Is lifelong learning on the agenda for L&D?


Take a look at any learning trends article for the year ahead and there will feature plenty on learners doing it for themselves: putting learning in the hands of the learner, personalisation etc.

No one would argue against this trend towards learners managing their own learning – we all know that’s how we learn best (i.e. when we need to find something out in order to help us do something) and that this process of self-manangement shapes the most efficient ways of providing relevant materials and support – generally at the point of need.

So if learners are taking more control of their learning, and over a period of time and across multiple roles (potentially), they are in effect ‘lifelong learners’. As Wikipedia puts it: ‘Lifelong learning is the ongoing, voluntary and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge.’

This is nothing new – at a basic level humans continue to learn throughout their lives – just read The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain by Barbara Strauch to see how effective the aging brain can be.

But from a corporate learning perspective, treating colleagues as lifelong learners might change the game. We might find it easier to articulate learning, it would help get around the processes we have built around learning needs and it might sweep away the cost of learning and personality diagnostics.

But it would be challenging. It would mean trusting learners a lot more, accepting they might move on more quickly to further their skills and experience. It would mean accepting the L&D team is not the subject expert. It would mean a rethink of the learning function.

It will be interesting to hear what Professor Stephen Heppell has to say on the subject at the Learning Technologies 2013 conference. In the promotion for his talk on day one he is quoted as saying:

Lifelong learning was an educational mantra of the previous decade that seems to have evaporated under austerity. The idea that we encourage people to learn their whole lives is an excellent one. But it does not require extensive infrastructure for adult education, although that may be very valuable for other reasons. Instead, it demands something more difficult: a culture that supports learning, and the right start for all our learners.

No one would argue that the idea of lifelong learning is an excellent one. The question is: does L&D see that as its role – to enable colleagues to keep learning, questioning, trying new things out to help develop themselves and the organisations they work in?

I’m sure most L&D professionals do see that as their role – whether or not that’s what the day job looks like currently is another matter.

[Picture credit: Pepo]


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