When Learning is the Work: Approaches for supporting learning in the workplace

clip_image002Two weeks ago I ran a webinar under this title for Citrix.

the start I posed the question “when you think about one great learning
experience you’ve had, can you remember where it occurred? Was it in a
classroom or workshop, or did it occur while you were completing the

I’ve asked this question, or variations
of it, many times over the past few years. The response from this group
was quite similar to earlier ones except it was neater – the split was
exactly 80:20 – 80% said that the learning experience had been while
they were completing the task and 20% said it was in a classroom or

Sometimes the response to this
question has been more skewed towards the workplace (or in daily life – I
ask people to include learning experiences that have occurred during
childhood in their thinking). Rarely do more than 20% say their great
learning experiences or AhAh! moments, occurred in a formal learning
setting. Also rarely is the response of a group more skewed towards
formal learning environments. 20% seems to be the maximum from any group
– certainly in my experience.

Although these
samples are not random and the methodology may be suspect, the nature of
people’s learning experiences is clear. Most of our significant
learning occurs informally. Not only informally and in the workplace,
but increasingly in the extended workplace as it increasingly becomes

Learning in the Extended Workplace – it’s social and it’s mobile

extended workplace is certainly the ‘growth’ area for learning. As we
become more connected in our daily lives we are also becoming more
connected in our work. There has been huge interest in all things social
and particularly in social learning over the past 2-3 years. My
colleague, Jane Hart, maintains the most comprehensive social learning
site at the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies. It’s well worth a number of visits. Her ‘Social Learning Handbook’ is also a tremendous resource, as is Marcia Conner’s
‘New Social Learning’ book. They’re both practical and have lots of
helpful advice for people thinking about the ‘how’ of piloting or
rolling social learning into their suite of services.

Mobile technology, too, is becoming a huge driver for worker education.
The growth in mobile technology is phenomenal. The International
Telecommunications Union (ITU) reported in 2010 that more than 70% of
the world’s population now has a mobile phone (with 5.3 billion mobile
subscriptions by the end of 2010 – 3.8 billion in the developing world).
Added to that statistic Sybase published a report in September 2010
suggesting that children (our next generation employees) are more likely
to own a mobile telephone than a book (85% of children own phones
compared with 73% who own books at home).

Clark Quinn, another Internet Time Alliance colleague, has recently published an excellent practical book titled ‘Designing mLearning’
There is a free sample download available on the site, but it’s well
worth getting hold of the entire book. Again, it contains plenty of
practical advice on the right questions to ask and how to get your hands
dirty and start out on building mobile learning solutions to support
performance in the workplace.

Leaving the Golden Age of Training

all these changes there is no doubt that we’re leaving the simple
‘golden’ age of training where formal, structured development through a
series of well-designed and planned training events sufficed as the only
tool in the box.

We’re moving from this
early-20th Century approach and entering a much more complex world where
learning professionals need ‘think business’ and focus on the most
efficient, effective and sustainable ways they can help their CEOs and
Presidents rapidly build and maintain workforce performance improvement.
This inevitably involves bringing learning into the workplace. Work and
learning are converging, there’s no doubt about it. If training and
learning departments don’t understand this and respond by altering their
practices and developing their services they will become increasingly

Learning Maturity

clip_image008Another issue I discussed in the Citrix webinar was learning maturity.

can mean a lot of things and there are some good learning maturity
models but one simple way I look at assessing learning maturity in
organisations is to determine the stage of development from a primary
focus on ‘know what’ – the essential starting point for new hires or
people moving to new roles – to a more sustained focus on ‘know who’ and
‘know how’.

The latter two are where the
cultural and sustained value of learning lies yet many Training and
Learning departments have their prime focus hard-wired to the former.
Many learning interventions are still formal, information-rich,
interaction-poor and are essentially about trying to fill heads with
facts that they can retain until they submit to the post-course
assessment or certification exam.

We know that
filing heads with about task-level before the opportunity to practice or
the need to use is quite pointless, but ‘content’ is still the driver
for most learning. Learning maturity could also be demonstrated by a
de-focus on content and provision of more opportunities to practice and
be exposed to experiential learning in context.

course, the ‘know who’ part is critical, too. We learn and work with
and through others and we need to identify those ‘others’ who are best
placed to help and work with us – both inside and outside our

The 70:20:10 Model (remember it’s just a model)

the Citrix webinar I also looked at the 70:20:10 model as a mechanism
for organisations to realign their learning focus and move up the
maturity ladder.

