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”. Here are 3 principles of Modern Workplace Learning.

1 – MWL is more than modern training

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.

But MWL is 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 –

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.

 2 – MWL is about continuous incremental learning

An important aspect of MWL is building and supporting continuous learning in the organisation. When it comes to continuous learning it’s also important to remember the difference between providing continuous training and supporting continuous learning.

Here are 5 features of a training course or educational event.

  1. It is a one-off block of learning. It is generally measured in hours, days weeks or, months, and has a start and end date, e.g. a training day or a 3-month online course or programme. It happens in a defined place or space, for instance in a classroom or training room, or an online course or in a virtual training event.
  2. It is instructional. The content has been designed in a logical sequence so that it takes the learner through the material in an organised way. starting with the fundamentals and then building upon that, It tends to provide a complete and comprehensive coverage of a topic (at least at the required level).
  3. Working through the “block of learning” may be a purely passive experience for an individual (e.g. listening to broadcast information or clicking through a series of slides of an online course), although there might be some interactive elements e.g. carrying out online activities, or working with others on collaborative tasks.
  4. It often concludes with a test of learning comprehension.
  5. The learning process is usually managed by an instructor or even a system (LMS)  that tracks and monitors that the individual has completed the block of learning and passed any required tests. The learning process is often (but not always) supported by someone to help the learner understand the content.

Once the block of learning is over, however, that’s pretty much it, it’s a one-and-done experience. So in a “continuous training” view of the world,  an individual then moves onto another next block of instruction either to acquire more knowledge on the same or to receive some instruction on a different topic. But continuous learning is different as we can see when we compare it below.

  1. It is an ongoing process of learning. It is not measured by the amount of time it takes. It has no start or end date because learning never ends. It happens little-by-little, day-by-day, and knowledge and experience builds up over time.
  2. It happens in all settings as people do their jobs, browse on the Web, carry out their daily lives, and interact with their friends, family, colleagues and other contacts.
  3. Although incremental learning can happen by chance (as a by product of doing something else) an individual also proactively seeks out relevant activities and experiences to help them learn. Although these may be complete in and of themselves, an individual has to actively make the connection with what he/she already knows in order to learn from it, it’s not just about doing lots of things!
  4. Success is measured in different ways, e.g. (in the short term) through improved job performance and (in the longer term) through career progression.
  5. The individual manages their own continuous learning. It’s a personal or professional decision and choice about what is to be learned and how it is best achieved. Generally, there is little or no support for this type of learning, the individual is entirely on their own.

Whilst organisations do need to offer a range of continuous learning opportunities, 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.

3 – 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. We have seen that a large percentage of what an individual learns at work, happens informally, 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 from traditional training view of workplace learning.


⇒  Who is responsible for modern workplace learning?


Last updated: June 9, 2020 at 14:53 pm