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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Work at Learning, Learning at Work

Manish Mohan is helping to create a Working/Learning blog carnival. I think it was originally created by Dave at Dave's Whiteboard and then Manish agreed to host the April edition. You can read about the definition and thought behind a blog carnival at Dave's blog.

So, here are my thoughts on "Work at Learning, Learning at Work"

There is a mistake that most people make. They think learning should be easy, simple and straightforward. In my experience, it is anything but...

To truly learn something one must exert effort, work up a mental sweat and slog through information and data and try again and again until the information is learned. Think back to learning the multiplication tables or even the alphabet or a new language.

A work hard and try-try-again approach is the exact opposite of how learning is done in most corporations. Most often, the employee is sent to a one or two day session and then expected, at the end of that session, to know everything they need to know with no additional training required. Even a few weeks later if the employee has a question the boss will say "didn't you just go to training for that?" There seems to be a perception at work that learning only takes a one time exposure to the topic.

This is simply not the case. Learning is a process. Learning at work requires an effort, a mental sweat and time for reflection. Does that happen in most workplace educational events...not in my experience. Even e-learning is a one and done.

In fact e-learning is seen as task that the learner/employee should attempt to speed through as quickly as possible. I once evaluated a web-based compliance training course at a financial-related company. The reason for the evaluation was because an employee had done something wrong and caused a federal investigation into the non-compliant event. I investigated the effectiveness of the training course and found the average amount of time employees spent in the e-learning course was 12 minutes. So once a year, for 12 minutes the employees received information on what not to do and it was expected that those 12 minutes would be enough to ensure compliance. Obviously, it wasn't.

Learning at work requires work to learn. Becoming an expert or seasoned employee or even a contributing employee requires work to learn new technologies, new regulations. It requires work to learn about the application of information to new problems. It takes work to learn how to stay up on new concepts and ideas in the field. It takes work to learn to be a manager, supervisor or any other leader of people.

Employees need to work at learning and companies need to allow employees to learn at work. In the long run, it benefits everyone.

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Anonymous said...

Very well said Prof Kapp :)

Anonymous said...

Karl, a fine antidote to the notion that learning ought to be "fun."

I put "fun" in quote marks not because I think learning should be painful, but because I think it's easy to confuse "fun" with "satisfying."

Take your example of learning a language. Imagine that as you learned, you had the chance to read, write, hear, and speak that language. The click of comprehension, the argh of needing a new word, the tentative testing of that word -- these are part of the "working at learning."

And we know how that learning gets integrated: relevance, practice, support systems, feedback. Not CEUs or smile sheets.

As you point out, most compliance training follows the dosage model; it's what Joe Harless called sheep dip.

Anonymous said...

Being willing to work at it generally means you have to want it, you have to have the will to learn. Not to be overly cynical, but I think most workplaces drain employees of the will to learn.

I think learning a language is great example, because anyone who has ever tried knows that, up to a certain point (which varies greatly from person to person), it tends not to be all that difficult. But then you reach that first plateau, which to advance beyond requires tremendous effort. That's where most language learners give up. The effort seems greater than whatever personal satisfaction they believe they will gain.

I suspect for most employees, in most workplaces, the situation is not dissimilar.

(Gee, I guess I did turn into a cynic somewhere in there!)

Great post, Karl. - Jeff

Anonymous said...

It's a very relevant point that you are making, Karl. eLearning designers often forget the fact that learning is a process and not a one time event. As a result, the focus is on creating an engaging 20-minute module as opposed to designing content or interactions that can work as triggers for further reflection and study. Learning is not fun, it's a struggle. Probably the fun lies in grappling with this struggle.

I have written on this topic in one of my earlier posts: