Journal articles and blog posts related to L&D seem fairly uniform in their advice that L&D departments should find non-training ways to support learning. Here’s some of what we’re hearing: use the power of social learning; show your work; give performance support; leverage internet resources; design “courses” only as a last resort.
All of this is good advice, but workable only if underlying assumptions are true. And one of the underlying assumptions here is that people are ready to engage with these kinds of learning strategies if we will just get out of the way. Some people surely are. But many are not, and they need something more from us.
Ryan Tracey, in a blog post a few months ago, called out this “inconvenient truth” by saying, “they are not like us.” His point was that we know from our experience that many employees do not participate in these new venues; they are not exporing MOOCs, building a network on Twitter, or developing their internet search skills. Many don’t have the time or inclination; some prefer formal training; but many more are just not quite sure how to engage this way.
The 2014 learning culture study* from the Corporate Executive Board’s Learning & Development arm underscores the issue with the provocative finding that only 20% of employees are effective learners. So just getting employees to participate in new venues isn’t enough; we need to help them engage effectively.
CEB recommends that learning leaders focus on creating a productive learning culture, and their advice dovetails quite nicely with the learning environment design framework that I have been advocating. Among their conclusions, CEB researchers suggest that L&D should focus on narrowing the resources available to the most relevant few (curate), building learning capability, and promoting a supportive environment in which people share and help one another to learn.
L&D professionals too often feel on the sidelines when it comes to fostering a learning culture. “Culture” is a tough nut to crack, strongly influenced by long history and difficult to counter if a shift in culture is needed.
But I would submit that designers and learning leaders already have in their skill sets the raw tools needed to build the learning capability necessary for a strong learning culture. The key is to turn our talents taward quietly helping people in our organizations to learn new ways to learn – to develop personal learning habits that may not have been a part of their education or learning strategies to this point.
Here are six tools we can turn to the task of developing leanring culture:
Curation – Studies have shown that too much choice often leads to frustration and decision paralysis. We can help to point out the best resources for our learners.
Contextualization – If the relevance and usefulness of resources isn’t obvious, we can help to show the way by providing additional background and advice along with links.
Relationship-building – We can work to ensure that formal training efforts build employees’ developmental networks at the same time. Helping learners to connect with experts, with like-minded peers, and with others who can support their growth and development is one of those gifts that keeps on giving.
Scaffolding – We can help people learn to use tools by scaffolding the learning process both within formal events and beyond. We’ve been doing this with blended solutions for years; we can take it to the next level by consistently walking people through a learning process that includes accessing resources, learning, reflection, practice, feedback, and more.
Mapping – Even with good curation, learners often need a lttle guidance in organizing a developmental plan. We can apply our skill at sequencing to give simple direction on which resouces and activities to tackle first and how to effectively build knowledge and skill over time.
Assembling – As a final contribution, we can make resources and activities accessible in a visually pleasing and intuitively useful portal. That way, employees aren’t spending so much time wading through a mess of links and files.
Lest you think that your design skills will be going to waste in 21st century learning cultures, rest assured that they are more valuable than ever. In our history as a field of practice, L&D professionals have learned quite a bit about how to support learning, and this knowledge can be applied to support our learners in new ways.
If you find these ideas intriguing, you may be interested in reading more about Learning Environment Design, or in attending my online Learning Ecosystems course, coming up in the Guild Academy beginning September 9. Or plan to attend the blended version of the course in advance of the Learning Solutions conference in Orlando in March of 2015.
* You can access information about the 2014 Corporate Executive Board study by downloading the 3Q Learning Quarterly, or checking out these blog posts:
> Three Shifts Every Company Should Make to Shape its Learning Culture
> More Learning Through Less Learning: Reframing Learning Culture.
Of course, if you are lucky enough to have CEB membership, you can get a copy of the entire study.