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.

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Jane Hart

Jane Hart is the Director of the Centre for Modern Workplace Learning, which she set up to help organisations and learning professionals modernise their approaches to workplace learning - through public workshops as well as private company sessions. She is the Editor of the Modern Workplace Learning Magazine, and is the author of a number of books including, Learning in the Modern Workplace 2017. You can contact Jane at editor@ModernWorkplaceLearning.com.