A Blueprint for Supporting Modern Professional Learning: Part 1 Rationale

This is the first of a 3-part series looking at how to support Modern Professional Learners. In Part I look at why the current L&D (training/knowledge transfer) model is no longer appropriate and why a new model (or blueprint)  is necessary.

Traditional Training (Knowledge Transfer) Model

The traditional training/knowledge transfer model has changed very little in the last 100 years. Here are 5 key features.

At the heart of this model lies the Training (or L&D department)  ..

  1. who is largely responsible for all training – hence most managers pass off their requests for training to L&D, and many still believe that workplace learning is not a part of their job.
  2. whose focus is on developing capabilities (usually knowledge and/or skills) of a group of people to meet organizational needs or to achieve a known measurable standard or qualification.
  3. who believes it knows best what is to be learned for each employee to do their job – as well as the best way to learn it.
  4. who designs and delivers a standardised – one size fit all – “learning solution” in the form of some classroom training, or e-learning, or maybe a bit of both (blended learning) – to ensure everyone has the same experience
  5. who offers very little flexibility to prevent a learner to diverge from this approach.
  6. who manages all training centrally  – more recently in a LMS – and  tracks learning activity e.g. participation and completion metrics.

However, this model is no longer fit for purpose as it reinforces an organisational  training mindset where the only valid learning in the workplace is deemed to be L&D-organised training or e-learning initiatives. It is also now very clear that personal learning habits have changed. My 10 year longitudinal study into learning tools, for  instance, shows that many individuals are making a wide range of use of tools to build their own  Modern Professional Learner’s Toolkit in order to learn for, at and through work.

Modern Professionals no longer rely solely on company training to learn – in fact they find it the least valuable way of learning – so they frequently by-pass their L&D departments to learn on the Web where they can access content (in many different formats) as well as communicate and collaboration with others – in the way(s) that best suits them.

Many L&D departments are reacting to this by modernising their own training efforts to bring them in line with ways that individuals learn on the Web, for instance …

  • They are moving away from the development of large-scale courses towards the creation of flexible resources.
  • They are designing content in more modern and appealing formats: e.g. micro-content, often in video form, accessible by mobile devices.
  • They are facilitating social learning experiences where groups of individuals can learn together, as well as building communities of practice for groups of people to share knowledge and experiences.
  • They are curating content and learning opportunities from the Web rather than designing and delivering everything from scratch.
  • They are turning their backs on traditional LMS and implementing modern alternatives in the form of learning experience platforms that support learning in non-traditional ways.

Whilst all these efforts to update company-organised learning initiatives are to be commended, many individuals still seem reluctant to engage with them, hence gamification techniques are often employed to motivate employees to do just that.  For sure,  when designed well and used in the right context gamification can be an effective device, but not everyone likes it.  What is more, gamification is an extrinsic motivator;  when what is clear is that true motivation comes from intrinsic rewards, as the following three points show.

One: Motivation comes from autonomy

Dan Pink, in his book, Drive, The surprising truth about what motivates us, shows that the secret to high performance and satisfaction is the “deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world” – and that there are 3 key elements of true motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Indeed, one of the key reasons why learning on the Web is so popular is not just because what modern professionals find there is MORE appealing, but because they have the autonomy to use what they want, how and when they want to. In other words, just because some individuals learn how  to do things by watching YouTube videos doesn’t mean it can be concluded that by creating videos everyone will learn everything better. The missing ingredient is that the individuals were motivated to learn, and chose a format that appealed to them, which they could watch in the way they wanted.

Two: Motivation comes from a personalised learning

The US Gallup State of the Workplace survey shows that only around 30% of employees are engaged (or motivated) in the workplace, and that the drivers for employee engagement in addition to necessary development include career development, as well as a manager who understands and motivates them. Kelly Palmer places this into the context of workplace learning;

“For decades, HR departments have been focused on managing an employee’s performance: how to rate them, how to fit them into a standardized model, and how to communicate deficiencies and skill gaps so their performance will improve. This hasn’t been very inspiring or motivating for employees … People want to gain knowledge and build skills that will help them be successful. And they want to know the company they work for is investing in them, now and for their future. This isn’t just a nice-to-have for people anymore.” 

Three: Motivation comes from personalisation and flexibility

As people are living longer, there is no longer such a thing a job for life; only a life of jobs.   In The corporate implications of longer life, a recent MIT Sloan Review article, the authors explain that

Source: The corporate implications of longer lives, MITSloan Review, March 2017

“As working lives become multistaged and the sequence of those stages becomes more customized, individuals will take an interest in skills with value that extends beyond the current employer and sector.” 

And the authors go on to make a significant observation …

“This will weaken the one-size-fits-all approach to learning and development. Instead, there will be a growing need for more decentralized and flexible approaches to learning, curated more by individuals than by employers.’

But they do see tensions with this approach, for example:

  • People want personalization; corporations want conformity
  • People want flexibility; corporations want standardization

And in fact they go as far to say

‘We expect the pressure building from these tensions to grow in the years ahead. Without changes in corporate policies, employees will struggle to build working lives that have resilience over an extended period of time and that support healthy and prosperous longevity. In response, companies need to initiate a top-to-bottom redesign of their human resource practices and processes.

For sure, it is this desire for conformity and standardization that keeps the traditional knowledge transfer/training model alive, but simply bolting-on self-directed learning as a device for improving motivation to learn doesn’t work well in such a command-and-control environment – where their every move is still tracked and monitor. That’s not providing the autonomy and flexibility that motivates people.

Rather what is needed is an approach where individuals take responsibility for organizing and managing their own learning so that they can learn and develop in their own preferred ways, using methods which they find most comfortable and therefore enjoyable. This is embodied in my Blueprint for supporting modern professional learners which I describe briefly below.

