A Brief History of Learning at Work
It’s important to understand where we’ve come from in order to improve where we go in the future. The history of workplace learning can be categorised into eight evolutionary steps:
- 1st step: Group learning was born in storytelling.
- 2nd step: Mastery from others: master-apprentice.
- 3rd step: Learning from distilled content.
- 4th step: Formalised learning of specific work skills.
- 5th step: Learning of management and conceptual skills.
- 6th step: “Bums on Seats” approach.
- 7th step: eLearning.
- 8th step: that’s now!
The time between evolutionary steps is shrinking. The pace of change is accelerating. From thousands of years, to hundreds, to tens, to less than 20.
So where are we now?
As an L&D industry we can’t carry on doing what we’ve been doing. It doesn’t work. In a 2010 McKinsey & Co. study, only 25% of survey respondents found that “training improved employees’ performance”. If Google Maps only got us to our desired location 25% of the time would we still use it?
Josh Bersin wrote in his post on what we have learned from digital disruption: “we don’t learn well through ‘binge education’ like a course. We learn by being exposed to new skills and ideas over time, with spacing and questioning in between.”
The future begins!
Evolution gives us an opportunity to change, we have a chance to set workplace learning free again. When we look at the history, there’s so much “good stuff” we can learn from. Let’s break away from the ‘bums on seats’ approach and use the “good stuff” we know from history. This includes:
- Storytelling: include storytelling, or best of all – let your people tell their stories.
- Mentoring and coaching: Enable mentoring and coaching – it’s worked for centuries.
- AAA learning: Be as flexible as books – anytime anyplace anywhere 24/7.
- Shared learning experiences: Create sharable learning, don’t lock things away.
- Keep some events & courses: Courses and events can be the foundation, but not the only approach. Only use ‘click-and-flick’ if and when you really need to.
Furthermore, go beyond this… There has never been a better time to innovate. With advancements in technologies such as apps, the rise of mobile, virtual and augmented reality, social collaboration and more, this is all happening now. Avoid perpetuating the ‘bums on seats’ approach, re-invent workplace learning based on the “Good Stuff” from history.
Let’s put this into action
It’s all well and good to state this, but how do you go about putting this into action? Below are eight suggestions to consider when creating learning experiences for the modern workplace environment:
- Align learning to corporate strategy: Focus on business impact rather than training ROI. Build the key skills to deliver on corporate strategy.
- Digital innovation: Build learning as digital innovation, using the same pillars as other digital applications.
- Mobile first: Think and design mobile first. Deliver learning when people want to engage. User experience really matters.
- Step up our game: good learning design doesn’t just happen. Don’t just be an order taker, be a problem solver.
- Design for forgetting: the world has changed, memory is less valuable and mobiles are everywhere. Design with the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve in mind.
- Do it remotely: using remote virtual classrooms and collaboration tools shouldn’t just be used to save money; it can enhance design opportunities and enable better learning experiences.
- Bring it together using campaigns: take a campaign-based approach to implementing learning initiatives.
- Keep the “good stuff”: remember in all of the above – keep in the good things history has taught us; storytelling, mentoring and coaching, portability, shared learning experiences together with some event-based learning when essential.
There is no doubt we have come a long way from sitting around a campfire telling stories. Workplace learning has evolved dramatically but at no point has the pace of change been as rapid as it is today. As an L&D industry we need to change and think differently if we are going to remain relevant and deliver genuine value to business and staff. With the current advancements in technology, there has never been a better time to innovate. With new thinking and the right mix of strategy, design and technology, the next evolution in workplace learning has the opportunity to be a much needed paradigm shift.
View the presentation slides from the keynote at the recent Adobe eLearning Experience events presented by Adobe and Learning Plan across Australia and New Zealand in July and August 2017.
This text was fist posted in Learning Plan.