Content is not learning: How to redesign culture to drive learning

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Written by Armin Hopp on 18 December 2018

Reading time: 3m 30s.

The most important job of the learning professional is to create an environment in which learning can take place. Yet, most L&D professionals are still very much focused on procuring and creating learning content and on how best to deliver that learning content.

Learning content is not the same as learning – good content should trigger learning but whether or not an individual actually learns from training activities depends very much, of course, on his or her internal thought processes.

In a recent article, learning veteran and chairman of the Learning and Performance Institute, Donald Taylor comments that ‘Because the process of learning is invisible, people tend to focus on the processes that stimulate learning’.

L&D professionals have understandably sought to rise to the challenge by providing engaging content and efficient and effective modes of delivery, such as mobile learning. However, this is not enough and there is an increasing recognition of the need for a significant shift in learning delivery. 

People will only learn because they need to or because it fits in with their personal life goals.

There is growing recognition of the critical impact of the culture of an organisation on successful learning. It is becoming clear that companies that do not allow for coaching, mentoring and collaborative learning will struggle with creating the necessary climate for learning.

This is particularly the case when it comes to developing soft skills such as language and communication skills that are increasingly the secret sauce of a successful business. Here are three tips for how L&D professionals may better focus on learning outcomes rather than delivery:

  • Consumerise learning. For decades, learning professionals have very much shadowed the pedagogy of the education sector. The methodology has been to identify the learning needed to meet business requirements, generally compliance or role-based skills, and formalise this within classroom learning or digital learning modules.

However, this approach fails to capitalise on the increasing volume of informal learning that individuals are pursuing in their home lives. If people need to fix something at home, they turn to YouTube how-to videos. If they want to learn more about something that interests them, Google is their friend.

If they want to learn a new language, they can use apps on their mobile phone and access foreign language content such as movies. in many organisations, the continuing top-down delivery of learning provision fails to capitalise on the natural human desire to satisfy curiosity about new things.

One way to address this is to use intelligent software to suggest new learning options to employees, similar to Amazon and Netflix-style recommendations.

  • Maximise your ready-made learning community. Of course, good intentions when downloading a language learning app do not often translate into enhanced skills levels. How-to videos can leave some of us with more questions than answers.

This is where collaboration with other people pays dividends, enabling learners to consolidate skills, filling gaps in understanding and simply helping learners to keep motivated to carry on learning. in the workplace, learning professionals can maximise the advantage of a ready-made learning community.


Formalising access to learning content is now less important than creating an environment for collaboration. 

  • Encourage playing. Colleagues that play together, stay together. High performing organisations typically do well at this and large organisations can learn a lot from smaller start-ups. Start-ups that encourage employees to play together at football and ping-pong tables have been lampooned by larger corporates.

But creating an environment of playfulness can go a long way towards driving an environment of openness and collaboration, breaking down hierarchical barriers, and enabling a mutual process of learning and discovery. 

Learning professionals asking themselves how they might better motivate learners may be asking the wrong question. And neither the carrot nor the stick is the answer. People will only learn because they need to or because it fits in with their personal life goals.

While training professionals accept the value of personalised and user-centric learning delivery, too often this is defined in traditional terms, identifying an individual’s skills gaps and delivering learning content to fill the gap. A much more drastic transformation is needed, enabling individual employees to take the lead when it comes to learning needs and providing them with the tools to help them achieve that. 


About the author

Armin Hopp is the Founder and President of Speexx.

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