A Blueprint for supporting Modern Professional Learners

At the heart of this model is a self-reliant, modern employee who addresses their own learning and performance problems, organizes and manages their own professional goals, continuously learns and keeps up to date, builds their own (personally-selected) learning toolkit and maintains their own e-portfolio, and

The manager’s role is to enable and support his/her people (individually and collectively) as well as manage performance improvements, whilst L&D’s role becomes one of supporting employees, managers and their teams by guiding and supporting them in new ways.

Although there appears to be an increasing interest in moving the role of L&D from a focus on knowledge transfer to one of supporting self-learning ….

…  there is little understanding how to do this, so in Part 2 of this article, I will take a closer look at what this model means in practice for L&D. But here is a comparison of the two models.

Traditional Training/Knowledge Transfer Model Modern Professional Learning Support Model
  1. L&D is responsible for all training
  2. Focus on developing capabilities to meet organisational needs
  3. L&D knows best what is to be learned – and how to learn it
  4. Standardised – one-size-fits-all – approach
  5. Very little flexibility
  6. Training centrally managed (in a LMS)
  1. Everyone responsible for workplace learning
  2. Personalisation and autonomy are key.
  3. Individual organises/manages own learning  (in an e-portfolio) – the individual knows best
  4. L&D focuses on supporting employees, managers and teams
  5. L&D designs/delivers/manages modern learning interventions where required

5 Stages of Workplace Learning (Revisited in 2017)

In this article I take a look at how workplace learning has changed over the last 10+ years and its future direction.

In May 2010 I posted a diagram I had created that showed what I considered to be the 5 stages of Workplace Learning. My late Internet Time Alliance (ITA) colleague, Jay Cross, later re-worked it so it looked like this.

5 Stages of Workplace Learning (2010)

In May 2010 I wrote that most organisations appeared to be in Stage 3 (Blended Learning) but that some were beginning to drift into Stage 4 (Social Learning). In December 2011 I wrote that it was now apparent that more organisations had moved into Stage 4 (Social Learning), and by March 2015 I believed that this stage had become mainstream – although it was clear that for many this was  simply about adding social functionality to the traditional (top-down) model of learning.

I also remarked back then that Stage 4 was likely to be an interim phase as the top-down model of workplace learning was becoming unsustainable, as it is no longer about taking on the impossible task of providing employees with everything they need to do their work, but rather helping to develop an individual that can survive in the new world of work.

This is what Stage 5 is all about, and I have now updated my diagram  to identify this Stage as Modern Workplace Learning – the key features of which are that

  • learning happens in many ways at, through and for work
  • the best person to manage their own self-improvement is the individual concerned
  • using their own personally selected tools

Stage 5 therefore means a move from a focus on knowledge transfer to a focus on empowering, enabling and supporting modern professional learners in many new ways  – something which it seems is of interest to a growing number of people, if my recent straw poll is anything to go by.

So how do you move into Stage 5? It doesn’t require new tools or technologies, but a new mindset – and a brand new approach for supporting modern professional learners .  So in my next article I’m going to start a 3 part series introducing my Blueprint for Supporting Modern Professional Learning. In the first part I will provide a more detailed rationale for this new approach. In the second I will outline the main activities involved for L&D, and in the third part I will look at how a L&D team might move themselves forward as well as take their organisation forward.

How does the role of the L&D department need to change?

 [This article is adapted from two posts published on my own blog]

A year ago I tweeted this question:

Here are some of the responses I got back then

There were quite a few who thought that organisations couldn’t do without a Training/L&D department

“you definitely need a Dept or individual to drive a learning focus. Else getting things done always seems to take priority over spending time on learning and reflection … who else will design, create, sustain these systems and catalyze learning behaviour?” Vasanta Akondy

“Without the L&D department, a team is still needed to help make tacit knowledge explicit & available for the entire organization. Without L&D, a team is still needed to create/curate resources to interest & guide people to learn more, just in time & better. Without L&D, a systemic approach towards individual development & the transformation of the whole organization would be missing.” Monica Sulecio de A

But a number of people pointed out that most small companies don’t have a training/L&D department – so how do they survive?

“They either buy in expertise when needed or managers/staff identify & source” Simon Jones

“A small org I know have no L& D but all employees have a dev plan & 90min Mindgym sess’s organised ‘as required’.” Gina Chapman

So how would larger organisations survive without a L&D department? Many people thought that things would happen very differently ...

“what matters would get addressed. Anything else wouldn’t. learning design would disappear and performance design would replace it. Compliance would become a business practice rather than a training solution. I’ve seen/ COOs driving for efficiency identify knowledge gaps and close them on a large scale with no L&D involvement at all.” Peter Davis

“Some corporate history would be lost – which may be a good thing. Some compliance may be as well – which is not. The latter recovers.” John Bordeaux

“Removing the L&D function would liberate learning from the shackles of education. Bring on more informal and experiential learning!” Dave Haynes

“a return to on the job learning – apprentice and mentor relationships between colleagues” Gavin Hendrick

“Learning would continue, learners just adapt. Learning like OJT, knowledge sharing, coaching and mentoring would take center stage. Jecca

“People would find ways to learn. The formal capture of volumes of learning might fade, but often that’s patchy anyway.” Julie Dryboroguh

“We’d have to take responsibility ourselves. That would either make us (a direct improvement) or break us (indirect).” Hilary Gallo

“Every individual will be accountable for their personal development and performance improvement….” Sesan

“In some cases Lynda.com is the new L&D department” Natalie Lafferty

Learners will use the Internet for the teaching and learning resource it truly is and can be. #CriticalThinkingSkill required” Kecia J.Waddell, PhD

“recruiting for lifelong learning & with collective/ distributed responsibility for innovation and learning :-)” Rachel Hammel

