Organisations often plan learning carefully around needs, provide formal interventions and then look at how well the learning is applied. But that’s not the only model: sometimes i’m curious, i reach out into my community and resource sites, i learn socially and i create a foundation. Sometimes i learn by accident, am helped by my tribe and bank that learning for later (or apply it immediately. Are you just focussed on the first model? Have you thought what you’re missing out on?
This simple diagram just captured my thoughts in three columns: how we come to the learning, how we learn and what we do with it. Whilst formal organisational learning is all about planning and application, so much of what we learn ourselves is informal, social, driven by curiosity or even by accident. I guess the value lies in understanding all of these things and thinking what we can use to inform or strengthen our own learning design and application.
How we get to learning? Through curiosity, need, by planning or by accident. I was thinking how much i learn by accident. I read things and get unexpected insights, or learn something i didn’t expect. I’m curious so i click for more. Or read further. Or ask someone (as yesterday when i asked and learnt so much). Sometimes my learning is needs driven, much organisational learning falls into this space, certainly in terms of performance support, and it’s often well planned.
The kinds of support i need in both these cases differs widely: for accidental or spontaneous learning, it’s my ability to find out more that counts. I use sources such as Wikipedia, which may not be validated or entirely reliable, but fill that burning need for ‘more, more, more‘ information, now. I click on links to follow things up, i ask questions through my social channels, i skim resources. Contrast that with planned or needs driven learning, within organisations, where we often obsess with crafting one story extremely well, down to the finest detail. Accuracy is everything in this context.
Why am i thinking about this? Because a holistic learning design, certainly a social learning culture should take this into account. We need to understand how people learn (and how they come to learning) in the real world (the informal learning that happens everyday, the social learning that surrounds the organisation, not the formal, abstract, once a quarter type of learning).
When we get to the learning itself, it can be formal (courses, workshops, e-learning) or informal (ask Fred). Tribal learning. And, of course, it’s surrounded by social layers, social learning being the ways that we create meaning within our communities, around the formal story.
Organisations need to provide space for this, but also to recognise that much of this will go on outside of organisational spaces and outside of formal control. That doesn’t make it less valid.
And once we’ve learnt, what we do with it? Sometimes we apply it right away (the hope and dream of every L&D department), but sometime we bank it, we use it as a foundation for future learning. Why is this important? It highlights the importance of great learning diagnostics: if the foundations are there, our job is less to impart knowledge, more to support learners in finding the foundations they already have. That’s what happened for me yesterday, Lilian prompted me to join up two things that i hadn’t considered as related. She didn’t ‘teach‘ me, but she let me spot the foundations.
My learning yesterday was driven by curiosity, informal and let to building upon existing foundations, three things that rarely occur in formal learning design: and yet here i am now, sharing it.
There is more to learning that textbooks and workshops. There will always be a place for formal learning, but it empowers us greatly to understand the ways that people come to learning and the things they take out of it, as well as the simple ways that we learn.
Here’s a summary and some questions to ask to see if your organisation is aligned with this: