Self-selected learning

How and what do you like to learn?

Self-selected training
A major UK services company is reviewing how it supports learning in the workplace. They are looking to provide individual employees with the freedom to choose what training they want to take – whether supplied in-house or elsewhere: with the caveat that if they request funding it needs to be approved by the Human Resources department. The courses must be relevant and of benefit to the business. This raises a telling question: how do you decide what that is?

How would you evaluate whether a colleague’s choice of training was just what the company needs? All too often companies have a narrow purpose, missing the intrinsic importance of supporting enthusiasm and openness for learning of whatever kind. Have you ever yawned and groaned at yet another online company compliance course?

An alternative approach
Employee selection of their own training courses is not such a new idea. More than 25 years ago, before the internet was functioning with anything like its reach and depth today, I read a press report of a UK car company offering employees a personal budget for any out-of-hours course they wanted to take, on the basis that self-initiated learning enhances the employee’s value to the company: whether the learning is car maintenance at the local further education college or a Workers Education Association lecture series on medieval church architecture. This enlightened educational policy gave the company’s shift workers the kind of flexibility they needed to attend programmes when not at work.

Is this a good idea?
Choosing what to learn for yourself does not, however, seem to work that well. The thousands of free online courses, even those run from prestigious universities, are abandoned, uncompleted. Have you tried any? I have signed up for several myself, and fallen prey to the same loss of interest after a week or two, in spite of lively chat rooms, reminders and encouragements by email. ‘Do it yourself learning’, without the human connection to a tutor and student colleagues, isn’t the panacea hoped for. And nice to learn isn’t the same as essential to learn…whether it is essential to pass an exam or to ensure you don’t blow up the power station you manage.

How we approach it with Effective Intelligence
Our programmes are run as blended learning: online work is supported by live training and individual coaching with one of our Associates. When planning group programmes objectives are specific and clearly agreed as essential to learn… and because live face-to-face time is usually short the focus has to be sharp. However, my experience is that it is in the coffee breaks, and over lunch or a drink, with informal conversations, that honest questions arise, and where the tutor can make a real difference for individuals. This even applies with coaching: relaxed informality, which removes the driven nature of normal work life, enables real needs to emerge and real learning to be supported.

Where does this take us?
Of course there is no one answer. A country’s values create different attitudes to learning. I have worked in cultures as far apart as Malaysia and the USA. Each business within each country has to work out its own approach. From my own perspective, I do have a firm belief that the human, face-to-face encouragement and critique embodies the best way, though there will always be exceptions.

I also believe in ‘nice to learn’. As robots take over, keeping an open interest in all and everything will be recognised as essential: only humans have the capacities to think ‘beyond’ and that’s how we will flourish. My latest book, “I wonder: the Science of Imagination”, explores how you can retain and enhance your leading edge. More on this next time.

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