2015 in review – the dawn of the new learning age

“It all boils down to learning, but not the sort of learning you experienced at school. No, this is learning as a life skill. You’re learning all the time, taking in new information and making sense of it. You learn from experience, from conversations with peers, and from the school of hard knocks. You’re in charge of it, not a teacher or institution.”

This quote was published by the Internet Time Alliance and its an extract from the book Jay Cross was working on before his death on Friday 6th November. Discussion and discourse on learning lost one of its most vocal and outspoken voices this year, but the debate he started lives on.   In 2016, I think we’ll see it coming to fruition.

One could argue that the sentiment in Jay’s quote here is nothing new, certainly the debate on learning in the workflow, informal learning and collaboration has been alive throughout my work in strategic global learning and knowledge since the early 2000s.  However, how this translates into what organisations deliver (either reflected in the make up of their learning teams, the provision of supporting learning content or how we evaluate the effectiveness of learning) has not necessarily kept step with the debate.  I believe this is down partly to fear (fear of change or of getting it wrong!) and partly due to an overreaction to the tenor of the discussions.

As the ubiquity of technology fundamentally shifted the way we conduct all aspects of communication, work and learning, it created a less structured, predictable route to the end goal.  That’s a great thing – it provides choice, accessibility, widening of discourse, rapid dissemination, connection, personalisation and more.  Throughout this time, we also saw one of the biggest financial crises hit at a time when the culmination of thinking on how we truly learn and the availability and quality of supporting technology were coming into alignment.

Don’t underestimate the impact that had on the progress of learning transformation.  We could never control learning is a phrase you’ll often hear but at a time of economic uncertain, clinging onto control can often be the reaction.  Fast forward to today; the shifts in learner behaviour and the difference in education experience of new entrants into the job market means the changes have been happening anyway, whether organisations have embraced it or not.

So where does this leave us today?  Well I’ve been intrigued by the reaction in the past couple of years.  There are those who have advocated that the answer is social learning (often expressed via the 702010 model), which has lead to an explosion of social learning platforms, learner generated and curated solutions and purchases of solutions like Lynda.com to provide learners with free rein and choice.

For anyone like myself who has worked in knowledge management or global learning roles, social and collaborative has been a given, but its by no means the only tool in the box.  In the rush to ensure that our L&D solutions support informal learning, things can get lost.

Organisations at all sizes and in all sectors have goals (or at least to survive they need them), so there are deliverables they work towards to achieve the results they have set out.  Obvious statement for sure, but because this is often taken for granted, we assume everyone in the organisation understands this and know the part they play.

In addition, these goals don’t stand still which means no part of the organisation stands still either.  So if our only strategic answer to the learning needs of the organisation is to build it and hope they come, can we be sure we have provided the conditions, accessibility and clarity of direction to provide the best chance of success?  in the end, if you work in learning, your role has always been to ensure the organisation has the skills and capabilities it needs to deliver its goals.   This requires the right conditions and context as a foundation for performance, which is why I have been an advocate for an organic flow between some structured support that empowers effective social learning and collaboration.

In my last LinkedIn Pulse post, I talked about the role of performance catalyst and received some really interesting feedback, ranging from ‘learning professionals are already doing all of this, so nice post but you are just describing what a well functioning team look like’ through to ‘this will never happen and the end is nigh for L&D’.  What I think this represents is positive, learning professionals have the potential to be a fundamental element of any thriving business, but this only happens when they are trusted with that role.

So I hope in 2016, everyone truly embraces collaboration – the world is a diverse, complex, terrifying, beautiful mystery of a place and not one element, one approach or one style will ever fit.  Great things happens when you can set the conditions for every talent and skill room to play its part and thats something great learning professionals understand at their core.  You can have the best people, best technology, best product or best lunch served in your fantastically well appointed staff restaurant ( after all, we all need fuel!) but the key is in the alignment and orchestration of each of these.  Collaboration can happen organically but why not give it a catalyst?  That’s the role for future L&D.

About the author – Lisa Minogue-White

Lisa is Head of Learning Solutions and Co-Founder of WillowDNA. As well as leading research and development into new approaches to learning Lisa also works on implementing online learning strategy, drawing on her experience from the implementation of global learning and knowledge-sharing tools and practices across the Orange group of companies.

Follow Lisa on Twitter @lisaMinogueW


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