Creating a modern learning organisation

February 18, 2021
Unpicking the concept of a “learning organisation”: what can a modern organisation best do to facilitate the learning of its members and continuously transform itself?

In my first post, I wrote about the range of ways that we could improve our skills in L&D to deliver modern learning solutions. The spread of technology, of apps, of human insight have provided us with so much information, that we simply can’t ignore the research, the data, and the insights. I suggested there are 6 types of activities and solutions that can help modernise the learning provision. In this piece I want to look at how we take those things and build a learning organisation.

What is a learning organisation?

I guess the first piece is to help define what a learning organisation is. Wikipedia can help us here:

“A learning organisation is the business term given to a company that facilitates the learning of its members and continuously transforms itself. The concept was coined through the work and research of Peter Senge and his colleagues.”

There’s quite a few things to unpick there, and it’s important to understand our role as L&Ders within that.

Let’s take a look at “a company that facilitates the learning of its members” first.

Right, so that’s the piece which we’re mostly familiar with in our roles. We provide learning and development opportunities – mostly formal – to our people at work, with the aim of upskilling them and improving their performance. That typically looks like classroom based training, e-learning and workshops of various sorts.

Modern organisations have an array of ways that we can now facilitate that learning so it’s no longer restricted to these methods. One of the key ways in which we can improve that quickly and easily is curating content that is already present in the organisation. In olde money this used to be called knowledge management. These days we call it content curation.

What is content curation?

It’s this: organisations spend a lot of time producing content for a range or purposes. Comms produce content to share organisational messages, legal produce content to protect the company, finance produce content so that processes are followed, sales produce content so that we maximise opportunities. Curation of that content means identifying a way that you can bring that content together in a meaningful way which helps people do their job better. You don’t need to repurpose that content, you just take it as is, provide some context for why it’s together, and make it available to people. Digital tools help this happen really easily these days, and you don’t have to spend inordinate amounts of time doing it.

Facilitating the learning of your members doesn’t mean you have to deliver all the learning yourself. If you have subject matter experts, why not ask them to create or deliver learning solutions? You can’t know everything about everything as the L&Der, so don’t try. Just do the best you can by helping the subject matter expert to understand good learning methodology and then let them create and deliver the content as they see best. Lots of digital tools like Conceptboard or GoTo Training or Webex helps to deliver solutions in fun, creative and engaging ways.

Aiding' transformation'

Next, let’s take a look at “a company that… continuously transforms itself”.

Wow, now that one can seem like a tall order, especially if all you’re used to doing is delivering classroom based or digitally led training. This means helping bring out insights, taking learning from organisational activities and using that to improve the way things are done. Is that the sole responsibility of L&D? No, it isn’t. But you can take bites out of what you can control and help share that and make it better.

Experiments are the key here. Find teams where you can experiment and try new and different ways of doing things. Big ideas are great and fantastic, but you have to start small before you go big. Take the big idea, modify it so that it can work on a small scale, trial it (or pilot it or experiment or… you get the idea), learn from it, and do it again.

What happens when you do this is that you start to cultivate a learning culture by virtue of the experiment even taking place at all. Sometimes, that’s all you need for people to take their own initiative and start engaging with their own learning their own way and independently of you.

The other key piece of this part is to help teams find ways to let each other know how they’re performing – not against the company KPIs but in terms of collaborative efforts. If one team is being a pain and not helpful to another, are they being told? How can they hear that feedback well? Who needs to be responsible to have that conversation (hint, not L&D)? How can you support them to not have to be the ones to make all the changes? Are your processes actually causing them pain in the first place and that’s why they’re being a pain in return? That internal feedback, that’s key. If that isn’t happening, you can’t learn and you can’t become a learning organisation.

Remember that you can't control everything

The last thing that this modern learning organisation means is that you as the L&Der can’t control (and shouldn’t try to) all the learning that is taking place independent of you. If people are out there, learning in their own ways, sharing that learning and helping others learn, that’s an amazing outcome. If you’re helping facilitate that, helping design for that to happen, and helping people be generally amazing at work, then that’s a pretty unbeatable position to be in.

What do you think about this? Have you tried any of these methods? What other methods have you tried? I’d love to hear your questions, comments and insights.

Sukh Pabial is a learning and organisational development leader. He is a guest writer for the Creative Huddle blog and runs his own consultancy, Challenging Frontiers.

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