Workplace learning: we’re in this together

A while back, George Siemens wrote a post, Questions I’m No Longer Asking. I like the title, and the post even more–because the heart of the post is what he believes about learning, and it’s from that viewpoint that he talks about questions that don’t interest him any more.

(Example: “How can educations implement [whatever tool] into their teaching?  Simple: do it.”)

Siemens lists several points that he’s firmly convinced of.  I read them with an eye toward what I believe in terms of learning in the workplace.  I think several of them are essential to an organization’s ability to effective encourage work-related learning.

No, that’s not the most felicitious phrase I’ve ever written.  It’s apropos, though, because of how I see the way most people earn their living.

Collaborating (and learning together)Ideally, the workplace is a for-hire alliance.  Whosis, Incorporated (or, for some, the Department of Whosis) wants to get things done and will pay people to help do them.  Individuals presumably want to get paid and possibly have some interest in the things Whosis does.

So there’s a partnership.  And the give-and-take of that partnership extends to work-related learning.

You as an individual need the opportunity, support, resources, and systems to get better at what you do or what you’d like to do, while Whosis needs people who are more and more effective at achieving results that Whosis values.

What does that mean in terms of some of Siemens’s points?  I want to take up this one:

Learners should be in control of their own learning.
Autonomy is key.

For a successful partnership, those workplace learners should be able to relate what they’re learning to key parts of their own job, or to key results that the employer values.  Not every minute, not every task, but definitely over the long haul.

I'm learning that I don't like formal training.I don’t have much argument with Siemens’s point that “meaningful learning requires learner-driven activity.”  Neither would anyone who’s ever had to present a training course to people who didn’t need or  value the training.

The difference is that in the workplace, over time, most of that meaningful learning has to connect to the organization’s goals.  If not, eventually you won’t have that workplace.

If we’re the Fast Twitch Gym, the ultimate outcome is profitability.  To achieve that, we value things like the breadth and depth of workout options, the availability of a skilled and friendly staff, rate of renewals, class offerings that customers enroll in and stick with, and so on.  If as an organization we thought that we’d accomplish more profitability by selling cars, we probably wouldn’t be in the gym business.

If we’re the Division of Motor Vehicles, then valuable outcomes are things like efficient and convenient issuing of driver licenses and license plates.  Related to those are quantity and quality measures for our record-keeping, our delivery of service, and our cost-effectiveness.

So what?  Well, as an individual, if your personal goals and values press you toward becoming a paralegal, you might not always be able to satisfy those desires entirely through your job at Fast Twitch or the DMV, because these particular workplaces don’t employ that many paralegals.

Siemens is certainly right: nobody’s going to be as interested in your learning as you are.  At the same time, if you’re an employee in an organization, that organization will have goals and values that aren’t necessarily identical with yours.

For the individual, the challenge is to find a satisfactory degree of autonomy: working with problems that engage you; collaborating with coworkers or clients who encourage you do get better at what you do; finding assignments or specializations that are fulfilling.

For the organization, the challenge is often getting away from a not-really-working, event-focused, dose-and-exposure-oriented approach toward skill in the workplace.  If standardization and compliance are important (as in, say, pharmaceuticals or high-tech manufacturing), your workforce already knows that.

Workplace learning isn’t us versus them (or me versus them).  At its best, it’s the individual and the organization having interests and goals that mesh well.

CC-licensed photos:
collaborating at work by Christina Xu;
boredom by Quinn Dombrowski.

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