Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The State of Learning in the Workplace Today

I've just scrambled into Jane Hart's session about the state of learning in the workplace today. This is a guide in soundbites and images and is a way to summarise the excellent guide on Jane's website that a lot of us have already seen. I'm a self-confessed fan of the incredible thinking that the Internet Time Alliance put out, so I am sitting through the session even though I already comprehend the material.

The traditional approach to workplace learning has been about managing and controlling the learning experience, keeping it really top down. There are 10 factors that are shaping the new era of workplace learning.

The 10 Factors

1. Recognition that informal learning is a key part of workplace learning
 In Jay's words, it's not all about classes and courses. "Informal learners usually set their own learning objectives. They learn when they feel a need to know. The proof of their learning is their ability to do something they could not do before". As Harold Jarche says, "Work is learning, learning work." The big folly of a lot of thinking is that several people are talking about formalising informal learning and they're just missing the point because then it doesn't remain informal anymore. As you may remember from one of my recent blogposts, Charles Jennings is a big proponent of the 70-20-10 thinking.

2. There are deficiencies in the formal learning model
Most formal learning is content heavy and interaction poor. It provides little opportunity for practice in context and for reflection. In other words, a large amount of formal learning is a cost rather than a benefit. There's an inherent inertia in formal learning approaches. It takes time and effort to design, develop and deliver learning content. Speed-to-competence is always a compromise.

3. Social media is having a big impact in the workplace
Jane runs an activity to evaluate the top 100 tools for learning each year and this year, the top 9 tools are all social tools, which shows a huge impact of social media to drive learning. This is a huge shift which we need to be aware of and catch up with.

4. Increasing consumerisation of IT
Enterprise systems are lagging behind, so people are using their own tools and devices. L&D isn't quick to respond to people's needs so people just help themselves. Individuals easily use familiar tools and they have their ways to circumvent ways to block their access to such resources.

5. Merging of personal, working and learning tools
The usual criticism of a lot of social media is that these aren't learning tools. This is the coolness of the phenomenon, where work, learning and personal life are converging in a very special way.

6. Individuals are doing their own thing
People are going to Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook to tap into their social network to learn whether you have an LMS or not. Since the L&D department isn't as fast and the knowledge is out their, people are learning outside the learning department. So there is the top down training that exists, but there's the larger share of the pie which is about working and learning where things are really bottom up where people are using social media to learn with each other.

The idea is to avoid the word "learning" and to move towards "working smarter". "The only people who can own social learning are the individuals who thmeselves are learning each day from one another, based on the work and in the flow of work." - Marcia Conner

7. Autonomy has a powerful effect on individual performance and attitude

The opposite of autonomy is control. We need to give people autonomy to manage their own learning, because that leads to total engagement.

8. Today's learning systems are not appropriate for the new era of workplace learning.
There's a huge problem with the current (or really the past) era of learning systems. The Great LMS Debate has thrown a lot of light on this issue. We need to integrate learning into work instead of putting it away in a system where it becomes nothing more than an information refrigerator. We need to find a way to integrate learning into our collaboration platforms.

9. The changing learning landscape is part of a much wider changing business environment
We need a new paradigm for getting things done and for empowering a new breed of employee that does not function well in a heirarchal top down, highly controlled environment - Michael Lascette. Clark Quinn has talked about this here.

10. Senior decision makers think there's a need for change in L&D
Most leadership respondents have mentioned that their L&D function is slow to respond, that they're stuck in business as usual and that they lack confidence in their L&D strategy. The fact is that if your CEO doesn't believe you make a difference, there will be a time you'll get cut one way or the other.

We need a shift

The ITA has been talking a lot about the shift to collaborative learning in the workplace as you'll notice from the above diagram. Jane is giving out three practical steps towards the new era of workplace learning:
  1. We need to encourage people and support individuals and teams to address their own learning and performance problems. We need to let go, give up control and move into creating the context for learning instead of having a huge focus purely on content. An easy way to do this is to ensure that we don't ban social media in the enterprise. Jane has an article about why you shouldn't ban social media - she has 10 reasons for you! People are doing their own thing to learn anyways, so blocking them means blocking their growth.
  2. Provide performance consulting services. We need to do training only when we've addressed other barriers to performance. The tools are secondary to the purpose that you're approaching. Harold Jarche has written an awesome article about how you need to approach problems with a consulting mindset than with a training mindset. Only a lack of skills and knowledge warrants training.
  3. We need to provide advice on appropriate tools and systems. To move from a point of top down control to a point of bottom up control, we need a way to be able to facilitate it through technology. We need an LMS to do the formal stuff, but we need to focus on the 70% and 20% of the 70-20-10 pie to ensure we're making the biggest impact.

This is a pretty cool wrap up of the stuff the ITA often talks about. Liked the summary and the fact that most of the alliance was around. It was fun meeting Jane and Harold in person for the first time.

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