It’s not learning. That’s a problem for L&D and organisations


The number one way in which people learn at work is not perceived by employees and senior business leaders as learning, which is a problem for learning and development.

This is not news to L&D teams but it is an issue that goes to the heart of helping L&D teams change from being seen as providers of courses and mandatory training to enablers of creativity, innovation, learning, performance and ultimately a successful, learning organisation.

This week I facilitated a discussion on social learning technologies as a part of the Modern Learning Leader programme run by Sukh Pabial. My opening gambit was to ask where learning is taking place already in organisations. As all L&D professionals know, it is taking place in a vast number of ways that occur in the daily routine of work, including meetings, conversations, asking questions (online and face-to-face), asking for help, Googling stuff… The list goes on. None of these activities are mandated by the L&D team. And most of these activities are not seen as ‘learning’ by employees or senior leaders.

And that’s the challenge. Knowing this, what is L&D to do?

The answer is to reeducate the business. Do you consider your role to be one of reeducating the business about what learning at work looks like in 2019? If not, I think you should consider that an important part of your role and mission.

Deloitte’s latest human capital report shows that the need to improve learning is the top trend, with 10% of respondents saying they are very ready to address it. The report warns, “Organizations must work to instill an end-to-end cultural focus on learning, from the top of the organization to its bottom, if they want to meet the talent challenges that lie ahead.”

To shift away from how L&D has worked for the last 50 years requires organisations to understand how learning happens at work. A huge amount of learning happens on the job. The problem is that it can’t be ‘seen’ in the way course attendance can be seen, so organisations can’t quantify it . . . and then we are into the whole ROI trope.

So rather than trying to think about approaches to learning and how to ‘implement them’ – such as social learning – the real prize here is to help shift understanding of what constitutes learning at work.

This will challenge senior leaders and it might well challenge all employees, especially those who enjoy going on courses and perceive learning to be something that is formal. It will certainly challenge L&D teams as it could raise concerns about what it is they are there to provide for the organisation.

But this reeducation has to happen. Organisations need to shift their thinking and employees need to understand what constitutes learning and development at work in 2019.

Once this thinking and reeducation has been done, then L&D has the foundations for transforming what it does and how it does it. This is especially important as technology changes they way L&D operates and changes the way jobs are done.

There’s also something very compelling here in terms of raising the profile of L&D within the business. Engaging senior leaders with this thinking will do two things. Firstly, it will help build credibility. Secondly, it will help start the process of reimagining what learning at work should look like and how its impact should be measured.

This is not just a rebranding exercise, although there is a huge communications element to all of it. No, this is an exploration of something fundamental to organisations, and that is: What is learning at work?

Is it time to have that conversation in your organisation?


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