Learning and Development Need Flexibility
While watching CNN’s documentary series, “The Sixties,” recently, I began thinking about how far technology and our concept of work has advanced, yet how organizational learning and development has somehow managed to lag behind. The entire notion of work has gone from a mutual commitment that lasted a lifetime and was celebrated with a gold 25-year anniversary watch to an era of networked freelancers who may not be bound to a physical desk or any type of fixed schedule, and who seek social recognition to enhance their virtual reputation. While today’s work environment looks nothing like that that of the 1960s, the way most organizations support learning and development is tragically outdated and straight out of the industrial era.
We fool ourselves into thinking we have advanced our practices because we use 21st century technology. But we’re using that technology on antiquated, Industrial Era learning methodologies like event-based, classroom-style, one-way knowledge transfer! This is the equivalent of putting our physical classrooms in the cloud or reformatting them into a course that does the lecturing and testing on our behalf—we’re using the technology but not reforming the core principals of the activity. As a learning industry, we have to do better than this. Three main movements of the modern workforce can help get us where we need to be.
From Conformity to Creativity
Today’s fast-paced, ever-changing business world calls for employees who envision possibilities and who operate as flexible artisans, rather than Industrial Era factory workers who simply moved by rote as things came down the line. Increasingly organizations want innovative employees who are always looking for ways to change things for the better—people who seek to creatively connect people and ideas to form new solutions to the most pressing problems. Due to this reality, learning must become less conformity- and classroom-based and shift to be collaboration-centric so that it can inspire creativity and innovation. To do this, organizations must stop focusing on doling out knowledge, and instead create environments that foster inventive and productive learning through targeted dialogue and engagement with others. At the end of the day, people and possibilities must be at the core of our learning.
From Information to Wisdom
Average workers have instant access to almost unlimited sources of information today. Unfortunately, this access to information doesn’t necessarily help people learn what they need for success on the job. For that, employees need wisdom or the ability to apply knowledge acquired from others to that day’s unique business context. Wisdom is gained from other people and practitioners who can share their successes, failures and experiences to help people transform information into working insight. Static eLearning courses and traditional in-person classes provide information but struggle to help people produce resulting wisdom. To have a greater impact, learning should be based on creating context and relational connections, not just reading fixed content or attending one-time courses.
From Generalized to Personalized
One size does not fit all when it comes to learning for today’s knowledge workers. The skills and knowledge of the modern employee are often only relevant for 12 to 18 months. This means workers have to constantly keep up with new trends to stay relevant. Organizations have to help them significantly increase their speed to competency to keep up with this pace. To do this, organizations must build a learning environment that actively recommends learning opportunities (think people, learning groups, contextualized training content, and so on) that employees will need to stay relevant. In this way, learning should become more personalized, proactive and process-oriented rather than general and event-based.
Despite the huge gains and advancements made throughout modern society, we continue to structure organizational Learning and Development on paradigms that are simply no longer current, We can’t just say, “Well, this is the way we’ve always done it.” We have to push our practices to evolve. The past is a place where we can revel in nostalgia and the comfort of our memories, but as learning practitioners, we cannot let the warm, fuzzy feeling our past gives us to stifle our progress and suffocate innovation. We need to ask ourselves, “If I was trying to learn the topic at hand, would I really turn to the course I’m creating, the class I’m facilitating, or the LMS I am administering to solve my knowledge need?” I think more often than not, if we are truly and probably brutally honest with ourselves, our answer to this question is “No.” As such, we must create systems and processes that mirror the realities of our modern workforce, not the practices of days long since passed.