“L&D dept motto – ‘striving for redundancy’ Help people develop the skills to be self directed learners” Helen van Ameyde

“People would interact, learn from one another & help each other as they have done since the beginning of time” Paul Duxbury

“If no T&D, managers, CEOs, execs, employees would have to take responsibility for continuous learning of organization.” Stephen Gill

  1. Organisations would get better at documenting or at the very least describing the standards and operational procedures that they required for their business
  2. Individuals would take personal accountability for their own success at work
  3. The workplace would be most favourable for the tasks that were performed there.
  4. Tasks would be simplified wherever possible, and supported by performance aids
  5. Managers would manage and provide workers with the skills, information, knowledge and environment they need in order to succeed
  6. It would be acknowledged that failure is an opportunity for the individual, the team and the organisation to learn and improve
  7. Team dynamics would strengthen and each person would be a stakeholder in, and contributor towards the success of one and all
  8. People would find a way to do things
  9. Lots of wasted time would be recovered!!
    Phil Green (by email)

“we could spend the money on architects (better collaborative spaces), chefs (team lunches) and fully-staffed IT concierge desks! Jonathan Marshall

Some believed a new type of L&D department would evolve ...

“Like natural evolution….. biz would “find a way”, “evolve” – also prob equally true that they may not even realise we’d gone!” Craig Taylor

“Perhaps nothing in the short term; may create space for something new to emerge.” Meg Peppin

“Learning would devolve to teams/individuals. They’d start to collaborate and a new L&D department would evolve made up of ppl from the ‘shopfloor’ with an interest/passion for helping others in the org learn and improve? Alistair Cockroft

“My thoughts are that if the Training/L&D department didn’t exist no organisation would create one in the image of most today. Alistair Cockcroft might be on the money – learning would devolve to teams/individuals, they’d start to collaborate and (possibly) some new form of (L&D)Compliance department would evolve (to deal with regulatory requirements). As it is LMSs have been developed in the image of L&D departments as Compliance Departments.” Charles Jennings

A couple of weeks ago I tweeted this question:

Commenting on the early results, Doug Shaw tweeted

Is the time up for the traditional L&D department? It is time for L&D to adopt a new role in the organisation? Here are some thoughts I’ve received already?

“Yes that’s the truth that L&D needs to accept and respect. And this means that L&D needs to have a deep understanding of business and an even deeper understanding of the art and science of learning, frameworks, tools & technology. Understand how can line managers learn efficiently and effectively and evolve as learning and performance consultants from being mere training providers.” Hemalakshmi

“Adopting a new role- or should I say take on a multitude of roles. At my company we have started- we are curators of information and resources, librarians, individual coaches, performance consultants, data analysts, onboarding ambassadors, with an occasional soft skill workshop and team building event thrown in and much much more. In fact our titles have changed from Sr Corporate Trainer to Talent Development Partner which we believe is more representative of the role we play.” JoanE Maddux

“To be clear, learners have become far more active in identifying what they need to do their jobs than they were 20 or 30 years ago. Effective L&D professionals actively work to understand those needs, and support their efforts. We always should have been focused on understanding their needs and lending aid to help them learn. Those who have done so can attest to the positive results as can the learners.” Don Angotti

What do you think? Is your own L&D department changing its role to reflect the reality of today’s employees addressing their own learning and performance needs?

What does it mean to transform workplace learning?

[This is an extract from Learning in the Modern Workplace 2017]

When it comes to business transformation, a Harvard Business Review article, What do you really mean by business “transformation”? describes three different “categories of effort” as follows:

  1. OPERATIONAL – This is the use of new technologies to solve old problems. However, although operational change can drive business impact, it doesn’t bring about transformation.
  2. OPERATIONAL MODEL – This involves doing what you are currently doing in a fundamentally different. But this is still not transformative.
  3. STRATEGIC TRANSFORMATION – This is about changing the very essence of the company.

This is a valuable way to help us understand what workplace learning transformation means:

  1. OPERATIONAL – This is about using new technology to solve old training problems, e.g. by converting classroom into e-learning, and adding in new technologies (and trends) – social, mobile, micro, gamification, etc – to training activities. However, whilst this might have some business impact (e.g. be more cost effective) it doesn’t bring about transformation; as it is still focused on “training” as the primary model for learning at work.
  2. OPERATIONAL MODEL – This involves carrying out training in a fundamentally different way, so for example, moving from (push) courses to (pull) resources – but even here “learning” is still considered to be the responsibility of the L&D Department, who organises and manages it all.
  3. STRATEGIC TRANSFORMATION – This means changing the very essence of what “workplace learning” means in the company, through both a new understanding of how it happens in the workplace (i.e. not just through training but as people carry out their daily jobs). It also means seeing learning at work as no longer the sole remit of the L&D department, but something that everyone in the organisation – managers and employees alike – has responsibility for.

When considering these three approaches to transformation for workplace learning:

  1. OPERATIONAL might be termed Digitizing Training
  2. OPERATIONAL MODEL might be termed Modernising Training.
  3. STRATEGIC TRANSFORMATION might be termed Modern Workplace Learning.

The HBR article concludes …

“Focusing on ‘today better’ operational efforts does nothing more than create parity with the best executors of yesterday’s model. It is a recipe for short-term survival, not long-term sustainability.

Leaders instead should be thinking about how to blend together operational model and strategic transformation to execute …  a dual transformation.” 

So once again if we apply this to the transformation of workplace learning, the key point is that operational transformation efforts (that is applying new technologies to old training problems) are only a recipe for short term survival. For long-term sustainability it will be important to blend together the operational model and strategic transformation to bring about a dual transformation of workplace learning.

Modern Workplace Learning therefore doesn’t just mean adding in new technology to old training practices, nor implementing a new learning platform but rather adopting a new, modern understanding of what it means to learn at work. Modern Workplace Learning means:

doing things differently and doing different things

What does this means in practice? Find out in Learning in the Modern Workplace 2017.

