What is Modern Workplace Learning?

It is clear 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 therefore an approach that aims to bridge that gap.  However, it does require a new learning mindset that views learning at work very differently. It requires a much broader understanding of the term “learning”:

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

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.

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.

 MWL means continuous learning

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 skillsin many different ways –  both planned and unplanned, formal and informal, at work and outside work.

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 at work – in order to help people learn to do their jobs (better). This is a very different mindset.

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


⇒  Who is responsible for modern workplace learning?


Last updated: February 25, 2020 at 12:38 pm