Why organizations need self-managed learners – and how you can help

man-475561_640In the past, individuals were trained to do their jobs once and this would last them their whole careers.  Over time, as job roles became more sophisticated or new technology or procedures were introduced, training became a full-time operation to keep people knowledgeable, skilled and up to date. But the world is now changing so fast, that despite the fact that training activities are becoming shorter and taking place in the flow of work, Training Departments can no longer provide everything everyone needs to do their job.

Today’s workplace needs employees to continually learn for themselves and stay abreast of developments in their field of work – not just through self-study but through a continuous approach to learning, e.g. in their professional networks and other social channels. Organizations need fresh thinking and fresh ideas, to ensure they continue to grow – so everyone needs to feed into their teams what they are discovering.

Whilst small organizations and new companies recognise the importance of self-managed learning and actively promote the practice – after all they don’t have big budgets to splash out on creating e-learning – larger organizations and more traditional companies have in the main not yet gone down that route. This is often is due to a fear of losing control – which accounts for the frequent cries of:

“We can’t let me people learn stuff on their own; they might learn the wrong things”
“We can’t let people share stuff; they might provide incorrect information”
“We need to track every piece of activity and everything that everyone learns in the organisation.”

Of course, in reality, many people are already learning autonomously, and sharing what they find with their colleagues, and, it is also clear they don’t want to spend time entering this activity into yet another “learning system” – that’s of course if they were even aware they had even learned something new, since learning is frequently an unconscious process. So being the Learning Police is a losing game!

There is undoubtedly a case for “training” (in some form or other) of really essential or regulatory content, and even for providing a range of self-service resources, but there is an even greater need for promoting and supporting self-managed learning. So how can this best be achieved?

Firstly, it requires organisational recognition of the importance and value of self-managed learning, as well as the different ways that it might take place. There will also be the opportunity for new job roles – e.g. Workplace Learning Advisors (WLAs) – who will be able to help those for whom this is a new way of learning (especially if they have become too reliant on corporate “spoon-feeding”) – by working on the ground with individuals and teams, and modelling the new learning behaviours, in order to…

  • help individuals find things they need to address ad hoc learning or performance problems, in the formats that best suit them – e.g. via a learning concierge service
  • help individuals build goal-oriented independent learning plans and portfolios – that include and evidence self-managed learning (through formal or informal means)
  • help individuals develop the new digital learning (aka PKM) skills as well as team (sharing) skills – “to bring the outside in” and share workplace experiences
  • provide guidance through individual self-paced challenges or guided social learning experiences
  • coordinate a continuing series of (employee-led) activities, like lunch ‘n’ learns, online chats, etc – within a more relaxed, physical or online “learning lounge” – rather than a classroom
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Jane Hart

Founder at C4LPT
Jane Hart is an independent workplace learning advisor, writer and international speaker. She is the Founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies. Her recent book Modern Workplace Learning: A Resource Book for L&D is now available, which she supports with a range of online workshops. Find out more about Jane at JaneHart.com.

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