Small changes to make a big difference and modernise workplace learning

ball-244243_640In my last post I wrote how for many people the way to move their organisation from outdated, traditional training practices towards modern approaches to learning was not to take the “big bang” approach but make small, incremental changes. In this post I want to look at what that means by first considering the disconnect between current (face-to-face and online) training practices and the way many are now learning.

In the last 10 years there has been a big change in the way that many people now learn.  Not only do they now have unlimited access to resources of all kinds (both instructional eg MOOCs and informational, eg videos) but they are building professional learning networks (PLNs) to exchange ideas and resources with one another. It is also becoming evident that these same individuals when faced with traditional training that infuriates them and treats them like children, are voting with their feet and bypassing L&D in order to address their own learning and performance problems in the way that best suits them. In fact my Learning in the Workplace survey results shows that company training and e-learning is the least valued way of learning by a large percentage of respondents – and that includes L&D professionals too!

So how does modern learning differ from traditional training practices? I have identified 6 key features.

Modern learners choose want they want to learn, as well as when and how they want to learn it. Even when participating in MOOCs they drop in and  drop out as suits them.  They are often described as self-organised, self-directed or self-managed. This approach is very different from the traditional approach to face-to-face or online training which is instructor-led  or instructionally designed. It is highly prescriptive, and individuals are largely spoon-fed the content with very little autonomy to diverge from the path.  And yet, autonomy is a powerful motivator as Dan Pink has shown in “Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us”. In fact he goes as far as to say “Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.” 

Small & Short
Modern learners also tend to make use of short, bite-sized, “snackable” pieces of content – both instructional and informational (that perhaps take 15-20 mins to consume) – as well as have brief interactions with others. They tend to avoid long, drawn out resources that take time to work through, and yet that is how most training/e-learning is designed –  in the form of long training events or huge online courses that can sometimes take hours to work through.

For modern learners, learning is a continuous process; a constant drip-feed or flow of information or resources, or conversations with colleagues, all of which over time builds up into a large amount of knowledge and shared experiences. Whereas of course, training is event-based, and “packaged” up with definitive start and end points.

On demand
When faced with a learning or performance problem, modern learners look for quick and easy solutions – by searching themselves for an answer or asking their PLN to recommend a resource.  (1) They don’t want to take a course to “study” the problem; they just want to solve it and get on with their work.  (2) They don’t need to take a test to know whether they have understood the solution, they know if they have been successful because they have solved their own problem. (3) They don’t need to remember the content – just where to find the resource again should they need it.

Modern learners are highly social, and by that I don’t just mean they learn WITH (or alongside) others, but continuously FROM others in terms of the resources, ideas, experiences and thinking that have been shared. Traditional learning, on the other hand, is largely based on content, which has been authoritatively designed, developed and delivered by “experts”.

Anywhere, anytime, on any device
Unlike traditional learning which is only considered to happen in a classroom or in online course, hosted, delivered and managed in a LMS, learning happens anywhere, at any time and on any device – whether it be consciously or unconsciously, intentionally or accidentally. It happens when people read a document, overhear a conversation, observe a colleague at work or when they ask a question in a meeting. It happens in the canteen or coffee bar as well as in the office; in the train, in the car or on the bus. It happens on a laptop, a tablet or on a smartphone.

In order to modernize workplace learning, we therefore need to consider the following questions:

  • How can we support more autonomy in learning?
  • How can we enable shorter learning experiences?
  • How can we encourage ongoing learning?
  • How can we support learning at the point of need?
  • How can we balance the need for authoritative content and knowledge sharing?
  • How can we encourage anywhere learning?

In essence, this means TWO key things:

  1. how do we provide the things people need to know and be able to do in their jobs – but use more modern approaches to do so, and
  2. how do we enable independent approaches to personal and team learning to enhance work – bearing in mind that in this fast-moving world we can’t provide everything, everybody needs.

We might even refer to these two streams as the yin and yang of modern workplace learning! –  two complementary (rather than conflicting) learning forces.

Find out more with our resource 20 ideas to modernise workplace learning.

4 thoughts on “Small changes to make a big difference and modernise workplace learning

  1. Les

    Did you write that “learning is a continuous process…which over time builds up into a large amount of knowledge?” This is refreshing in today’s climate that seems to demonize knowledge as an end product of learning and education.

    1. Jane Hart Post author

      Build up a body of shared knowledge and experience, from which to draw on in one’s job. In an organisational context, new or improved performance is still the end goal, learning is just one means to that end.

  2. Darrin Hayes

    All of the points regarding modernizing workplace learning make sense. Yet industry regulation standards don’t always cater to autonomous learning approaches, such as in Healthcare for example. Not saying it can’t be done, but it’s not going to be easy.

    1. Jane Hart Post author

      Not all learning is regulatory, there are opportunities for supporting other learning approaches in this way. Regulatory and compliance training will follow suit later.

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