Most people have heard of the
model – and it is only a reference model and not a recipe. It is based
on survey and empirical data going back to the early 1970 (at least)
that indicates working adults learn about 70% of what they need to know
to do their job well in the workplace from experience and practice. They
learn about 20% from others, through knowing who to ask, from informal
coaching and mentoring and from effective networking and storytelling.
They also learn about 10% of what they need from formal

When we talked about
implementing learning strategies and practice using the 70:20:10 model
in the Citrix webinar the challenges that were identified by
participants were typical of those faced by many organisations.

I’ve listed a sample below, along with my responses.  I’d welcome any further thoughts and suggestions:

Question: “Where does group learning fit? Approaches such as Action Learning and facilitated workshops for skills development?”

This is an interesting question and one that points up the fact that we
don’t live in an either/or world.  Well-designed and run facilitated
workshops are a good example of why models such as 70:20:10 are simply
reference models and not intended to be used as tight recipes. In a
well-run facilitated workshop there will be plenty of opportunity for
peer learning, networking, peer mentoring and other ‘20’ activities as
well as structured activities. There should also be plenty of
opportunity for practice. Organisations such as Cranfield Management School
work with client organisations to structure ‘formal’ 70:20:10 models of
learning – where formal executive programmes are structured to provide
roughly 70% of experiential learning and practice in the workplace;
roughly 20% learning through others – action learning, peer-mentoring,
workplace coaching etc; and roughly 10% formal classroom-based learning
at the Management School.

Question: “How
are these new approaches applicable to safety environments where it’s
critical that the correct information is understood rather than through
the interpretations of colleagues?”

Also a good question, and one often raised in ‘special pleading’ for
the need to continue with formal, classroom-based learning for
compliance and safety training. The point here is, if the objective is
simply to provide ‘correct information’ I think most would agree that in
the past the best, fastest and most thorough way was to send the
information in written form – either on paper or electronically.
Alternatively, I’ve seen very good eLearning modules work well in
replacing formal classroom training. With written information there are
fewer opportunities for misconceptions and misunderstandings, and less
reliance of memory. Bringing people into a classroom and presenting
information has always been probably the most inefficient and
ineffective way we could possibly devise for compliance and safety
If you want to see how one large corporation has
demonstrated the positive impact of using ‘crowdsourcing’ and social
learning techniques to help people develop skills in critical
environments, have a look at this video of the British Telecom Dare2Share system or this Accenture paper
on the approach.  Dare2Share is an ‘internal Youtube’ where experts are
encouraged to share their expertise –and they do.  L&D plays a role
in that there is a button beside every piece of content that can be
clicked if it’s felt the content is either inaccurate or inappropriate.
Peter Butler (former CLO at BT and now CLO at Lloyds Banking Group)
tells me that the ‘inaccurate’ button has been pressed just a handful of
times (certainly less than 10) and corrections, where required, made at
almost Wikipedia-speed.

The point here is
‘don’t fool yourself that simply providing the ‘correct’ information is
the best way to change behaviour. Timely information and lessons learned
from colleagues are both valuable.

More to the
point, learning professionals need to get to grips with the fact that
colleagues often provide the best quality information to act. They bring
practical experience of ‘knowledge in use’ and context to the party.
There’s plenty of evidence that crowdsourcing from practitioners in the
field will provide high quality information and insights and that, like
Wikipedia, ‘incorrect’ information is quickly identified, filtered and

Other questions that were asked in the Citrix webinar:

“How can flexible learning tasks be presented around scheduled and
assessed experiential learning in environments where emergencies and
interruptions occur 24×7?”

2. “How do we
integrate learning into very busy workplaces which do not lend
themselves to reflection on experiences in the workplace?”

3. “With informal learning we have a danger of learning bad habits. How do we tackle that?”

4. “How can we record ‘informal’ learning in the workplace for CPD purposes?”

5. “How do we change the mind-set of leaders when formal learning is endorsed, supported and embedded in the organisation?”

6. “Is the implication that we need more emphasis on developing the coaching skills of line managers and co-workers?

7. “Would you class mentoring as ‘informal’?”

Maybe readers of this blog might like to address some of these questions and share their experiences.

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