MWL – A new approach to workplace learning

This is a page of the first FREE section of MWL 2023. 

Back: INTRODUCTION TO MODERN WORKPLACE LEARNING 2023


ONE: Learning is a VERB not a NOUN!

“Learning” is not a product or commodity – which means you CAN’T design, deliver or manage learning. You CAN, of course, design and deliver training and manage access to training or use of some content, like a course – but training and the use of content/course is only one aspect of the way we learn.

This is not just a case of semantics or being pedantic; euphemisms really don’t help.

In fact the mis-use of the word “learning” doesn’t just cause confusion, it also perpetuates the idea that “learning” is only something that can be put into someone’s head (in some sort of formal, designed, “packaged” way), when we have seen that most “learning” happens in informal and non-designed ways as people use the Web or carry out their daily work. This latter type of “learning” is just as important, in fact, as has been shown is considered much more valuable than the former.

A culture of organisational learning needs to recognise that

  1. learning can be intentional or planned (ie we set out out with the intention of learning something) OR  that it happens accidentally, serendipitously or in other unplanned ways as a by-product of another activity (like doing some work activity, interacting with colleagues or just browsing the Web)
  2. learning can take place both in and out of the workflow – in other words whilst doing your job as well as in a separate place or time from the day job.

In other words, whereas traditionally we think of “learning” as an intentional/planned learning activity that takes place outside the flow of work (eg in a training room or classroom), in the modern workplace we need to have a much broader definition and understanding of how and where we learn.

TWO:  “Learner” or “Worker”?

In a similar way, we need to be careful of the use of the word “learner” as this also reinforces traditional thinking about learning as a planned, intentional activity. Marc Rosenberg explains what’s wrong with calling them learners?

“Because that’s not who they really are!

CEOs don’t refer to their employees as learners. Customers don’t call their sales reps learners (and sales reps don’t call their customers learners). Front-line supervisors don’t gather their people together and begin meetings with “I want to thank all you learners for coming.”

The primary role of an employee is a “worker” – they go to work to work – unlike a student who goes to school or college to learn and therefore their primary role is a  “learner”. Hence in the context of the today’s workplace it is more appropriate should refer to them as modern workers or even just individuals.

THREE: Learning is more than training; L&D’s role is more than designing and delivering training

So learning in the modern workplace is  therefore much more than just taking training! Modern Workplace Learning is more than Modern Training!  In the past the traditional role of an organisational L&D team was the creation of training or courses. Although some L&D teams have broadened their work into creating (short) resources and others have moved into curation – essentially the role is still mainly about creation and curation. Most leave it up to MANAGERS  to support the development of their team members, and are also not very much concerned with the other (learning) experiences that INDIVIDUALS have, if they have not directed them.

MWL, however,  is centered around each individual and his/her learning and development needs on order to support and enhance their job performance now and in the future. Further, in the modern workplace, everyone is responsible for learning at work – not just L&D but the manager and individuals themselves. L&D’s role therefore will be to enable and support all the ways of learning at work. We’ll look at this in more detail on the next page.


Nex:  MWL: New roles and responsibilities

Last updated: August 2, 2022 at 10:09 am