Why we’re all responsible for learning 

We’re hungry for information but short on attention span. And it’s this dual challenge that is asking different questions of our HR and learning professionals.  


Whatever your age, it’s increasingly likely that you are a tech-savvy, eager learner who absorbs digital resources, from blogs to video clips.


Chances are that you also relish the chance to freely connect with your colleagues, managers and other experts within your organisation. We are, as learning expert Jane Hart terms it, ‘modern workplace learners’. 


Jane joined us to explain more and it’s clear that one size clearly doesn’t fit all. Here’s what else we learnt:


“For the last 14 years I have been carrying out a ‘tools for learning’ survey,” explains Jane. 

“This has revealed not just the most popular tools for learning, but also some interesting features about how and why people learn today. In particular it is clear that people learn in four main ways.”


Jane terms this the “4 Ds of learning”, which broadly cover: 


  • Didactics (formal)
  • Discovery (informal)
  • Doing (experiential) 
  • Discourse (social)


So how much do we learn from each of these four categories?


According to Jane’s vast body of research, we do most of our learning through discovering and doing. More specifically, we browse the web, we read blog posts, watch video clips and we absorb learning and feedback from managers, mentors and job-based activities. 


Around a fifth of our learning is gained via interacting with others, be that our team or colleagues, or perhaps our professional network, including conferences or via LinkedIn.


Perhaps surprisingly, only around 14% of our learning is through a formal training route, yet for many of us, “being taught” is the aspect we focus on most.


Having spent many years in classroom settings, we are conditioned to believe that this is often the only way we learn.


Jane explains: “It is inevitable that organisations focus on training as the main way to enable people’s learning in the workplace, since this approach has evolved from the education system. And that, too, is how many managers believe their people learn at work – by undertaking training. Hence, they see the training department as having total responsibility for workplace learning.”


So who is responsible for modern workplace learning? Put simply, we all are.


As individuals, we must take responsibility for our own continuous improvement, learning and development to stay relevant in our jobs and prepare for the future. That is, learning for work


“The primary role of an employee is a “worker” rather than a “learner”,” adds Jane. “So, what’s wrong with calling them learners? Because that’s not who they really are! It perpetuates the idea that “learning” is only something that can be put into someone’s head whereas in the context of today’s workplace, it is more appropriate to refer to people as modern workers rather than modern learners.”


For HR and L&D leads, the future looks less likely to be a place where top-down learning is dictated. Instead, the most successful businesses will be those that enable and support the four Ds of learning, allowing their people to learn in the best way to suit their individual needs. 


The ability to create a knowledge sharing culture – where senior managers think beyond the restraints of a traditional training approach – and develop systems that can support the curation of relevant information, will be crucial components of a holistic approach to learning. 


Whilst didactic training will continue to play an important role in how we learn, it appears the role of the mentor has the potential to make a significant impact on the modern workplace learner.


To find out more, visit Modern Workplace Learning or contact us.  

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