By Sara Harrup
Learning has changed. Ten years ago if you wanted to learn something new you went to university, a private college or TAFE, or booked yourself into a short course. You might have dabbled in a bit of online learning, depending on the size of your organisation and its emphasis on staff development. You may have wandered down to a bookstore and browsed through their educational books to see if anything fit with your aspirations. You might have held a magazine subscription.
Things have changed dramatically in the last ten years. Thanks to the prevalence of the handheld device, the smartphone and tablet, learning has become a deeply embedded and personal experience which is completely responsive to the needs of the learner. Entire university courses can be found on social media platforms like YouTube and iTunes. There are webinars to access, blogs to subscribe to, online learning courses to engage in, videos to watch, podcasts to listen to and plain and simple answers to just about any question you want to ask courtesy of Google and other search engines.
You can learn anywhere! You learn about what interests you and what will be of use to you. You often learn in small chunks which fit well with your attention span. Your learning is completely self-directed. It’s fantastic! The learning is meaningful so it sticks and becomes something you can try out during the course of your work. The best part is the vast majority of it is free or low cost.
With the changes in how, where and why we learn, it’s interesting to consider whether the workplace has kept up. Once upon a time, if you were lucky to work for an organisation that had a learning and development budget, you found a course you were interested in, proved to your manager that it would directly improve the work you were doing, got a signature and off you went. You came back from a few days away full of praise for the course and possibly applied 2% of it, got caught up back in the day to day grind of work and promptly forgot the other 98%.
Many organisations still feel this is the only type of legitimate learning and that engaging in our modern way of self-directed education is not appropriate. Large organisations that sport a learning and organisational development department dedicated to the ongoing development of staff are fortunate to espouse learning in their culture. Many of the small organisations seem to be falling more and more behind.
So what does an organisation truly committed to flexible and responsive learning and development look like? Here are a few cues!
- Each staff member is enabled to identify learning opportunities which are responsive to their needs.
- No one is “sent” on a course to fix issues that could be dealt with by appropriate in house mentoring, coaching and performance management.
- There is a quiet and private space dedicated to learning with a webinar enabled computer and a tablet or IPad.
- Staff are allowed to spend regular time engaging in webinars, android and iPad applications, online learning, podcasts, reading online journals and researching new subject matter.
- Value is placed on peer to peer learning. Even if an organization only has a handful of staff, the collective knowledge and expertise can be harnessed and shared in a formal and informal way. Peer to peer learning can be formal or informal.
- Learning does not stop the further up the corporate ladder you go. The CEO or senior executive team can be seen engaging in learning as often as the other staff. Learning is considered a highly legitimate use of time.
- The staff’s learning may be unstructured or there may be themes. For example, if the organization is currently reviewing its customer relationship management processes, staff may focus their efforts on researching current processes and data management.
- The organisation has a “no blame” policy. That is, if an error is made, the focus is on taking any corrective action needed and learning from the error, but not blaming individuals. This sort of culture can promote transparency around mistakes, where people are open and actively report errors, as there is no fear of recrimination. It’s not uncommon to see this policy in airlines where hiding mistakes could lead to safety issues for the public.
If you are part of a small organisation that has fallen behind, you could hold a meeting and discuss your learning strategy, create a working group and a project plan. You might get something off the ground sometime in the next year. Or…you could just start to dabble. Keep it informal at first. Consider it a trial. See whether the dabbling has any impact and then formalize it if you need to.
About Sara: Sara Harrup is a Cause & Effective Associate and a highly experienced not for profit Senior Executive and Board Member.