February 9, 2012
social learning

Why You Must Define the So-What of Learning

Whether you work for a private family-owned business, a publicly traded corporation or in the kindergarten-to-higher-education continuum somewhere, you’re going to have to define learning – whether it’s for your employees, colleagues or students. So let’s examine the “so what” learning definition – meaning why learning is present in organizations.

As 2012 creeps along, the so-what of learning remains undefined for many employees and organizations, which is causing a disservice. If learning departments aren’t defining this, learning will remain thought of as training, and training will forever continue to be associated with a classroom- or e-learning-only modality.

Worse, splinter groups will form, their own definitions of learning will surface and, tragically, learning fiefdoms will become the norm. As a consequence, definitions will be everywhere and anything that comes out of the learning cycle itself – the competence output – might become redundant or blocked off from others.

In my opinion, learning is part formal, informal and social. It always was. It always will be. That definition, however, must be organizational in nature, rippling throughout every business unit, faculty, workflow and process.

Furthermore, my learning definition would provide specific clarity for an organization such that all employees or students understand from their first day that learning is not relegated to formal-only modes. If employees or students believe learning occurs only in an annual classroom course, amphitheater lectures or the annual array of mandatory e-learning offerings, how does that unleash the collective intelligence hidden throughout the workforce?

An organization’s definition of learning must include formal, informal and social modalities to ensure employees are being counted on to contribute their intellect, ideas and knowledge back to the ecosystem. A passive, “spray and pray” definition only exacerbates this.

You may have heard of “peak oil,” the date when global petroleum production may have reached its supposed maximum. I believe we’ve hit “peak training.”

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating the use of TNT to blow out every physical classroom or LMS you might have – at least not yet. Let’s first start with by defining learning, such that employees and students are aware they don’t have to wait for a course to learn. They don’t have to search the LMS as the only viable way in which to increase their knowledge.

By equally weighting formal, informal and social learning in the definition, you are equally driving a culture change. For me learning is synonymous with leadership and that too should be invoking formal, informal and social attributes.

In this space over the next several months, I plan to delve deeper into definitions of learning, paying particular attention to both social and informal learning and their relationship to organizational health, culture, engagement, productivity, leadership, competence and innovation. I’ll dig deep into existing as well as nascent modalities, outlining their strengths and weaknesses along with their organizational impacts. This is intended to help other learning leaders in defining learning for themselves and their organizations.

 Originally posted to CLO Blog. Reprinted with permission.

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