Practitioner’s Viewpoint: How to make learning more agile

Paula Ashfield offers her perspective on how organisations can make learning more agile and effective.

Like many other businesses, we are on a quest to learn in ways that help us stay ahead. Our days of publishing a catalogue of programmes are over; they’re out of date before people attend.

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Whether we talk about a learning formula, such as 70:20:10, or a mission such as One Learning a Day, the goal is the same: enabling more agile learning.

But in opening our eyes to different learning possibilities, we’ve created a real challenge for people to identify which approach to choose.

Remember Forrest Gump’s fabled “Life is like a box of chocolates”? The same could be said of ways to learn. You never know what you’re going to get until you try it. Then who’s to say a different approach wouldn’t have been better? 

The challenge for the learning team is even greater. How do you advise which one to select?  Do you endorse the traditional caramel classroom training, or something different?  A mojito parfait MOOC  perhaps? Or maybe it’s better for someone to seek inspiration from the flavours others have tried? 

Faced with a proliferation of ways to learn, we need to create clarity from confusion. As learning professionals, we often build skills for development coaching, but forget that we can use the same skills to help someone define the best approach for them. GROW, in common with many other coaching frameworks, starts by identifying the outcome or goal, which is a great place to start a conversation about learning. Personally, I favour the simplicity of three questions:

  • What does success look like? Success in learning is even more tangible if it’s defined by what other people would recognise about the specific differences in someone’s skills or behaviour.
  • How could you achieve it? The better you define success, the easier it is to generate and select options. Painting a vivid picture of what will be different in the day to day can also highlight what else might be needed to apply what’s being learnt.
  • Who’s going to do what and when? This action plan is invaluable when using a blended approach, as there’s often a logical flow to the activities, and an opportunity to build in recognisable milestones.

Using these three questions to define development objectives not only targets learning options, it highlights opportunities to learn day to day. Stanford University’s Arnold Zwicky describes this as frequency illusion – when what you’ve just identified suddenly crops up everywhere. In this case, it’s what you want to learn.

By creating a positive filter, once an idea comes to mind you unconsciously keep an eye out for it and consequently find opportunities to learn everywhere. Then a confirmation bias reaffirms each occurrence as proof, creating a virtuous circle of continuous learning. 

Develop coaching skills in people managers and it gets better. Not only is learning better focused and more agile, it’s reinforced in one to ones and daily conversations. This is something we’ve recognised by investing in coaching at Danone.

However, embedding our own skills as learning practitioners is invaluable. It enables us to adopt a more consultative approach that uncovers links between learning outcomes and business strategy and can start from those three simple questions.

As we increasingly need to demonstrate the value of learning, enabling more agile approaches that translate to bottom line results sounds like a great way forward. 

About the author

Paula Ashfield is organisational development manager for Danone Nutricia Early Life Nutrition. She can be found on LinkedIn.



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