When learning is the work …

What if your organization got rid of the Learning & Development function? What would the average manager or department head do? What would workers do?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while. When work is learning, and learning is the work, training that is pushed from outside has less relevance. The L&D department is supposed to ensure that training is appropriate for the job, but with jobs constantly morphing into something else, a major disconnect is developing between the doers and the trainers. How many people take courses that are not relevant to their current work or are provided at the wrong time?

Let me propose some things managers and knowledge workers can do without a Learning & Development department.

Observe how people are learning to do their work already. Find these natural pathways and reinforce them.

Connect any “how-to” learning to the actual task. Show and tell only works if it can be put into practice. The forgetting curve is steep when there is no practice.

Make it everyone’s job to share what they learn. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to find “how-to” videos and explanations on the Web? That’s because someone has taken the time to post them. Everyone in the organization should do this, whether it’s a short text, a photo, a post, an article, a presentation with notes, or a full-blown video.

Make space to talk about things and capture what is passed on. Get these conversations in the open where they can be shared. Provide time and space for reflection and reading. There is more knowledge outside any organization than inside.

Break down barriers. Establish transparency as the default mode, so that anyone can know what others are doing. Unblock communication bottlenecks, like supervisors who control information flow. If supervisors can’t handle an open environment, get rid of them, because they are impeding organizational learning and it’s now mission critical.

If you do have an L&D department, share what you are doing and perhaps they will help you become more self-sufficient for your organizational learning. If they don’t, ignore them, as they will be going away anyway.
illuminated crowd

7 Responses to “When learning is the work …”

  1. Ian Cleary

    Interesting article. L&D departments have their place but maybe their role needs to change significantly. I believe their role should be to facilitate, support and compliment the work based training. Provide the necessary tools, encourage workers to participate, reward them for participating. Companies need to be innovative so their employees need to be learning all the time. Thanks.

    • Harold Jarche

      Definitely, agree, Ian. If training departments don’t get integrated with the work, they will become irrelevant.

      To stay relevant, L&D departments need to:

      1.Facilitate collaborative work and learning amongst workers, especially as peers.
      2.Sense patterns and help develop emergent work and learning practices.
      3.Work with management to fund and develop new tools and processes.

  2. Dave Ferguson

    I think there’s a lot of good will and good intention in many organization training / learning groups, but that doesn’t always get translated into real performance improvement on the job.

    More than one training department has started calling itself learning with no more real change in its outlook than the first word in the title.

    Which is why a lot of them have been ignored anyway.

    My experience with large organizations suggests that the formal training/learning groups tend to cluster around generic “soft skills” (effective meetings, the inevitable brainstorming) or around events targeted at mid-to-upper management (like GE’s Crotonville courses).

    What they could be doing, as you suggest, is working with line organizations, possibly sharing useful ideas about how people learn or about collecting and reflecting on data (to help minimize flavor-of-the-month fads to which those line organizations are no more immune than T&D is).

  3. Jon Husband

    That statue / sculpture is on Avenue McGill College in Montreal, right at the entrance to the SGF tower. Always of interest when I walk past it.

  4. Lotar Ganz

    I always thought that goal of learning consists of one simple thing: to learn how to learn. If this mission completes, then you can be calm about youself and your companys’ achievement.

  5. Cristina Milos

    We don’t have a Learning/Training Department at our school but I think what you suggest (“Make everone’s job to share what they learn”) is critical.
    In my experience, that takes a certain mindset from the side of the leaders because unless they encourage and eventually make it “mandatory” few people would share their learning experiences or resources. There is a sense of competition or, on the contrary, apathy that I would never understand about some people.
    On the other hand, “mandatory” tasks become unsustainable if people are forced into them. A good leader, however, would instill passion for learning and will create this synergy.
    Thank you for sharing these insights. Good read and food for reflection, too, as usual.


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