Magazine excerpt: Is human nature threatening our use of learning technology?

Andy Hurren for our August magazine.. 

At a recent get together of L&D managers and other industry experts, the most common theme of the day was the repeated reference to the need for learners to take more control of their own learning. With so much of our learning collateral now available through various online platforms, we are increasingly reliant on people using these opportunities.

As the debates went on, I found myself increasingly asking myself if the very flexibility of the learning technologies that we are using is in danger of undermining what we are trying to do.

Why should employees choose to take responsibility for their own learning? Since the very beginning of pedagogy, instructors, trainers and teachers have taken the lead by prescribing what learning needs to be undertaken and sent people off to classrooms of one type or another to do their learning.

Suddenly, because we have new technology to play with, we expect everyone to change their habits, because we think it will be good for them. We justify this by saying that it is more efficient and will provide a broader and richer learning experience.

We also point out that everyone learns like this at home. Doesn’t everyone use Google and YouTube to find out everything they need? Well, from my experience, it isn’t that simple in the workplace. At work, people have an expectation that their employer will tell them what they need to know in order to do their job and to provide them with that knowledge in a more traditional format.

Doesn’t everyone use Google and YouTube to find out everything they need? Well, from my experience, it isn’t that simple in the workplace.

‘Self-directed’ or DIY learning is not necessarily what they had in mind! If, like me, you have spent the last few years designing a learning infrastructure based on the use of an LMS, a social learning platform, bite-size digital content and thousands of hours of content that recreate a work-based Google solution, then this revelation is likely to set you back on your heels.

How do we overcome this challenge to our bright new world of learning? How do we shift people’s habits and expectations so that they align with our vision of the future? The reality is that classroom and
instructor-led learning provide a familiar structure, with which learners are comfortable.

It also creates an opportunity for collaborative and peer-to-peer learning, which appears to be missing with online content. We can’t expect people to take control of their own learning and to make the most of the new learning technologies unless we create the structure and framework for them to be able to understand and engage in the benefits of our learning revolution.

A performance-based learning approach, where each person is provided with a learning curriculum, based on their performance objectives, current capabilities and development needs (for current and future roles), is necessary to ensure that everyone understands the reasons for accessing their own learning and stays motivated to do so.

Campaign- or organisation-based learning objectives will also help to bond employees together in shared development objectives, creating a shift in organisational capabilities and a vital shift in learning culture. The evolution of learning technology does provide us with the opportunity to increase learning and improve performance in our organisations, but don’t assume that just because you have built it, they will come!

This piece is featured in August’s TJ magazine. To subscribe click here 


About the author

Andy Hurren is the head of learning at RWE npower. Follow him on Twitter here @andyhurren


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