Learning Out Loud

A brave new world...

Month: April 2016

Learning How to Learn – Setting the Stage

I am not one to throw my thoughts out into the universe with any sort of regularity (just check out my Facebook or Twitter accounts to validate). As a member of the MSLOC 430 Spring 2016 cohort, I decided it was time to test the assumption that I wouldn’t enjoy this very public reflection process. The opportunity to test assumptions and rise to Jeff Merrell’s challenge brings us to this, my first post. I will explore the background of where my brain has been living for the last few weeks with regard to: 1) the profile of workers that organizations need to accommodate, 2) the concept of self-directed learning, and 3) a quick preview into what’s coming down the pipe in future installments.

The background – The knowledge worker

Knowledge Worker

As the People Operations person in a start-up tech company, I am endlessly curious about how humans can improve their ability to collaborate, learn, and perform while feeling happy and engaged in their work. While people like Peter Drucker foreshadowed the concept of the knowledge worker over 15 years ago, I get the sense that many organizations are still struggling to adapt their L&D functions to accommodate this population. Robert Kelley from Carnegie Mellon shares that the percentage of knowledge one needs to memorize in order to effectively do their job is shrinking. Knowing how to get the answers you need is more important than storing information in your head. This is increasingly true given how quickly knowledge evolves and develops in our increasingly connected world.

Harold Jarche writes about transitioning from the market economy to the network economy – away from best practices and the need for predictability and instead utilizing the intelligence of our networks to solve problems together. He also posits that the only way to manage in a complex environment is for an organization to give up control. What does that mean, to give up control?

Melinda Turnley asked a great question in our class discussion thread, “If staff (rather than traditional L&D functions or management) have more control over their own development, what does this mean for how they are evaluated and how the organization measures success?” I believe it is important to measure the effectiveness of any initiative, but I am not convinced we can measure learning or knowledge in the traditional sense (i.e. Did s/he complete this training? Can they perform a route task quickly/more efficiently?) The ability to learn and develop is becoming an intangible benefit that the knowledge worker requires to feel engaged in their work. The ability to continuously learn and adapt is also a necessary condition for employees to deliver value to modern organizations. I wonder if the unit of measure would be 1) employee’s levels of self-efficaciousness with regard to their roles and 2) how their managers/organizations assess their ability to deliver value in their roles. This could be a whole different blog post, so I’ll get us back on track here.

Where were we? Ah, yes. We were talking about giving up control which led me to think about autonomy more broadly. A 2014 HBR article references Drucker’s work which urges organizations to embrace employee autonomy as a means to empowering knowledge workers. There is also reference to Hagel’s article on “scalable learning” and the notion of “creation spaces” that can help facilitate (vs. limit) interactions and relationships that allow organizations to increase internal information flow to facilitate learning, adaptability and innovation. These topics, Melinda’s question, the evolution of our network economy, and the arrival of the knowledge worker seem to be pointing us in this direction of individualization at scale. Organizations can’t afford to move slowly but they also can’t build individual cirriculums or trainings in the traditional classroom/module format. All the signs seem to be pointing in the direction of self-directed learning.

Self-directed learning – What is it and why should you care?

Indvidualized learning

I am fascinated by the concept of self-directed learning and how organizations can support this process. Suren Ramasubbu shared the accepted definition of self-directed learning as a, “process in which individuals take the initiative with or without the help of others in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.” Can you imagine a world in which all of your employees did this naturally? I hear this referred to as pulling information from the world rather than having people push information at you. I think this could be the secret sauce of the modern, competitive Talent/L&D function.

By helping employees focus on learning how to learn, we can meet the development demands of the knowledge worker, adapt to the network economy, and meet the demands of a constantly evolving world.  People in roles such as mine can support individuals’ personal learning journeys through a variety of means whether it is coaching, technology, routines, or other mechanisms.

So What?

Now that I have shared where my head has been these past few months, I can share a little insight into where I am headed (I hope!) In the next installments of Learning Out Loud, I will explore this concept of self-directed learning through two lenses: 1) the individual lens by doing a deep dive into a Personal Learning Environment (PLE) to explore what makes a comprehensive self-directed learning ecosystem and 2) the organizational lens by sharing thought-leadership about the types of L&D investments that could support this individualized, self-directed approach to learning in the workplace.

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About Liz

Liz works in People Operations at a SF-based technology startup.

She is also pursuing her MS from Northwestern focusing on organizational development, organizational and social psychology, learning sciences, strategy, change management, coaching, and design.

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