In all the excitement about empowering learners by providing rich information and social environments, it’s too easy to think that “if you build it, they will learn”. Yet the evidence is to the contrary. While there are numerous components, including a culture that tolerates diversity and doesn’t punish honest mistakes, one that is easy to neglect the actual learning skills of employees. My ITA colleague Charles Jennings made a nice first pass at a list of useful skills.
Individual learning skills include the ability to know where to look for what, and how to write good search queries and evaluate search results. While you would think that at least the so-called ‘digital natives’ (a myth) would have these skills down, a UK study found to the contrary that they were “anything but expert searchers”. On the contrary, there was a gap between performance and self-estimates of skill (a general trend when 80% of people think they’re above average :), and little time spent evaluating the quality of the information.
Social learning skills similarly should not be assumed. As I mentioned in my previous screed on social learning design, my experience showed that learners don’t necessarily know how to work together. The full suite of how to: be trustworthy, be appropriate, ask for help, give help, discuss intelligently, collaborate usefully and more are all not necessarily in the competency set of your audience.
Back when Jay Cross and I were pushing Meta-Learning, we argued, and still believe, that one of the best investments you could make would be to focus on the learning skills of your team, ensuring they’re optimally capable of learning new things. That’s certainly true for information/knowledge/concept workers. Coupled with a similarly light and strategic investment in social learning infrastructure, it seems like the biggest bang you can get for your buck.
I suggest identifying the necessary skills, making them explicit in the organization, and even assessing and developing those skills. In a time of increasing complexity, helping learners address complexity seems like an obviously valuable investment!