Learning in the work place

My “Confucius” back ground in which at a very early age I was lucky to have been raised place “learning” as the top of my life priority. Thanks to my grand father who used to say that after having satisfied your physical needs of survival, a human immediate need should be learning. Living for him means growing and going forward. Growth can only be achieved by learning. More so, in this fast changing world of today, it has become even more important and pressing to focus our effort to acquire new skills through learning.

Most people find it natural to learn when one is young and attending school. How many stop learning once they strike the working life? Is it because of the sloth of people or their unconscious mind, that the need to create the learning organisation came in the work place environment? I have not stop learning and will not ever to do.Learning is natural to me. I choose to think that Peter Senge and his team coined “the learning organisation” more so for the methodology of learning in a work environment rather than the necessity to motivate the human to keep on learning.

In the final years to my working career, I had the chance to reconvert myself into a coach and got very interested in learning about learning. Very much in the line of my dear friend Penny Vingoe an accomplished teacher who is now running the coaching organisation “learn to learn”.

I enjoyed the article of Vaughan Waller of the topic of learning which I would like to share with you. Much emphasis and effort is now placed in training programmes. I would rather come back to basics and place the focus on learning programmes. Mauritians enterprises are spending so much in training these days. HRDC or the competent authorities would be failing to their tasks if they are not ensuring the quality of the design of the training given by the numerous mushroom grown training institutes in Mauritius.

In the Shoes of the Learner

By Vaughan Waller

The available methodologies to deliver learning in the workplace are now more plentiful than ever and most organizations now realize, that not offering learning opportunities to their staff is potentially more costly than doing so. Enabling staff to develop their skills or acquire new ones is an important way of keeping companies fresh, adaptable to change and thereby remain competitive. So there appears to be very little argument against making learning an integral part of our daily working lives, in the same way that e-mail is currently, to most of us. But, as always, this is easier said than done. In my experience making the time for learning (since that is what managers invariably tell their team to do) only means that something else is not done or not done as well. Learning in the workplace, usually because of the small amount of available time, has to be delivered in a way that will enable learners to integrate it into their day – and this process is the responsibility of the learning designer.

Every learning programme designer wants the project to succeed in its objectives and to be used, enjoyed and talked about in a positive sense from then on. The factors that cause learning programmes to be unsuccessful are many and various : –

  • Learning styles
  • Personality preferences
  • Peer pressure in a classroom environment
  • Dislike of learning via a computer
  • Learners’ minds on other things
  • Using of the wrong training medium
  • Poor course design
  • Not enough time to do it properly
  • Lack of motivation
  • Level of computer literacy
  • Ability of the learner to self study
  • Etc etc.

Therefore, it is one thing to design a programme of instruction but also ensuring that it is succeeds for a variety of learner types is a critical part of the overall process. So how do you ensure that learners will learn what they need to learn?

Unfortunately, the answer to the latter question is often difficult to find. There is a plethora of educational psychological data on how humans learn. There is plenty on pedagogy and the processes whereby information in one person’s head is transferred into the head of the learner. But ask most people in what way they like to learn or in what circumstances they learn best and it is likely that they will call to mind either a good or a poor learning experience. Most people will remember a learning experience in which they were having fun. If someone has had a really successful golfing lesson which produces results, then that person will remember the lesson because they were enjoying themselves. Conversely, we can all remember a crushingly boring training course where the tutor did not connect with the learners, the course was badly designed and perhaps, as a consequence, very little was learnt. Delve further however and ask what is your learning style preference and what is their Myers Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) assessment and you will be met by blank looks. The learners would have to go on a course just to answer these questions!

More to the point, if you did have the answers to these questions and they can be found using a variety of means, how do you design or adapt the learning programme to suit what will almost certainly be a mix of these preferences? It is near impossible to make a programme of instruction that will appeal equally to every learning style and all personality preferences. Furthermore, at the present time it is required that all learning programmes must also be accessible to everyone regardless of any learning or physical impairment too.

