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CATEGORY: Business | AUTHOR: Racheal Smith


Embedding learning into the flow of work

Making every moment a learning moment is the ideal of any learning culture.

In the past, there has been a false separation between learning and work, as though only the formal act of education has the impact required. In truth, often, the opposite is true. To genuinely achieve behavioural change that can make a measurable difference, knowledge must be applied within context, and further reflections encouraged. There is room for conceptual learning in the abstract, but until this learning is applied and evaluated and a new way of working created, little improvement has been actualised.

Let’s talk about theory

Let’s assume that educational researchers have something valuable to contribute to our understanding here. It is not to seem trite and disingenuous when saying this; it is to acknowledge that academic theory can sometimes be divorced from the daily reality of practice. Yet, there are two points of reference worth exploring.

Firstly, Bloom’s Taxonomy is a good reference guide for lower and higher-level thinking. At the bottom of the scale are remembering and understanding. L&D leans into these lower-level thinking skills when it provides content banks and multiple-choice quizzes. The next level requires the learner to apply the ideas understood and analyse the impact. Some L&D encourages post-course reflections that ask the learner how they have applied what they have learnt. Many employees imagine what they are meant to say.

The top levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy require the learner to evaluate and create. In other words, to get to the bottom of what being better in the workplace means and to action this in their daily practice. How much formal L&D can facilitate this is questionable, even if employees are offered master’s degrees.

Secondly, Adam Grant wrote a book called Rethink. It’s brilliant and well worth a read. He talks about the need to learn, unlearn, and relearn. He encourages us to think like a scientist. Ask around, develop a theory of what might make us better, and then try it out. Recognise with a beginner’s eyes that there might be a better way of doing something, find it, and try it. It sounds shockingly simple – but how many of us do it? How many of us believe that multiple years of experience make us superior, even when we cling to old ideas that should have been unlearned years before?

Putting these ideas together

Embedding learning in the flow of work is about creating a mindset that views every moment as a learning moment. The ingredients for this mindset are simple, though peskily tricky to recreate.

To start with, the learner needs to be curious. Every situation they enter needs to be approached with wonder. Not a child-like mindset of awe, but with an optimistic belief that there is something new about this situation that can shape us as a person to be better than before.

Next, the learner needs to be courageous. Learning requires accepting the need for growth in a world that demands we be perfect. We can say – and believe – that no one is perfect and then, in the next moment, be heartbroken by any suggestion that we might have opportunities to grow. It means we have weaknesses, right? Oh my, that feels hurtful. It takes the brave to hear these growth opportunities as just that, opportunities. These are the areas we have available to us to learn.

Then, the learner needs to be reflective. Every action we take only becomes an experience when we wonder why it happened: was it good, could it be different, could it be better? Was this the right path to take, or do I need to correct my course? Questioning our actions and words opens doors to understanding how we could enhance ourselves the next time we encounter a similar moment.

Celebrate and reward the informal

When you are running L&D, it is easy to believe that you must organise learning events that are created for your learners. Yet, maybe, just maybe, your role is to facilitate, celebrate and reward moments of informal learning in the flow of work.

Imagine the mechanic who realised last time that if he did B instead of A, he would save the client three hours of labour on their bill; then, we must find a way to acknowledge that learning is done.

Imagine the childcare assistant who thought raising her voice with the naughty boy was right, only to find he shouted back. The childcare assistant asked a colleague who explained mirroring positive behaviour, and the next time, she spoke in a quiet voice with the boy, and the boy spoke quietly back. How can you reward the learning she undertook at this time?

How do you encourage employees to wonder if there is a better way, to find that better way, to try it out and reflect? Contact us today, and we would love to share our ideas.