Where did you learn the things that have helped you the most? For most the answer is at work. An unintended consequence of 'the learning organisation' is the formalisation of work place learning. Organisational leaders need to unleash capability and once again put the learner in control of learning through recognising and valuing informal learning.
There is an old English saying, 'You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make them drink'. The same is true for education, you can teach a person but you cannot make them learn.
The problem is that while learning organisations have shown the value of learning it has made learning a management tool rather than a tool of self development. The direction of learning is therefore being set by managers who also want to assess learning to ensure value for money. The focus is on teaching a skill and not on improving productivity.
In formal situations learning is the end in itself whereas in informal situations learning is the means to the end the real outcome is improvement in workplace effectiveness
Organisational leaders need to replicate the actions of Hans Mondermann, an engineer who removed road signs from cities which resulted in drivers taking greater responsibility for road safety and a decrease in traffic accidents. Without being told what to learn and when learners will take self responsibility and engage with their work.
Informal learning is how humans interact with their world, it is what enables the individual to understand and make improvements to the world around them. What we learn at work is able to be integrated into our actions and improve work place effectiveness.
To have work environments where employees are able to actively and deliberately chose what they need to learn and then be able to choose when and how they will access the information.
In order to achieve this organisational leaders need to ensure that their employees know how to learn and have access to the information they need and then leaders should get out of the way and let human behaviour occur.
For leaders this means they must;
- role model and reinforce informal learning
- provide the resources for their employees to learn.
- make their expectations clear and stay focused on performance outcomes rather than assessment of skill acquisition out of context of performance.
For employees this means they must;
- know their learning style.
- be proactive and pull the learning when they need it.
- be clear about what is expected of them at work.
- engage with colleagues and reflect on how they are meeting expected targets
Organisations will need to support workers learn how to learn and ensure that employees are able to access the information they require. This may be through
- opening up internet access to all employees,
- setting up organisational discussion groups,
- It may also mean enabling employees to talk to colleagues in other organisations, and industries to find out how they do their work.
- development of on-line learning resources that employees can access when they want.
- having resources so those employees who want to be able to coach and support other employees can access the skills they need.
To provide a practical example of how this works I have outline how company orientation would occur in an organisation that values informal learning.
Prior to their actual start date new employees would be given access to the company intra-net so they can begin the journey of discovery about their organisations policies procedures structures future direction, etc. This intra-net would also include:
- welcome to new employee section that contained questionnaires to assist the employee find out how they learn best and provide practical learning techniques for them to learn.
- direct them to any on-line discussion groups that are related to the work they will be doing. If they choose they can begin to introduce themselves to their colleagues in an informal way and also learn about who are the experts at work and what are the issues that people are trying to solve.
- provide an online tour of the organisation they are joining
On the employees first days the organisational leader will:
- Talk about their own learning style and how they use that knowledge to improve the work they do. Discuss with the employee their personal learning style and how they will be able to use that to support the work they will be doing. If the new employee does not yet know their learning style direct them to resources that may assist.
- Find something that the employee can teach them. Value the new knowledge the employee is bringing into the workplace.
- Provide clear performance expectations and check that there are resources available to meet those expectations. One of those resources may be skill acquisition. How that skill will be learnt will be up to the employee.
Company Orientation would no longer be a parade of people and information to meet a predetermined set of objectives instead it will become a journey of group discovery and:
- Begin with getting employees to introduce themselves and then in groups to talk about what they already have learnt about the organisation and what questions they still have. Others new employees in the room may either know the answer to those questions or know where to get it?
- Provide time for the new employees to find out the answers to the questions they do not collectively know the answer too. This may be through interviewing organisational leaders, visiting different parts of the organisation, searching the intranet, or internet.
- Include organisational leaders telling stories about how they learn and how that impacts their personal development and growth as well as the bottom line.
- Time to reflect on what has been learnt. This session will be lead by the organisational leaders and enable discuss on further questions new employees have they might go to find the answers they need. The important thing for leaders is to make informal learning important not for itself but for how it improves workplace productivity.
Such an orientation enables employees to recognise that informal learning is valued in the organisation as well as finding out the information they need at that time. It should also enable them to of learnt some skills to access other information when they need it.
The practical impact of this is that organisaitons will be able to unleash capability as informal learning takes the work out of work and creates a greater sense of community and citizenship in the workplace because
- Employees with a greater sense of control over their work as they are able to deliberately access what they need to improve the way they work.
- Managers will be able to focus on performance improvement as learning will be integrated into the way work occurs
- Measurement of learning will be through improved effectiveness at work. Learning becomes a means to an ends rather than the end itself.
Less time will be wasted on formal learning programmes that wont improve productivity. The employee will be able to pull down the learning rather than it being pushed on them.
No fanfare. No celebration of a 'new' learning programme.
The first steps for organisational leaders is to:
- Learn how to learn so they can discuss how they learn with their direct reports and begin to tell stories ato illustrate the concept of informal learning
- Focus on giving their employees clarity on what performance outcomes they expect
- Stop sending people on training programme
- Stop measuring training as an outcome in itself
The first steps for Training departments and Human Resource departments is to
- To develop resources that employees can pull down when required. To begin these will be tools on learning styles and how to access information. It might also include tools on how to coach and support each other.
- To implement the induction programme as outlined in this hack
The first steps for Employees/Learners
- To learn how to learn and what their preferred learning style is
- To become proactive and pull down learning resources when they are required
- To stop assuming that the only valuable training is formal training.
Jay Cross author of Informal Learning, rediscovering the natural pathways that inspire innovation and performance
Albert Bandura Social learning theories
Peter Senge The learning organisation concepts