from training to learning

While social learning may be one of the currently hot new trends in the education and training fields, we have known for a while “why tried-and-true training methods don’t work anymore”, as discussed by Brigitte Jordan (1937-2016) in the mid-1990’s while working at the Institute for Research on Learning. Here are the highlights — From Training to Learning in the New Economy.

Based on the idea that training consists of the transfer of authoritative knowledge from expert instructor to novice learner, it capitalized on the notion that knowledge can be packaged into units, modules and lectures, and delivered in standardized fashion to “the work force”.

Conventional training departments are set up to “cascade” training modules throughout the company but are, by and large, not prepared to assist large numbers of employees with the highly individualized career preparation many forward-looking employees now desire.

Whatever learning needs to happen for getting work done at the front line — on production floors, in sales, or in customer service —  often is not generated, or even recognized as needed, by the training organizations.

We need to shift from an emphasis on training and all that implies, to an emphasis on learning (and all that implies).

  1. Learning is inherent in human nature
  2. Learning is fundamentally social
  3. Learning shapes identity
  4. Informal learning is crucial in the workplace

In a fundamental way, all work is about learning: it is about learning to fit in and to collaborate, about learning to take initiative when appropriate, it is about really understanding customers, about acquiring intimate knowledge of the products and services the company sells and how they can fit into customers’ lives.

If it is true that we need to erase the distinction between learning and work, if it is true that learning is work and work is learning, then our most challenging question becomes: how can we construct and organize work environments in such a way that they support the kinds of learning that are useful and productive for employees, for work groups and for companies.

We have found no easy recipe, no universal set of prescriptions for doing that. What we have collected is a motley set of insights, of pragmatic maxims and design recommendations that serve as reminders of what the important issues and pitfalls are in this kind of endeavor.

  • View learning as work and work as learning.
  • Foster a view of knowledge as socially constructed rather than “transferred”.
  • Recognize and value informal communities of practice
  • Foster peer-to-peer learning and co-construction of knowledge.
  • Consider where person-to-person modeling and peer-learning are more powerful
  • Identify and advertise local experts so help is more easily found when needed.
  • Foster lateral communication between individuals and peer groups.

I came across this paper many years ago and it continues to inform my own practice. Jordan’s insights have aged very well.

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