Gamification is like Marmite. Love it or hate it

Gamification is another HR buzzword; in fact nowadays everything is being gamified. It is big business; gamification vendors abound, and there are plenty of gamification conferences too. But does it actually work?

First of all, let’s be clear what is meant by the term gamification.  It is not the same as games (or even game-based learning) rather gamification. According to the EngagementAlliance.org

“is the process of using game mechanics and game thinking in non-gaming contexts to engage users and to solve problems.” 

Recently, in quick succession, I read two posts about gamification,  one, Is Gamification Important in 2017?, extolled the benefits of gamification and having fun at work ..

“It can drive better employee performance and uses real-time feedback and goals (personalized ones, where employees “compete with themselves”) to reflect performance — like a Fitbit for work. “

The second article,  Employees Don’t Need Workplace Training to Be Fun, Just Efficient,  said quite the opposite.

“Gamification hasn’t increased employee engagement and motivation the way organizations hoped it would. This is especially true with information workers, where gamification efforts fell flat. “

The latter quote resonated with me, because personally, I find gamification techniques irritating and annoying. In fact, I’ve opted out of the gamification techniques a major UK retailer is now employing to try and encourage me to buy more.  Fortunately, I don’t have to endure it at work (being an independent worker); I can’t think of anything worse!!

I therefore don’t employ any gamification techniques (leaderboards, badges and other competition mechanics) in my own social workshops in order to get people to participate and contribute. I tend to agree with Guy Boulet when he points out that gamification is simply “bells and whistles”, and that

“Competition is an extrinsic motivator because it encourages the performer to win and to beat others, not simply to enjoy the intrinsic rewards of the activity.”

I prefer to focus on participants’ intrinsic motivation – their desire to seek out new things and new challenges – which is why in my workshops, individuals have a choice not only whether to sign up, but also how they participate. I also believe that participants can get as much out of the learning experience even if they don’t actively contribute. Activity doesn’t equate to learning; the only evidence that they have learned is in their new or improved performance.

But I have wondered if participants would really like to have a gamified experience. Maybe I was depriving them of some key ways to get more out of the workshop.  I knew I shouldn’t make assumptions about others learning preferences based on my own, so I thought I would find out what other people thought of gamification at a personal level.

I therefore set up a quick Twitter straw poll. The question was simple.  Here is the poll and the results.

I found the results quite surprising, as they were pretty evenly split between those who find gamification techniques motivational and those who find them irritating, with only a small percentatage undecided. My conclusion is that gamification is like Marmite – you either love it or hate it!  [For those not living in the UK Marmite is the yeast extract that evokes a similar “love it or hate it: reaction ).

Furthermore, on the basis of my very small poll it seems to me that gamification is actually a  high-risk technique to use since it appears to cause as many people to disengage as to engage.

But it was the comments around the poll that were very enlightening and I think added some very valuable insights into what people think about gamification.

Kim said “I hate gamification. I feel like I am being manipulated.”

Professor David Simpson said “I find it faddish. Though I am all for “engagement” I find that gamification often trivializes.”

David Glow said “I don’t have an issue with well done gamification. The issue is, very little of it exists”

So what is well designed gamification? A number of commenters provided some ideas.

Craig Taylor said:   “If done intelligently I have no issue with it/sometimes I don’t even realise that it’s happening. Other times it’s done poorly & the ‘game’ part of it becomes sole focus, with the intended behaviour change secondary/ tertiary.”

Kevin Maye agreed: “Done well and unobtrusively – love it. Contrived and adding no value – bleurgh”

And Doug Shaw introduced the concept of choice:  “At times I enjoy playing as part of my work, I like to choose when, and I don’t like being played!

But do we really need to make work (or learning) a game? I always remember a blog post Harold Jarche wrote back in 2011, Work is already a Game

“The major problem with the ‘gamification’ of professional learning is that work is already a game. It is an artificial construct that society has created, and many of us have to play. Adding badges, or other extrinsic motivators, to professional learning only detracts from the real game. It also creates incentives that, when removed, may result in going back to previous behaviours.”

As for me, from all this, I haven’t been convinced that gamification would add any value to my own workshops. I still believe it is too often used in a desperate attempt to engage people into doing something they really don’t want to be doing in the first place! But if you still want to go ahead and include gamification techniques to try and improve engagement at work or training, then here are my 5 recommendations.

  1. Think again! Are you really sure this is the best way to motivate your people. Couldn’t you do something else to tap into employees’ intrinsic motivation?
  2. Find out from your people if this is something they would enjoy.
  3. Even if you get a majority positive response, don’t ignore those who don’t want it. Think as much about them; turning them off isn’t going to help. If gamification is meant to be fun, you can’t force fun.
  4. Gamification should be a personal choice so offer the option to take part or not; people are actually more likely to try it out if they are not forced to participate.
  5. Finally design it well! Ensure the gamification techniques are unobtrusive and subtle; not overt and patronising, and in particular, make sure people don’t think they are being played.

L&D’s biggest challenge and greatest opportunity: letting go

L&D’s traditional role has been to organise, track, monitor and otherwise manage training – firstly as it took place in the classroom and more recently in the form of e-learning. However, now that it is generally recognised that modern professionals learn in many different ways, it is not just a matter of force-fitting these new ways into the traditional model of organisational Learning & development – which is essentially one of command and control. Rather, it means L&D needs to let go of their old ways of working, and instead offer a service that enables and supports all the ways modern professionals learn at, for and through work.

This essentially means moving away from the role of “learning gatekeeper” (ie controlling access to the means of learning) or the “learning police” (ie making sure people do things as prescribed and don’t do any unlawful learning) to becoming an Advisor and Consultant to the business. Taking on this new role opens up much wider opportunities to help the business thrive in this highly competitive age, and provide a service that is more valued and appreciated.

