Organisational Learning: One-Hit Wonders vs. Albums

A supportive learning culture embedded within the business is one of the best investments in its own future.

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After many years in the Corporate Learning Sector, I have seen technology take us from paper-based exams to digital assessments in our own homes. I have witnessed, and been part of, projects that took Learning Management Systems to new horizons, taking access to learning for employees to a whole new level, on a scale never seen before. Technology has moved forward drastically, but it seems that the deployment of content hasn’t. Over 15 years ago, I deployed courses that were done 4 times a year, the schedule never changed and neither did the design and deployment of content.

Today, I’m still seeing corporate bosses making the same decision to stick to training that is deployed statically, once a year or quarter. The learner dreads the impending doom of having to do the training. Sitting at one’s desk for an hour, clicking through the course, bored and taking in little of what’s in front of them. Learners are seen to be working on one screen and clicking through the course on the other. Others are seen to be scrolling through Facebook whilst clicking monotonously through their course.

It's the equivalent of listening to a one-hit-wonder song. You love it when it first comes out, you know the words and music. Over time you listen to it more and more and sure, you sing along with the words you know so well. But is it a song you want to listen to, on repeat, over and over with no new impact?

What if learning moved towards an album style of learning? Carefully written, cultivated, and planned out in an order that the learner is taken on a journey. Adele famously campaigned for Spotify to remove the ‘shuffle’ button on albums as she said, “Our art tells a story, and our stories should be listened to as we intended.” The same is for learning.

An album title is like a topic title, that gives the learner an insight into what the album is about. In Adele’s case, she used her age so that album signified that period in her life. Albums are great and sometimes songs (or learning units) are great on their own. But to get to the heart of what the album is about, you have to listen in album order and be taken on that journey.

Learners should be taken on a journey of learning, where units complement one another and are supported by management and mentors, underpinned with policies in place that create a holistic and organic learning culture. And so, I find myself asking, why has learning technology moved on so much in the last 10 years, but the design and process of deploying the learning hasn’t?

So, let’s focus on why businesses are sticking with the same song. Why is this? Well, having worked on many campaigns, I can easily answer. It’s down to time and money. The short-term versions anyway. By planning out the learning, going out once a year, or quarter, the teams working on this can easily plan their other tasks around it. To a degree that it becomes regular to them that at a certain point of the month or year, they start the process to deploy the next course. Time spent on the planning and the time spent on the deployment are two different factors and incredibly, the responsibility of learning is usually given to someone as an addition to their role. So quick decisions are made at the top, with no employee opinions provided or given.

I’m not saying every business does this, but it is very common from my experience. There’s a lot of pressure at the top, to get learning in place. Once it’s in place, it’s done then, isn’t it? We don’t need to do anything except get courses out regularly so we can say, hand-on-heart, that we deploy learning frequently to our learners.

The amount of stress and pressure is very high. It can be very intimidating to think about the responsibility of learning for a whole business. And I think it’s fair to say that people base new things on their own experiences. So if a manager has had a bad experience of learning and never had anything different or new, they’re likely to stick to what they know and provide the same experience to their teams. This leads to a negative learning culture, that’s stuck like an old record, where learners feel disengaged from the overall reason for the learning.

So why is album-style learning the best way? And why isn’t everyone doing it if it’s SO good?

This is simpler to answer than the first question, and this is down to time. Sure money also comes into it but time is the main factor, and I’m talking long-term here. Curating an album of learning is something that takes time; to understand the audience, the learning outcomes that are required, the format of the learning, the accessibility of the learning and the support around it.

The planning of such learning takes time, as both managers and employees should be involved. Surely the person working in the Finance Department should be the best person to understand the most effective way for that department to learn? Experts should be consulted on the subject matter, of course. But employees and learners can comment and advise on the experience of learning and what works best for them. Curating an album of learning that suits all departments is hard and there has to be a little compromise. Not everyone likes every song on an album (except maybe Fleetwood Mac, Rumors? Such a great album, but I digress) but ascertaining what learners want from their learning experience will be paid back to the business immensely. They’ll feel part of the solution, and this in turn helps build a positive learning culture.

If they’re consulted on the learning experience then when the learning is made available to them and deployed, the business already has their buy-in to the programme. This album-style learning takes time to implement, and the result is a healthy learning culture.

CIPD’s definition of a Learning Culture is “one that embeds learning into how things are done at an individual, team, and organisational level. This requires strong leaders to follow a strategic model for learning and to support employees towards a collectively shared vision and positive change through open dialogue and reflection.”

The “strategic model” can be misinterpreted into the static learning that’s deployed annually to quarterly, but really it can also mean learning that’s modelled for the learner themselves. sub-10’s platform is such a platform that provides the learner with a core pathway, with options for additional learning and a variety of formats so the learner can control their learning strategy. The business providing access to such a platform follows the CIPD definition.

Having a mentoring programme that fits alongside a positive learning culture and platform will not only empower employees but also make them feel valued. In a survey by McKinsey, 41% of employees left their job due to a lack of career development. By providing them with a mentor, and a learning platform, you’re already making excellent headway in preventing this from happening at your business.

So why are businesses still deploying old-fashioned learning on new learning management systems that are so technologically advanced? This is due to time. Time to spend on planning new programs and new content, and creating a positive learning culture takes management away from other things. Sticking to the same old learning format that everyone liked when it first came out is the easiest thing to do.

If you want to explore your business’ learning culture, take sub-10’s learning culture quiz to find out more. As for me? I’m off to listen to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album. No shuffle button of course.

Author Bio

With over 15 years of experience in the Learning Industry, from working in examinations, apprenticeships and corporate learning, Daisy has an in-depth knowledge of Learning Management Systems, deployments of courses and working with large corporate clients on their internal learning and development. As Chief Innovation and Product Officer of sub-10, she helps drive new and exciting ways of getting learners to engage with their learning and for businesses to invest in the workforce and reap the benefits. Find her on LinkedIn.

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