5 Features of Modern Workplace Learning

There is a big mismatch between how individuals acquire new knowledge and skills and what they value (discovery, discourse and doing), and what organisations focus on and value (didactics). Modern Workplace Learning (MWL) is an approach that aims to bridge that gap.  However, it does require a new learning mindset that views learning at work very differently. The 5 features of MWL are described below.

ONE: MWL involves a much broader understanding of the term “learning” 

We have seen that people learn in many different ways not just through formal means (but in many more informal ways. But there are other considerations too, in particular whether people learn intentionally or accidentally (ie as a by-product of doing something else) and also to what extent they are aware of what they have learned or not).  The 4 D’s of Learning (Didactics,Discovery, Discourse and Doing) are plotted onto the  graphic below.

[A more in depth look of the concept of “learning” is provided on A word about the “learning” word.]

TWO: MWL is more than modern training

MWL is therefore not just about ensuring competence, compliance and conformance but enabling and supporting individuals to learn in different ways and for many different reasons – e.g. to solve performance problems, equip themselves with the knowledge and skills for the future, to keep up to date, or for inspiration –

Whilst some training will be required in the workplace, this does need to be done in more appealing ways for modern employees, however, it is far more important to ensure that if training is provided, it is the most appropriate solution to a problem, and then, and only then, ensure it is offered to the individuals concerned in a format that is relevant and meaningful for them. It will also need to be performance-focused and its success measured in terms of defined performance outcomes.

In other words, it Is not just about designing, delivering and managing stuff for people to learn from , but to help them do more for themselves, and in particular to help them become more aware of what they have learned in informal situations at work.

THREE: MWL means building a continuous learning environment

An important aspect of MWL is building and supporting continuous learning in the organisation

  • This doesn’t mean individuals continuously taking courses – although studying can be part of an individual’s personal and professional continuous learning strategy.
  • It doesn’t mean continuously training people – although training may well be part of of an organisation’s continuous L&D strategy – but recognising that learning happens every day in some form or other – planned and unplanned, conscious and unconscious – both inside and outside work. Organisations do need to offer a range of continuous learning opportunities, but this involves much more than just implementing an online course library, as Shelley Osborne explains.

“It’s time for L&D and HR professionals to promote the value of continuous learning and move their teams away from the static programs that helped to breed the bad reputation of corporate training.”

So a continuous learning environment is not a platform but a workplace where everyone is constantly acquiring new knowledge and skills in many different ways –  both planned and unplanned, formal and informal, at work and outside work

FOUR: MWL is an integral part of working

Learning is not a separate activity from work but one that happens in the workflow and as a result of work. Research has shown that the vast majority of what an individual learns in the workplace is informal and that this happens continuously, in the flow of work as people do their jobs.   In other words it means that “informal learning” is not something to be designed and managed, but rather is something that needs to be supported and enhanced as it occurs naturally in the workflow – in order to help people learn to do their jobs (better) – a very different way of operating!

With this in mind it is therefore best not to refer to your people as “learners: but rather as “workers”, “employees” or “colleagues”, [For more on the rationale for this, see page Stop referring to your people as “learners”]

FIVE: MWL is everyone’s responsibility: 

  • Individuals need to take responsibility for their own continuous self-improvement, learning and development to stay relevant in their jobs – and not rely on being spoon fed by their organisations – hence developing the skills for modern learning will be key. Having personal and relevant learning experiences will be important, rather than relying on a one-size-fits all, sheep dip approach to training.
  • Managers need to take (much more) responsibility for the growth and development of their people in their daily working lives – and not just pass this off to their L&D department. it means valuing non-training ways of learning, adopting modern learning practices themselves, and encouraging the sharing of knowledge and experiences in their teams
  • L&D teams need to stop trying to “command and control” workplace learning. After all they can no longer provide and manage everything everyone needs to learn to do their job and prepare them and the organisation for the future. Their work will need to be more about supporting building, enabling and supporting this new organisational learning culture and mindset. Adopting modern workplace learning mindset will not mean imposing some top-down change management program, rather it will mean L&D having a new relationship with the business.

⇒   L&D’s new relationship with the business


Last updated: November 14, 2019 at 12:59 pm