On the fantastic Corporate Learning Trends online conference Conversations on Learning in Organizations, one of the topics that came up was “How can we get learners to take resonsibility for their learning”, and it’s a critical one.
At the end of the day, we can’t create learning, we can only (at best) design environments that are conducive to learning. Learners have to actually take action. Now, in most instances they’re willing (though our current formal learning is often antithetical to ease of learning; e.g. “spray and pray”, “show up and throw-up” sessions), but when we go beyond the formal course (and we should), we largely abandon learners to their own devices.
That’s a mistake, as the empirical evidence is that efficacious self-learners are relatively rare. They get by, but they’re far from optimal. For instance, the first online courses had high dropout rates and relatively low success until they started facilitating the learning process. Similarly, the work literacy movement is specifically to address the need for these skills.
And it’s not only about skills, but also attitude. When I was teaching at a university, I was always dismayed at the number of students who’s attitude was “just tell me what I need to do to get a good grade”, without caring about the inherent interest in the subject. Sure, our current schooling may well extinguish the love of learning, and so may the ‘industrial’ approach to training. However, an intrinsic interest in learning is critical to success, individually, organizationally, and societally.
However, organizationally don’t talk about learning, about learning skills, and we don’t take responsibility for developing those learning skills and making them meaningful.
So my first response was, and is, we need to be explicit about learning skills: about their existence, importance. And we need to do more, we need to measure them, model them, develop them, and reward them.
As many have noted over the past 24 hours of the conference, the role of the organizational learning function is shifting to facilitating learning, not delivering it. While there’s still a role for formal learning, our pedagogies and our responsibilities need to shift to learning facilitation, both formal and informal.
Learners need to be assisted in taking responsibility for their learning, and we need to take responsibility for making it so. In the end, organizations that learn best, will be the ones that survive, and thrive! So be responsible, and support responsibility!