Here are some examples of how L&D departments are responding to statements about how modern professionals learn. On the left are their traditional responses, whilst on the right are examples of how L&D departments are already letting go.

1 – Modern professionals learn continuously as they do their jobs

Command and Control Enable and Support
We believe that people only learn though initiatives organised by L&D – whether it be in the classroom or in an online course – and where we can monitor and track who has completed it.

We also need to ensure everyone has the same consistent experience. Anything anyone learns that has not been organised by L&D is of no interest to us.


We recognise people are learning outside of formal initiatives but we want to track and everything everyone learns (in our LMS) so that we have a complete picture of organisational learning.

We offer a variety of resources on the intranet for people to use as they wish in the way that they wish – we use lite tracking to see what is popular, but completion rates are no longer relevant indicators.

We recognise people learn more as they do their daily jobs, so we work with managers and their teams to help them get the most out of their everyday work experiences.

We think it is infeasible (and unnecessary) to try and capture everything everyone learns at work. It is more important to us how they apply what they learn in terms of job, team and business improvements.

2 – Modern professionals want immediate access to solutions to their problems

Command and Control Enable and Support
We understand the need for on-demand resources but we believe that performance problems should only be solved by performance support created by L&D. We ban access to the Web just to make sure people don’t look for their own resources. We realise we can’t create everything everyone needs to do their job, so we encourage individuals to look for their own solutions to their problems. We help those who have difficulty with this to develop the skills to quickly find useful and trustworthy resources.

We facitiate collaborative problem-solving workshops to help teams identify the most appropriate solutions to their group problems rather than force our solutions on them

3 – Modern professionals are happy to share what they know

Command and Control Enable and Support
We can’t let people share stuff as it might be incorrect. We believe the only valid content that should be accessed is the content which has been designed and delivered by L&D. We realise we can’t provide everything everyone needs, so we tap into this spirit of sharing and encourage people to share experiences and resources with one another.

We support them to do this on enterprise work systems (so it is part of the workflow) rather than in a separate learning platform (where it is siloed away).

We help to build the skills so that people are able to share what they want in the way they want.

4 – Modern professionals rely on a trusted network of colleagues and connections

Command and Control Enable and Support
We believe public social networks have no value and are time-wasters. We ban access to them. We recognise the benefit that can be had from connecting with a wide set of people outside the organisation, and therefore help people to build, extend and maintain their own professional networks of connections that bring them value.

5 – Modern professionals like to learn with and from others

Command and Control Enable and Support
We know social learning is a new trend, so we are setting up a Social Learning Platform where we we can track all the discussions taking place.

We will also make sure everyone contributes, and that they are saying the right things, and furthermore that they are learning from it – which we will measure by monitoring the number of posts and comments they make.

We know that the real social learning takes place in teams and groups as they work together, but we do recognise that there are opportunities for learning (in a more formal way with one another). However, we don’t force or enforce people to be social, only provide a framework for conversations and collaboration to take place.

We facilitate social online learning experiences in the same social platforms we use for working. We don’t measure success in social activity but in terms of improved performance that results from learning and working together.

6 – Modern professionals keep up to date with their industry and profession

Command and Control Enable and Support
We only recognise CPD programs as valid indicators of professional progress.

We do allow attendance at one conference per year.


We recognise the wide opportunities on the Web to help people receive continuous updates on what is happening in their industry and professional, so we are happy to curate relevant resources for busy groups of people.

But we also help out people to find resources themselves, and how to make good use of curation tools to do this, as well as help them with the skills to avoid information overload and to make sense of what they find.

We encourage our people to share what they find with others.

7 – Modern professionals thrive on autonomy

Command and Control Enable and Support
No way! We can’t let people be in charge of their own learning. How will we know if they are learning the right thing? People need to be trained to do their jobs and it’s our job to make sure they are. Anything else they do is irrelevant. Self-organised and self-managed learning is a key part of our organisational learning strategy, so we help individuals to identify their professional goals, find the resources and people (eg. mentors) to achieve them, and generally build the skills to help them become self-reliant.

We offer a Learning Help Desk service to deal with bespoke needs.

We encourage people to share the achievements (as a result of their new knowledge and skills) in networking events so that the organisation can benefit from them too.

8 – Modern professionals like to use their own tools

Command and Control Enable and Support
We only sanction the use of enterprise learning systems and tools, as we need to track and manage everything centrally. We encourage the use of self-selected tools, and the setting up of a privately controlled personal learning space where individuals can record, reflect on and make sense of their own learning.

We only use a central LMS to track the stuff we have to, ie. compliance and regulatory training. Other formal learning initiatives are delivered in more modern and flexible ways (e.g. through learning campaigns).

Want to find out more how to let go? My book, Learning in the Modern Workplace and associated workshops are there to help.

Top down implementation of social learning doesn’t work

Now that social learning is a hot topic, many organizations are beginning to consider how they can implement or operationalize it.  However, “social learning”  is a very different type of learning from traditional training, because it is natural phenomenon (that takes place when people share and collaborate with one another) rather than something that is implemented by an organization. However,  as the use of social technologies are changing the definition of social learning, the issue is rather more about how to implement tools to underpin social and collaborative learning within an organization.

The traditional way of implementing any new trend or technology – we have seen it with e-learning and the LMS – is to do this top-down.  Someone or some people decide what tools/platforms are best for use within the organization and these are then purchased, installed and set up for employees to use.  They then have to get the employees to use the tools, perhaps even train them to how to do so.

Those who are implementing social learning in this way, ask questions like this:

  • How will we get people to use the social tools?
  • How will we get people to collaborate and share?
  • How will we ensure what they share is accurate?
  • When are they going to have time in their workday to collaborate and share with their colleagues?
  • What platform can we ensure everybody uses to allow us to track every piece of social activity that takes place?

