In a Panic
Supporting Learning-to-Performance in Organizations

What Does the Voice of the Learner Tell Us?

The Masie Center has just published the results of their most recent survey on how employees learn in 2008 and it's an interesting read.

  • More people are learning independently in ad hoc, asynchronous fashion. "In a six-month period of time, 70% turned to reading, 58% searched the web and 58% participated in on-line e-Learning to gain new skills or information for their jobs." I'm not sure if this a good or a bad sign. Are people doing this because they're taking charge of their own learning and it's an effective strategy? Or are they doing this because organizations aren't investing in their staff?
  • "Employees appear satisfied with their ability to learn for work using technology (80%), but are generally less satisfied with the amount of time they have available to learn (48%).  It seems that as options for learning have expanded, perceptions about the availability of time to learn have decreased.  Employees have more learning methods available to them than ever, but have less time to pursue learning and/or feel overwhelmed with their options." This is where I think we need to do a better job of facilitating people in developing learning plans that work for them. That includes assisting them in figuring out ways to embed learning into their daily lives.
  • Let Us Stretch: Job Rotation/Stretch Assignments are among the least frequently used learning methods selected only by 11% of employees, predominantly because the opportunities were not available to them.  Half of employees that had not participated in a job rotation/stretch assignment indicated that those opportunities were either not available or not used by their organizations; yet, supporting data suggests that employees overwhelmingly want more of their time dedicated to those kinds of experiences. As Rosetta Thurman has pointed out, stretch assignments are one of the best ways to build real skills, so in some ways it's surprising that they don't happen more often. I suspect that it's because they take more time to craft and because they feel a lot less manageable to people.

The standout finding for me is that employees seem to want a combination of high touch and high tech learning. That is, they value technology for its ability to help them engage in ad hoc, asynchronous learning activities. At the same time, they want more "high touch" experiences like coaching, one-on-one mentoring and individualized learning. I think that it's possible to combine these in a lot of ways--virtual mentoring comes to mind--although I think the challenge is to find the best intersection between high touch and high tech, using the best features and attributes of both.

So if we're doing learner-centered design, what do these findings tell us about how we should be crafting professional development activities?

Comments

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I like "the voice of the learner," which reminds me of my GE days and the state religion of Six Sigma.

I think you raise a highly relevant question: are organizations simply neglecting training and then labeling that neglect empowerment? I have seen all too often that large organizations seem to expect people to "do training" in their theoretically discretionary time. In practice, that works out to before work, after work, during lunch, or on their own time.

Another thought -- I agree with you that mentoring, virtual or otherwise, can greatly facilitate learning. I haven't seen much evidence of organizations addressing the issue of how to mentor, though. It's not an innate ability; like on-the-job training, it can be done well, but not often by accident.

Despite senior management's belief, "make it so" is not always an effective strategy.

Allison Rossett some time ago working on a mentoring program for real estate agents. She found that the client organization needed to create training, support, and new forms of compensation for mentors (what a surprise, huh?). It turns out that the typical mentor was an experience agent, and time spent mentoring the newcomer was time taken away from the mentor's own sales, which meant the mentor's own income and, possibly, the source of the mentor's job satisfaction.

Excellent data. Thanks for the link. I'm creating my first video on Monday so this really helps to motivate me. Now if I can just get the 20-somethings to watch and learn from this old geezer:-)

Kia ora Michele!

I believe that there are a number of factors that have contributed to this.

One is that, as you say, less time is now available for staff to learn. Training, as such, has been pushed down the list of company priorities - and this started to happen globally about 20 years ago.

Though training has been brought back as PD, in the main it is specific to the workplace, which is training for the workplace, not PD. But even so, there has been little or no time allowed for staff to practice what they learnt when they get back to the workplace - in short the training theory has disappeared. An example is that there is less 1 on 1, and training as such is relegated to Friday afternoons when in fact they should be held Monday mornings for effectiveness. Trainees are expected to be able to sprint immediately after training when in fact they are just at the toddling stages at the end of the PD sessions.

There has been an increase in the Conference type PD which is general and not specific, is talking heads and not necessarily workshops as such, that is, hands on stuff. This can be motivating, but rarely leads to real PD that causes professional development (which is what PD is supposed to be!)

Conferencing is also time consuming and there is a tendency for time allowance for conferencing to be absent altogether. For instance, I have been to 2 conferences this month (each 2.5 days) and I'm still remonstrating for proper relief for this - the work simply piled up for me during that time.

People have been recognising that these things have been happening for much of the 20 years I speak of here. But . . .

Information has become more readily and more freely available. Training courses, expensive as they are, have had to compete with this by providing take-away information and beefy sessions to attract trainees.

In short, people are deciding to do their own PD and b@993r the company so called PD.

Michele, I could go on with this list!

But, y'know, it is getting to be the same in secondary schools. The learners have got to a stage, globally, where they are on the point of opting out of school - you will have read that before. They are about to kick it away! This is for much the same reasons as people are seeking their own PD, reading, searching the web, participating in olline courses - for they have little time to consolidate learning that is relevant to them and their future when they are at school. They have little sense of achievement in some systems etc, etc.

You perhaps sense my frustration as a teacher, lifelong learner and father of two teenagers?

Ka kite
from Middle-earth

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