What would a modern learning organisation look like? – Nick Shackleton-Jones

This post arose from a comment by Joanne Lucy on one of my previous posts where she wondered who would be the first to ‘disrupt’ their learning organisation. It occurred to me that some organisations might feel they have already done this; but without clarifying what a ‘disrupted’ learning organisation might look like, it would be hard to say.

So what would that transformation look like? (cue for dullest headline image ever – the one at the bottom is clearer)

I’ve tried to outline what I believe to be some key elements (above and below). I have deliberately skipped some details (e.g. vendor management & analytics) and probably missed some more. If you already have an organisation that works like this, please let me know. If not – here are some questions you might have:

Q: How do you achieve business alignment in this model?

A: Principally through audience alignment. The model is more ‘bottom-up’ than ‘top-down’. Clearly you’d expect senior management to have some stakeholder engagement but primarily the model helps the organisation achieve its ambitions by helping people to do their jobs – the 5Di model ensures the focus remains squarely on performance support rather than ‘content dumping’ or ‘initiative broadcasting’. The ‘experience design’ components tend to express organisational ambitions, whilst the performance support components address employee needs.

Q: Are these just ‘academies’ in another language?

A: No. The central alignment is with audiences rather than with content or capabilities. Instead of having academies aligned with a topic, they are aligned with an audience which in turn allows them to work on all those aspects which affect performance (especially at key transitions). Sometimes, of course, alignment may overlap with old categories (in the case of leadership for example) but the audience-alignment allows the team to address everything that affects leadership – for example HR policies or IT systems traditionally catered for elsewhere. And you might further subdivide audiences (such as ‘technical’). This horizontally-oriented approach is therefore disruptive in traditional silo’d organisations.

Q: Where is compliance?

A: Not here. I don’t think regulatory compliance activity (predominantly e-learning/LMS activity) belongs here since it is mainly focussed on risk management. Of course there are also behavioural change elements, but these can be best addressed through integration into existing performance support activities (e.g. why have separate ‘diversity’ training when you can just make sure you HR processes & guidance are inclusive by default?) and through dedicated experience designs (see below).

Q: What is ‘shared experience’?

A: There are some performance support needs and experiences that should be shared by everyone in an organisation. For example everyone needs to know how to use the expense system and everyone should experience the importance of safety. For the former ‘life hack’-style digital platforms might provide a common way to share solutions, ideas and knowledge. In the case of things that the organisation would like everyone to care about – such as safety, ethics or inclusivity – experiences which encourage everyone to appreciate the significance of these things can be created.

Q: What’s the rationale?

A: Elsewhere I have suggested that there are two legitimate activities in learning: the creation of experiences, and the creation of resources. One stimulates the desire to learn, the other satisfies that desire. The organisational structure described re-orients the learning organisation away from a ‘content dumping’ mode of operation, towards the complimentary activities of designing and delivering resources and experiences. In so doing, there are opportunities to dramatically reduce the cost and time required to achieve a given performance outcome (in the case of resources, Atul Gawande’s book provides some good examples).

Q: What are these teams doing that’s different?

A: In essence, this learning organisation is more concerned with engagement and performance than knowledge-transfer. They are encouraging people to care about the things that matter to the organisation (through experience design) and helping them to perform (through performance support). The process used to design resources and experiences – the 5Di process – helps identify specific resources and experiences that will achieve those ends. The creation of useful stuff: short videos, infographics, guides, checklists and apps for example is a very different activity from the crafting of impactful experiences, and requires distinct but overlapping capabilities. Both proceed through iteration, though the former is more likely a product to be managed and the latter an event to be delivered (even if digitally).

Q: Is this 70/20/10?

A: Yes. Performance support is a ’70’ and ’20’ intervention, allowing people to learn as they work, on-the-job. Experience design can provide ‘safe to fail’ environments (among other things).


About the author – Nick Shackleton-Jones

Transfixed by the task of understanding people, technology and the challenges of integrating the two, Nick began his career as a psychology lecturer and author. He has since worked in consultancy, Siemens, the BBC and BP in roles encompassing learning strategy, leadership, culture, innovation and technology. A memorable conference speaker and well-known in the corporate learning world for ground-breaking thinking and work, he divides his time equally between being disruptive and provocative.

Follow Nick on Twitter @shackletonjones

Connect with Nick via LinkedIn 

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