In other words, it is seen in terms of imposing social and collaboration tools on the workforce, compelling them to share and collaborate, and then controlling  and tracking what they do share.

But this approach doesn’t work well with social learning for a couple of reasons:

1.   Those that are already collaborating, sharing and learning with one another, are resisting attempts to force them to use other social tools or platforms in order to track and control what they are doing.  It only serves to push their sharing activities underground.

2.   Those that have yet to experience, understand and feel comfortable with social technologies don’t want to be forced into sharing and collaborating when they are not ready for it, and are resisting attempts to make them do so.

So it is  unsurprising that organizations that take a top-down approach to implementing social learning are reporting that it has failed; that workers are not using their social platform and that it is therefore not effective!

A more appropriate approach, therefore is to use a supportive bottom-up approach, which is more about supporting those individuals who already are sharing and collaborating with one another and encouraging others to experience the benefits of social working and learning. It is also about recognizing the fact that social learning works best when individuals and teams have a genuine purpose, need or interest to do so, e.g. to deal with a common issue or problem or to support one another – rather than because they are being told or forced to do so.

Smart organizations are therefore asking very different questions about implementing social  technologies for working and learning, e.g.

  • How can we support those who are already working and learning collaboratively?
  • How can we build on what is already happening?
  • How can we encourage those who are not already working and learning collaboratively, to do so?
  • How can we provide services to individuals and teams to help them address their learning and performance problems using collaborative approaches?

In organizations where this approach has been adopted, social learning and collaborative working is an organic process, for as more and more people recognize the value of learning from one another, they become involved, participate, share and collaborate.  It is these organizations who are reporting job and business productivity improvements, increased customer satisfaction and an improved bottom line.

There are a number of fundamental principles that underpin a supportive bottom-up approach to social learning:

1 – L&D doesn’t “own” social learning

When Marcia Conner, the author of The New Social Learning, was asked, in an interview whether social learning should be led by cross-division teams or should it be ‘owned’ by a specific division/groups, she gave the following answer:

“The idea any group or cross-division team can own social learning is like asking one department to be responsible for organizational health. The only people who can own social learning are the individuals who themselves are learning each day, from one another, based on their work and in the flow of work.

2 – Autonomy is a powerful motivator

In his  book, Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us, Dan Pink explained how autonomy (along with mastery and purpose) is a powerful motivator.  He shows that the secret to high performance and satisfaction at work is the deeply human need to direct our own lives.  He states:

“The opposite of autonomy is control.  And since they sit at different poles of the behavioral compass, they point us to different destinations.  Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.”

3 – Better results come from “getting out the way”

Encouraging learner/worker autonomy is something that scares many organizations; and it certainly requires a culture of trust. Andy McAfee, writing in a 2010 article in Fortune Magazine, Taking the social media plunge: Learning to let gosays:

“If you want a good outcome, back off on process and get out of the way of people. Let them come together and interact as they wish, and harvest the good stuff that emerges.”

So implementing social technologies for learning therefore is not just about adding social media to the blended learning mix, but about encouraging workers to use them to share their knowledge and experiences with one another as a natural part of their daily work. .

And furthermore, the ultimate success of the use of social technologies to support collaborative learning and working doesn’t lie in the quantity of sharing that takes place which is measured in the number of posts, likes and  comments – since that just encourages people to share for sharing’s sake and ultimately leads to over-sharing and noise – but in the value that people derive from those shared experiences, which leads to improvements in job, team and organisational performance.

Company training/e-learning is the least valued way of learning at work: what does this mean for L&D?



I have been running the Learning in the Workplace survey for 5 years now, and after over 5,000 responses from 63 countries worldwide the results are clear: Company training is the least valued way of learning in the workplace. In this article I want to look at what the survey tells us and what the results mean for L&D departments.

About the survey

The survey asks respondents to rate the following 10 ways of learning in the workplace  – as “Not important (NI)”, “Quite important (QI)”, “Very Important (VI)” or “Essential (Es)”.

  • Company training/e-learning
  • Self-directed study of external courses
  • Internal company documents
  • Job aids
  • Knowledge sharing within your team
  • General conversation and meetings with people
  • Personal and professional networks and communities
  • External blogs and news feeds
  • Content curated from external sources
  • Web search for resources (e.g. using Google)

The survey results

The latest  results of the survey are as follows. They are ranked by their combined Very Important + Essential percentages. The pink shaded areas  highlight where the most responses have been received.

ways of learning NI QI VI Es VI+Es
1 Knowledge sharing within team 2 10 30 58 88
2 Web search 3 17 32 48 80
3 General conversations 2 19 40 39 79
4 Networks & communities 3 23 39 35 74
5 Blog & news feeds 12 31 35 22 57
6 Curated content 9 35 36 20 56
7 Self-directed study 13 35 35 17 52
8 Company docs 13 38 31 18 49
9 Job aids 18 37 30 15 45
10 Company training/e-learning 21 39 23 17 40

Right at the bottom of the ranking lies company training/e-learning with only 40% of respondent believing it to be very important or essential. But is this the case for everyone?

Analysis by age

It is often said that formal training appeals more to older workers than it does to younger ones. However, the data suggests that younger workers actually value training and e-learning more than older workers.

Age group NI QI VI Es VI+Es
under 30 13 35 31 20 51
31-40 20 40 23 16 39
41-50 21 39 23 17 40
overall 21 39 23 17 40
51-60 22 40 21 17 38
over 60 31 36 24 9 33

The most valued way of learning at work is Knowledge sharing within your team, so which age group(s) does this appeal to? Interestingly, once again it is the youngest workers who value this most, whilst older workers value it least.