The popular answer that is always trotted out is “blended learning”, a combination of learning media, an “e-learning sandwich” or a “bit of this and a bit of that”. Blended learning is one of those terms that most people connected with training within an organization, will profess to know at least something about. Yet it is nothing new and is one of those things which have become caught up with e-learning and other learning activities which has made some think that it is a new 21st century buzzword.

But in my opinion this is no answer to the learning designer who wants easy and straightforward answers to the question “Which way, or mix of ways is best to deliver this learning effectively?”. The answers to the question become a lot easier if they are answered from the perspective of the learner. That may seem obvious but it has to be said that in reality few people in an organization’s learning or training department do or perhaps we should say can design learning from the learners’ perspective. In an organization there are time pressures, budgetary pressures, lack of resources or even perhaps in some cases knowledge. It is easy to write down here that you should do this or do that when in realty that is not always realistic. But in the analysis, design and development stages of the most well known instructional design model, it is possible to consider learners at every point of the way.

This may sound like difficult work but it should not be shirked. And in the way of things that are not particularly fun to do the timescale for all this should not be rushed either. It has been seen repeatedly, ever since computers were first used in learning that trying to rush the boring bits to get to the “nicer” parts of the process, normally spells disaster.

Sticking to an instructional design process will determine the best way to get the learning to the learners in a way that will overcome as many of the problems listed above as possible. Nothing should be ruled out within reason. If you do define e-learning as learning delivered digitally with additional support and services then this can cover a host of options. You could choose from dozens of possible methods many of which are as valid now as they have ever been including : –

  • Web based learning content – to be accessed in whatever way is most effective for the learner
  • Learning simulations – enabling learners to experience what they have to learn
  • Virtual learning – virtual classrooms, conference telephone calls, video conferencing etc enabling learners to work as far as possible with others
  • Easy access to reference material such as websites, intranet pages, books and videos
  • Informal learning – access to “someone who knows what you need to know”
  • Coaches, tutors and mentors – as part of the programme not just when the learner needs help
  • Instructor-led “conventional” training – not just the ubiquitous “e-learning sandwich” but as part of the programme

Another possible way to make the choice easier is to use an adaptation of the four-stage process often used in marketing which is : –

  • Where are we now?
  • Where do we want to be?
  • How will we get there?
  • How can we ensure arrival?

This can be adapted for this purpose to : –

  • What training need do we need to address?
  • What will be the specific objectives we want to achieve?
  • What delivery method will work best from the learners’ perspective?
  • How can I measure its effectiveness simply?

The third question of course is the important one here but if you put yourself in the shoes of the learner consider these questions : –

  • Would I enjoy doing it this way?
  • What’s in it for me – what is the reward to me by doing it?
  • Will it challenge me or bore me brainless?
  • What will motivate me to do it?

After all if you consider e-learning, it is meant to be learner-centric – that is allowing learners to pull learning to them rather than having it pushed at them. Except in those organizations where everyone designs their own personal development plans learning is something that employees are asked to do or perhaps told to do and this makes all the difference. Those taking an Open University course do so because they are personally motivated to complete the course but in other situations the motivation has to come from elsewhere.

One of the big challenges of a using a variety of learning methods in one programme is to integrate the various platforms together in one seamless package. This is always tricky but consider as you go along the limitations of each delivery method. It should be remembered that learning on a computer is at its best when used to transfer facts and concepts. The real thinking and analysis type of learning has to be done away from the computer screen. That is why in most cases the computer part is used in a pretest or assessment role to ensure that when the students come to the next part they are all, more or less at the same level of knowledge on the subject.

In this article I have tried to avoid as much as possible the term blended learning since learning has been blended for many decades now. Learning doesn’t need to be “designed using a blended learning approach” since good instructional design would do this anyway. As long as the learning designer puts himself or herself “in the learners’ shoes” then most of the time the outcomes will be successful.


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