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Learning at Work Week: Lifelong Learning

My late father-in-law, whenever he discovered something new or succeeded in solving a problem, used to announce, “Every day’s a school day”.

I guess he grasped the concept of lifelong learning well before it become a buzzword.
In the light of this, and whilst I absolutely support the need to keep the importance of learning in the pubic eye, it does seem a little odd to identify this as ‘Learning at Work Week’. Isn’t every working week a learning week? Isn’t the workplace somewhere where learning should be continuous, valued and promoted not just by learning professionals but by leaders, managers, innovators and team members as a vital part of their organisational growth and development?
One of the advantages of this PR campaign is that places the emphasis on learning at work, rather than training. I have a sense that organisational thinking is beginning to shift as the world in which we live and learn is changing. The role of the expert trainer is diminishing in a data and knowledge rich world in which ‘expertise’ can be summoned in seconds via a video or a podcast. Learners increasingly expect to learn when they have an immediate need, so pre-programmed, specific workshops on skills that learners may or not feel are relevant are becoming increasingly difficult to fill.
Neuroscience is teaching us more about how people learn and is suggesting that many of the things that workplace learning has been doing until very recently are counterp-productive. For example, packing more and more content into ever-shorter programmes doesn't work. Ignoring past and current learner experience in order to ‘present’ training content doesn’t work. The level of retention and transfer of learning from training programmes is abysmal – bringing into question much of the investment that is made in traditional learning and development.
In contrast, some simple things do work.

  • Paying attention and being fully engaged in a learning experience – which will only happen if it is learner-centred and more likely to happen if it is problem-based
  • Making the learning generative – connecting to the learner’s own experience and allowing assimilation of new learning into old mind-sets
  • Recognising the importance of powerful emotional responses to learning: exploring and strengthening the emotional aspects of a learning experience aids both retention and meaning making.
  • Spacing learning – building time for conscious and unconscious reflection and valuing review and debriefing as an important part of ‘closing’ any task or learning experience before moving on to the next.

None of these are things that require programmes or training events or on-line learning modules. All of these can happen moment by moment, built into everyday working activity and supported throughout projects, included in meetings and encouraged in future planning. It shouldn’t take a ‘Learning at Work Week’ to encourage Project Managers to build learning reviews into every stage of their project plan. It doesn’t need special skills for a leader to have a ten minute coaching conversation with a team member who asks a
question, rather than supplying an immediate answer.
I hope that those involved with “Learning at Work Week’ are out and about in their organisations, identifying learning happening all the time and everywhere. And if the evidence is thin – let’s do something about it! A real focus on learning can transform organisations for the better. Leadership and learning are so tightly interwoven every leader should have some expertise and understanding about how people learn, how to create learning environments and how to sustain self-managed learning.
Do your managers and leaders understand the power of becoming ‘learning leaders’ in both senses of this phrase? If not, contact us at RSVP Design and we can help them to find out.

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