Age group NI QI VI Es VI+Es
under 30 0 5 31 65 96
31-40 1 9 27 62 89
overall 2 10 30 58 88
41-50 1 10 31 57 88
51-60 2 12 31 55 86
over 60 5 13 29 54 83

So if we compare the profile of the youngest and the oldest workers –  i.e. how they ranked the 10 ways of learning relative to the overall profile (shown in brackets in the table below) –  this is what we find.

Under 30s Over 60s
  1. Knowledge sharing 96 (1)
  2. Conversations 91 (3)
  3. Web search 77 (2)
  4. Blog feeds 69 (5)
  5. Prof networks 66 (4)
  6. Company docs 52 (8)
  7. Company training 51 (10)
  8. Self-directed 50 (7)
  9. Curated content 48 (6)
  10. Job aids 43 (9)
  1. Web search 86 (2)
  2. Knowledge sharing 83 (1)
  3. Prof networks 80 (4)
  4. Conversations 79 (3)
  5. Curated content 69 (6)
  6. Blog feeds 64 (5)
  7. Company docs 50 (8)
  8. Self-directed 47 (7)
  9. Job aids 39 (9)
  10. Company training 33 (10)

What this means for L&D

Although there are a few interesting generational differences, these are certainly not significant enough to stereotype generational preferences – but there is one  thing we need to keep sight of  in all this – and that is everyone is different.  But it is also clear from the results that  informal, social as well as self-organised approaches are now the preferred means of learning for many, so this would suggest the need for L&D to adopt a new set of workplace learning practices that

  1. focus less on the creation of top-down content (courses and resources) using a  “one-size fits all” approach, and instead offer flexible, on demand content and collaborative activities that allow individuals to have a personal(ised) learning experience
  2. focus more on supporting the informal, social learning practices that take place in teams, projects and across the enterprise, and also
  3. focus more on supporting self-organised workers and the development of their own personal learning strategies.

Analysis by country

Finally, what about different countries – are they all culturally ready for new approaches to workplace learning?

The table below shows how participants value training based on the country they live in. Whereas it can be seen that there are a number of countries where training is more highly valued than the overall profile (and some in particular do still have a strong training culture), there are others where it is less valued. It is in these countries that we are seeing a  shift in how workers are learning differently for and at work, so it is in these countries that employees are likely to be ready for modern workplace learning practices.

Country (% of voters)
Es V+Es Rank
Ireland (1%)  33 50 13 4  17
New Zealand (2%)  19 59 15 7  22
Canada (7%)  24 43 18 15  33
UK (19%)  23 42 23 13  36
Germany (4%)  18 44 27 11  38
Australia (10%)  17 45 23 15  38
USA (29%)  25 37 23 15  38
overall  21 39 23 17  40
Finland (1%)  32 38 15 15  30
France (1%)  23 46 19 12  32
Netherlands (3%)  28 38 19 13  32
Switzerland (2%)  22 34 33 11  44
Belgium (2%)  9 43 29 20  49
Spain (2%) 18 39 29 14  43
Brazil (1%) 29 14 14 43  54
South Africa (1%) 10 23 24 43  67
China (1%) 14 29 14 43  57
India (5%) 4 29 19 46  65

Beyond Training – The Importance of Workwide Learning

There is a lot of talk about lifelong learning – but most of it focuses on lifelong education – that is continuously taking courses throughout your life. For instance, the recent Economist article, Lifelong learning is becoming an economic imperative, explained how “Technological change demands stronger and more continuous connections between education and employment”.

This article makes an important point, but lifelong education is only part of the answer. Rather than talk about lifelong learning, what it is actually more appropriate is to talk about lifewide learning.

The education concept of lifewide learning is described at LifeWideEducation as follows …

The important characteristic of lifewide learning is that it embraces a comprehensive understanding and practice of learning, development, knowledge and knowing and achievement.  Lifewide learning includes all types of learning and personal development – learning and development in formal educational environments which is directed or self managed, and learning and development in informal (non-educational) situations. It includes learning and development that is driven by our interests and its intrinsic value, as well as our needs, and learning which just emerges during the course of our daily activity

Lifewide education embraces and recognises these forms of learning, development and achievement. It holds the promise for a more complete and holistic form of education in which people combine and integrate their learning (both formal and informal), their personal or professional development and their achievements.”

If we apply the concept of lifewide learning to the workplace, we might talk about workwide learning. So to paraphrase the second paragraph above:

Workwide learning embraces a comprehensive understanding and practice of learning, development, knowledge and knowing and achievement.  Workwide learning includes all types of learning and personal development – learning and development in formal training which is directed or self managed, and learning and development in informal (non-training) situations. It includes learning and development that is driven by our interests and its intrinsic value, as well as our needs, and learning which just emerges during the course of our daily activity.

A Workwide Learning approach that offers “a more complete and holistic form” of workplace learning is therefore more appropriate for today’s fast moving workplace, since it encourages individuals to learn for, at and through work – not just in training.

But are your people ready? Lifewide Education explains that ..

“To be a competent lifewide learner requires not only the ability to recognise and take advantage of opportunities and the will and capability to get involved, it also requires self-awareness derived from consciously thinking about and extracting meaning and significance from the experiences that populate our lives.”

When adopting a Workwide Learning approach, L&D’s role will therefore be more about enabling and supporting employees to become competent workwide learners  – rather than just designing and delivering courses and resources FOR them. This means both supporting manager-led learning and empowering employee-led learning.

5 Factors driving Modern Workplace Learning

“If you were an employee on Henry Ford’s assembly line in Detroit in the 1920s, you received a high degree of training and preparation before you ever set foot in the factory. You learned what your role was, and were given all the tools you needed to accomplish your job from Day One. From then on, your role never changed—you did your part to move a product forward along the assembly line, from the day you began until the day you retired, 40 or 50 years later. Since those days, the business world has transformed .. but the workforce training process hasn’t kept up with the pace of change.”

