that is how we have been conditioned to believe how “learning” happens. We think back to how we learned at school with a teacher, who took us through a topic step by step, in a logical way. It was the teacher who “joined the dots” for us, linking together all the aspects of the topic in a structured way to help us understand it. And that of course, is now what many think “online learning” is all about; although the teacher is (usually) not physically present any longer, the instructional designer has created the content in the same structured way, by joining the dots for us so that we can work through it in a logical way. Currently this is where corporate e-learning focuses its efforts – delivering online learning experiences for its people to acquire existing bodies of knowledge or skill – it’s all about learning the old. Of course this has an important part to play in what we need to learn to do our jobs, but nowadays it is not the only way we need to learn. We also need to learn the new.
In today’s modern world things are happening so fast that we all need to keep up to speed with the flow of new ideas and resources that are being created at a staggeringly fast rate. In the business world, for many jobs, this means it is not just about applying the old learning to our work, but keeping up to date with the new so that it informs what we do. It means “feeding in” to our teams and groups what we are learning about the changing working landscape, as well as our ongoing experiences with colleagues, clients and customers, so that we can help each other benefit from this new knowledge and experiences in order to do our jobs (or do them better). Learning the new is therefore a very different “learning” experience; it is about being in the flow of new ideas, making sense of what we hear and find out, ie by “joining the dots” ourselves, and by sharing our thoughts, experiences, etc with others in our teams, groups, communities and networks. It’s not about waiting for someone to come along to teach us this new knowledge or new skills; but rather to continuously learn for ourselves.
For sure, some people thrive on learning the new – and in fact the ability to do so is proving to be a key attribute of those who are on top of their game. Others (particularly those who have become reliant on being taught or trained) can find it a daunting experience. So these people will need help to acquire a new set of “learning skills”. Harold Jarche calls this Personal Knowledge Management, which he defines as “a set of processes, individually constructed, to help each of us make sense of our world & work more effectively.”
Learning the new is becoming an essential new work and life skill, and I believe that, the role of learning professions is no longer just about teaching the old, but helping people to learn the new. Furthermore, this also means not trying to organize, manage and track what and how people learn, but helping them to self-organize and manage their own learning, and helping them to measure their success in terms of performance or productivity improvements rather than in terms of “learning activity”. Learning the old processes and systems just aren’t appropriate for learning the new.