Reflecting on: “Here’s why you’re failing to create a learning culture”

Another great article from Laura Overton and the Toward’s Maturity team got me thinking this week.  The article considers “five common mistakes” that can stifle a learning culture.

Below are some of my reflections on these points – both from my own experience and what I’ve read, seen at shows, conferences, etc.

  1. You don’t trust staff to manage their own learning
    • I totally agree that everyone needs to own their part in continuous improvement and the part learning plays in that.
    • We are doing a lot to empower managers to coach and facilitate their team’s development.  The challenges I see are two fold:
      1. is that people feel they are too busy to take this on.  I tend to feel people are ‘doing this already’ and do not perhaps realize but…
      2. how can the ‘day to day’ learning can be amplified?  The amplification across silos being a particular challenge.
    • The “trust” point is an interesting one as I wonder how many L&D organisations are happy to trust the individuals in what they need (with the risk of verging into solution-centric models rather than analyzing issues) but not in how to spend money.  In some ways this is fair as it is where L&D have a governance role to play – consistency, economies of scale and consistent outcomes with controlled pilots/innovation, etc.  However, there is the risk of being a blocker…
  2. You are stifling staff contribution
    • “91% of learners like being able to learn at their own pace and they are more than capable of searching for the information they need” – my experience would suggest people generally struggle to search and retrieve (information skills are limited and overload a problem).  This is where information systems are key, L&D needs to be embedded with coms and KM, architecture is all important and it largely depends around what is already in place for having an online internal profile – for example, ESNs.
    • I would though agree with the main points: it is all important to get people to share what they find and user generated content is part of this – so too is getting people to feedback after external training or conferences.  The latter examples have been known issues for a long time and remain issues, I presume, in most organisations from what I have seen and heard.
    • Perhaps the issue here is with “personal development planning” and career development more generally.  Yes, it is a personal journey and one which will be more personalized via analytics, customization and technology like Filtered.  However, the fundamental point why an organisation wants to invest in you (be it funding or just funding your time away from work) is to see a performance improvement now or in the future (see Degreed for a definition of learning culture) so do we drop the “personal” to stress that it is a co-investment?  We could say “performance improvement plan” but that sounds rather draconian and as if people are on their “final warning”.  Anyone out there got a better name?  Really “plans” just needs to be dropped altogether for ongoing small scale development?  Then what about required accreditation (where they are not going away any time soon)?  Lots of issues here for the workplace in general beyond L&D departments – for example, how do you budget for these more flexible requirements.
  3. Your content is inaccessible
    • Yep, a real problem with the traditional model of hiding things from search via SCORM, etc.  This ties in with some of what I’ve written under ethos about trying to change L&D to an open web approach – do we really need to hide behind logins?  Often its about having everything in one place but that is, in part, due to poor architecture and a lack of hyperlinking
    • There remains, to me, a question over how much the best content is inaccessible.  Yes, the open web hosts enough to get by on most topics but do we still need to licence from vendors larger libraries of nice solutions like getAbstract?  I would say yes, even if many publishers have gone to the wall in the digital age.  The challenge then remains what it has been for probably 20 years or more – federated search across multiple resources.
  4. You take learning away from work
    1. Again my ethos page stresses the need to consider learning as work and work as learning.  I ran a session last week for people in my organisation who have formal “learning” responsibilities in their roles.  The interesting outcome of the session, which was the first such event and therefore deliberately navel-gazing about how we work (via me picking various articles and thought pieces from Jane Hart, Donald Taylor, Saffron Interactive and others), was our consideration of where we are on some of these spectrum.  Effectively a bench-marking reflection exercise for the wider group.  I still doubt many organisations are actively giving people such time to reflect on external learning and bring it back in a productive way to influence behavior.
    2. The growing importance in the UK given to apprenticeships is in some ways reinforcing problems here but also targeting learning at the workplace performance.  It remains to be seen if the government’s approach with the Levy can survive the Brexit fallout and other challenges.
  5. You don’t reward learning
    1. Agreed, this can be a major problem.  I’ve previously left organisations frustrated at a lack of opportunities to make use of my skills and I suspect many many others have had this problem.  I recently spoke to a colleague who had even been through a formal development programme only to not have a role to go into at the end – again apprenticeships should help here with the formal development options leading to rewards.
    2. Sharing success can be driven via internal coms channels and we’re also using a combination of Open Badges and competency models to drive recognition.

Overall some really interesting points to reflect on and try to tackle going forward!

Author: iangardnergb

My name is Ian Gardner and I am interested in various topics that can be seen as related to learning, technology and information. To see what I am reading elsewhere, follow me on The Old Reader ( and/or Twitter (@iangardnergb).

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