Should we not replicate on-the-job learning?

No man can live on an island, journey through life alone….

My schooling was at a school run by a convent and those lines above were part of a hymn that we sang as part of the morning assembly. While I did not get the full import of the starting lines then, have a come long way to understand these specific lines as one fundamental trait about humans – that no human can indeed live on an island alone…  In other words, we Homo Sapiens have always been and will be social animals, we have lived in herds and will continue to do so for a good foreseeable future. Suffice to assume that with Nature having given us poorer physical attributes like eyesight, hearing, smell to survive in the wild alone , we survived by housing the biggest and smartest brain in our skulls known amongst all  in the living species and by the psychological safety of being in herds/groups/tribes etc.


Illustration source – .British Library/Science Source

We have to be in awe of the result this combination of enhanced physical organ and social behavior has achieved. The proof is all around us – barring atop a live volcano we have been to every landmass (and even lived in) on earth however inhospitable it may look.

We now have to ponder why then do we deny humans the clear advantage we have as humans when it comes to learning any new skill within a corporate context? All of the Online learning platforms out in the market host content for individual consumption and learning only. While it works for the B2C market segment, it does not work for the B2B market segment at all. Because B2B markets are mostly knowledge industries. In addition, the nature of work in knowledge industry necessitates group setting. While as a practice, L &D is focused on personalized learning, there are certain areas that are learned better in a group setting.These are invariably in the areas of digital product development & associated IT support – when you are building digital products or supporting them. Given the number of such products that are out there, that this talent pool is huge is a moot point.

The other point to ponder is what exactly do we mean by learning? Learning requires one to reflect, to do dedicated practice and last but not the least one seeks out those master performers who can effectively coach and mentor on the areas that one wants to learn.

Now an example would be appropriate. Layla a software developer wants to learn ReactJS, the options to learn from are many with all the MOOC options, online learning platforms out there – starting from LinkedinLearning to Udemy, Coursera, Simplilearn , Edureka etc. One. Layla however has to reflect on what she has viewed, read or practiced, has to focus on the practice exercises (so called hands-on exercises) and whenever she is stuck ,she has to reach out to some other Master Performers who is currently developing software using ReactJS to help her. In taking this route Layla now gets to know what is ReactJS and how to use ReactJS. What however is lacking is the experience of using ReactJS in an actual software product development –what best of ReactJS under and when.

In a real world context, Layla hopes to be part of a product team that is developing a software product for a specific market segment that a product manager sees a lot of revenue potential. When she will apply for a software developer role in this team, while the courses she has gone through will help her with knowledge (what, why) and skill (how to), she will be found lacking in experience (what best of ReactJS under what circumstance) of using ReactJS. And there lies the biggest gap between what a particular on-the-job performance requires and what Layla has. If Competency = knowledge + skill + experience then those platforms have delivered to the knowledge + skill only and not the experience part.

The two questions one may pose at this point are –

  1. Does L&D need to focus on delivering competent workforce, meaning deliver to the need of experience too?
  2. What does the example have to do with learning in a group setting?

Answer to the first is actually a question back and which is – why not?. Today we talk about L & D being the on-the-job performance enablers, if we have to guarantee on the job performance that we have to look at building on the experience requirement too that our business stakeholders have from us.

Answer to the second I will attempt again by asking a question – What do we mean when we say that experience is the best teacher?  It means we are constantly learning from life’s experiences including On – The – Job. What makes learning tick – reflection, dedicated practice , coaching and mentoring which all happen on the job , in every product team and now with Agile, POD, Tribe , Sqauds team it has become an imperative! All of these ‘teams’ come together for a common outcome and work together – a product feature. During the course of the feature development there will be enough reflection, dedicated practice and coaching and mentoring among all team member to make the feature work! Thorny issues are resolved by the team solves by relying on each other’s mastery. An outcome is achieved together – the  combination of the human brain + psychological safety of groups again working wonders here.


Also whether we want to admit it or not for many  learning anything new can be very lonely and daunting indeed.  So why not learning in a group setting, learn any new  skill like you learn  on-the-job! So why shouldn’t all these learning platforms invest in features that helps  to foster learning like it happens on-the-job.

When business leaders look for competent workforce , they look for experience not in terms of years but what the experience taught you and how you evolved best practices out of it. Little wonder then that the pet job interview question is always what was your biggest challenge when you worked on so and so and how did you overcome it… If L &D does not equip anyone to be able to answer this, then we are doing a great disservice to those business leaders who are looking to us to be their true business partners. If L & D has to then deliver to this, then it requires learning platforms which allows for this kind of learning.

In the absence of these features on the learning platforms, at Cognizant we design learning experiences like hackathons, world cafes outside of these platforms to deliver to the competency development expected out of us L &D  where teams are formed and ideas get created into software products but scalability becomes an issue…..but what if some learning technology vendor did deliver this….. As an example Layla can be part of a group formed within a platform where she along with a set of others within her organization are now building single page applications using ReactJS all within the platform with built-in cloud labs (dedicated practice) , doing peer evaluation of code among each other ( reflection) , accessing coaches and mentors within the platform . These products built can also put as professional work experience in resumes.What a boon it will be for us L & D professionals working in Corporate Knowledge industries…


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