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 take a 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
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Jane Hart

Jane Hart helps organisations and learning professionals modernise their approaches to workplace learning - through public workshops and bespoke consultancy. She is the Editor of the Modern Workplace Learning Magazine, and is the author of a number of books including Modern Workplace Learning 2018 as well as the resource for individuals How to become a Modern Professional Learner. You can contact Jane at Jane.Hart@C4LPT.co.uk.