Workplace learning is a complex and messy business - full of expectations, constraints and opportunities. Workplace learning needs to fit into the organisations daily work flow but not necessarily become invisible. It needs to be relevant and timely. It needs to incorporate formal learning so that the ‘right’ skills, knowledge and work practices are being developed (by right I mean the skills, knowledge and work practices the organisation needs); and informal learning so that the social/community/peer-to peer -earning is recognised and leveraged. Workplace learning needs to deliver on the organisations expectations = capability is improved, return on investment is achieved. It also needs to deliver on the individual participants’ expectations – helping them improve the work they do as well supporting them in their career aspirations.
Great workplace learning makes an invaluable contribution to organisational success – not only does it improve capability in relation to the job in hand, it also improves the organisation’s flexibility and knowledge management.all Workplace learning is an exciting and rewarding profession to be involved with – designing and delivering learning programs that helps both the organisation and its people to achieve their goals is a real buzz. It can also be challenging and frustrating.
Other challenges can include being asked to pull a magic rabbit out of the hat e.g. ‘we’ve known about this issue for a while now – all our people need training – next week if you can manage it and make sure it doesn’t take too long please’. Sometimes the walk and the talk don’t really line up - ‘we really believe in the value of learning and development but we can’t afford to take our people offline to do any training (either face-2-face or eLearning); in fact we’d really like to make it their responsibility to do their learning in their own time’ J Sometimes it’s because managers default to L&D as the magic silver bullet e.g. got a performance management issue? Get L&D to fix it! :)
Workplace learning can also bend some of the adult learning principles we hold close to our heart out of shape.
For example: Adult learners are self-directed and make their own learning decisions, right? Not always...
Yet this is one of the cardinal principles of adult learning. And it makes sense - as we grow up we become increasingly autonomous and get to make our own decisions about what we want to do when we grow up. Once you leave the compulsory learning environment of school there is an exhilarating sense of freedom - at last, you think to yourself, I am now the mistress/master of my own destiny! :). At some point you end up in the workforce, (hopefully doing something you like). Even though we know we need to adapt ourselves to the organisation we work for, we bring our adult identity with us including the belief that we are fully formed human beings, skilled & knowledgeable, able to make our own decisions. Then your employer decides that their workforce (you) need to do an L&D program. I’m not talking so much about compliance training e.g. annual refreshers on topics like health and safety, conflict of interest or equal employment opportunities that are a legislative requirement of the organisation. I’m talking more about the L&D programs that are put in place to address a workforce capability issue or a change initiative or to professionalise the workforce. And then they decide to make attendance mandatory. Now it gets interesting. There can be a wide range of reactions from...
Great, I love to learn'
'OK, I already know this topic but I’m open to the possibility of learning something new'
'Friggin hell, they're wasting my time - how rude, do they think I'm incompetent or what?
This decision has additional implications like the need to make sure that everyone in the target group has booked into the L&D program (= no-one is hiding behind the door hoping they won’t be noticed), that they have put it in their calendars (so they turn up), that their managers and team leaders are supporting the L&D so you avoid things like…suddenly Caroline can’t do the L&D program because her team leader thinks it’s more important for her to be doing ‘real work’. And of course just attending isn’t enough, even though attendance is mandatory your participants still need to be active learners.
‘No John, you can’t just sit at the back of the room and check your emails.
Yes, Mary, you do need to successfully complete that eLearning program.
Pretty much all of my work in workplace learning over the last 20 years has been in the world of organisationally-decided learning and development. And I've gotten pretty comfortable with the idea that it’s OK for organisations to make these kind of L&D decisions even though it goes against certain adult learning principles – they are looking at it from a big picture and positioning perspective; they are seeking to manage their knowledge and set the organisation up for success.
In the land of compulsory L&D I think there is an even greater responsibility to design and deliver great learning experiences that shows respect for our captive audience. Even though they didn’t decide about their participation, the moment they come into the L&D program (whether its face-2-face, online or blended) we need to engage them to become self-directed as quickly as possible. The best way to do this is to design fantastic learning that surprises even the most sceptical and experienced workers into learning.
It’s all about respect.
Everyone wants to feel that their professional identity, their skills and knowledge, is valued. Show respect by engaging the right subject matter experts (internally and externally if the budget allows) to work with you on the learning program. This includes the delivery of the learning as much as the development of the content. Think about whether they have the L&D/facilitation skills to do a good job teaching the people or whether the learners will have a better experience if you co-facilitate with them. But either way, don’t try and do it on your own (unless you are the subject matter expert of course) – you simply won’t have the nuanced understanding that your target group needs (I have seen L&D folk try to do this and it didn’t go very well). Street cred gives and gets respect. Remember that your learners will need to be able to put their learning into practice on the job.
Respect the wisdom in the room and know that not all the wisdom is in the room (otherwise why are we there?).
You can also speak to the compulsory learning elephant in the room – the reason why, how the program has been designed, the participants role in the learning. What you want to do is to help the participants to make it OK for themselves to be there, i.e. help them manage their professional identity. And you want to tap into their desire to be good at the work. For examples, sometimes I’ll talk about reflective practice and link it to other professions like musicians, artists and sportspeople who are successful because they are continuously working on their craft - they will practice 6-8 hours a day, continue to have lessons &/or be coached and seek feedback from their peers and colleagues. Sometimes I’ll talk about perfection's non-existence, by definition perfection is an unachievable aspiration = there is always room for improvement. We can’t force our participants to change their mind but we can open up new ways of thinking about compulsory learning and development.
Some other tips:
Adult learners are self directed and make their own learning decisions – not always, and that’s OK
I’d love to hear about how you deal with your compulsory learning elephant.