I believe this quote from Karl Mehta  summarizes the situation pretty accurately, and like Karl (and others) I think this means we need to adopt new practices to support learning in today’s workplace. So I in this article I want to take a look at 5 factors that are impacting the workplace and driving a new approach to workplace learning.


There has been a lot written about the effects of digitization on the workplace, as Microsoft explains

“The exponential growth of digital connectivity, devices and information is driving profound changes in the way we work, all around all the world …”

But in a business this involves far more than converting paper-based or off-line processes into online processes. And in workplace learning terms it involves far more than converting classroom training into e-learning – as Microsoft explains (my emboldening)..

“In order to survive in this world, companies need to rethink everything from culture to tools and environments.”

So L&D will also need to rethink its whole approach to workplace learning: the culture, tools and environments – by adopting a new, modern understanding of what it means to learn at work.  The second factor gives us some clues as to what that might look like.


It is increasingly clear that learning habits are changing. Individuals no longer rely on being trained as the only way to learn for work, many appreciate they learn as they do their work as well through their interactions with colleagues, clients, their manager and maybe even a coach. They also make significant use of the Web – not just to access online courses, but also a variety of resources (in different formats – particular video) as well as to build their professional networks of connections from around the world on social networks (like Twitter, LinkedIn). And in doing so they often bypass L&D to solve their learning and performance problems more quickly and more easily.

For L&D this means no longer trying to maintain the role of learning gatekeeper. Nor does it mean being the learning police – banning access to anything that hasn’t been created by them. What’s more beliefs like “our people don’t know what to learn” or we “can’t trust them to learn the right things” are no longer appropriate. A “we-know-best” attitude no longer works! In fact the recent Towards Maturity Learner’s Voice report showed that employees like to be in charge of how they learn, with 91% wanting to learn at their own pace and 82% knowing what they need to learn in order to do their job.  Laura Overton, Founder of Towards Maturity, commenting on the report, said “The message is clear: L&D teams must adapt to the needs of colleagues rather than force them to do what L&D wants them to do.”

So L&D needs to embrace these changing learning habits. But they doesn’t just mean creating courses and resources in ways that are more consistent with the ways people learn on the Web (although that’ll be part of the future). It means  actively encouraging and supporting individuals to find their own solutions to their learning and performance problems in the ways that suit them best.  This is particularlh important for the next reason.


We are now seeing a multi-generational workplace – 4 generations in the workplace for the first time. Much has been been written about the different attitudes to work and learning of each of these generations, in particular their exposure and use of new technologies. But rather than stereotyping people on generational grounds e.g. assuming that a Baby Boomer will have no interest or experience with social media whilst a Millennial will be a fully Web savvy person, or that a Baby Boomer will prefer a classroom course whilst a Millennial will prefer to watch a YouTube video – what needs to be recognized is that everyone is different, and that a one-size-fits-all (“sheep dip”) approach to training is no longer appropriate.

This doesn’t mean creating resources in multiple formats to ensure everyone’s preferences are met (a pretty impossible task) but rather supporting flexibility and autonomy so that individuals can construct their own learning experiences in the way that suits them best. And there is another good reason for this approach too.


We are now living in an era of exponential information growth. Huge amounts of data are being created every day. But what is more, the half life of a piece of knowledge today is just around 5 years. In other words, knowledge is decaying and skills are quickly going out of date. It has been said that a college degree will be out of date before the loan is paid off.

So whereas, in the past, as we have seen, individuals were trained to do their jobs once and this would last them their whole careers, over time, as job roles became more sophisticated or new technology or procedures were introduced, training became a full-time operation just to keep people knowledgeable, skilled and up to date. So this doesn’t mean L&D needs to work even harder –  creating even more training. There is a finite amount L&D can do. Rather it means adopting a new approach – one that comes from not trying to do it all themselves and controlling it all, but recognizing that everyone need to be constantly keeping themselves up to date – learning and developing new skills and expertise – in the ways that best suit them – encouraged and supported by their manager. So L&D’s role won’t be to create more stuff, but focus on helping people with the new skills many will need to learn things for themselves. And there is an additional factor influencing this …


The emerging Gig Economy means that there is no longer such a thing a job for life.-  in fact, for most individuals this means they are going to have a life of jobs. One estimate is that current students will have more than 10 jobs by the time they are 38. Companies are also going to be seeing a growing contingent workforce (made up of freelancers, independent professionals and temporary contract workers). Research from Ernst and Young shows that two in five organisations expect to increase their use of the contingent workforce by 2020.

This means that people are going to be recruited WITH the skills to do a job; not recruited AND THEN trained to do the job. So if employees want to stay in a company they will therefore need to keep their skills up to date themselves. But in fact, supporting individuals to do just this will actually be beneficial to the organisation as it will reduce the costs of recruitment, So this means helping individuals organize and manage their own professional self-development inline with organizational objectives to achieve a  new level of performance.

All this means a very different organizational learning culture from the long-standing traditional culture that exists in most workplaces. I call this Modern Workplace Learning (MWL)  and  I’ve summarised the key differences in the diagram below.

Clearly such a culture change won’t happen tonight – but there are a number of steps L&D can make to do things differently and doing different things  to help build this new world of workplace learning.  MWL doesn’t JUST mean  providing modern trainingDesigning and delivering modern content and learning experiences in line with new ways of learning on the Web but also  supporting manager-led learningworking with managers to help them value and support everyday learning both individually and in work teams and groups – as well as empowering employee-led learningHelping individuals take responsibility for their own continuous self-development aligned with organisational objectives,  and sharing their  experiences so that the organisation can benefit from it too.

[Find out more about Modern Workplace Learning in my latest book, Learning in the Modern Workplace 2017.]