Recognise learning as an everyday behaviour

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Over my time in the world of L&D, I’ve found that a considerable part of that time has been spent in helping people really understand what learning is and that it is happening everyday.

For those who know me personally, they are very aware that I loathe the word ‘Training’. When I hear the word training, I immediately think of when I used to take my German Shepard puppy to weekly dog classes in the hopes of getting him to sit down without being bribed with some sugary animal loved snack.

But due to many decades of corporate branding, most of the population connects the word Training to learning something new or in the case of many a compliance e-learning solution that we are forced to digest and will forget in 5 mins. Anyway, the point is that many people identify the times when they are learning to be when they are given training or put on training, generally in the form of a classroom experience or again a lame e-learning module (I shudder just writing the word e-learning, are we still in 2001 seriously?).

What I’ve found is that the general population believe that learning is something you do at a defined point of time, normally when someone else has told you “Today you are going to learn…..”. You could call this a branding issue and with that I cannot disagree.

Yet with the behavioural change that technology has enabled with access to anything, at anytime, anywhere, it still stumps me when people don’t recognise that we are learning all the time, practically every day.

Life is a learning journey

“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”

Albert Einstein

We only ever stop learning for one reason, when we die and aside from that it’s a constant learning experience. So, for me it is not really in teaching people how to learn as so many companies are trying to pitch at the moment, but rather in supporting people to recognise how we all learn and that it is free flowing, not defined and not controlled by someone telling you that at this time you will do this training.

Let me give you a generic example based from real life conversations I’ve had in the past:

Me: So tell me, what have been some of the key things you’ve learnt this year that have really helped you?

Respondent: Learnt? Urm…… I don’t think I’ve been doing much learning this year. 

Me: Really? I’m surprised you say that as I heard you’ve been doing some great work with our new tool and you’ve been helping others in the team too.

Respondent: Oh yeah! I’m ok with that new tool. I mean they put me on the training for it, taught me what to do etc. Actually do you mean what training I’ve done this year? I’ve done a few bits of training this year.

Me: Sure, yes, tell me what training have you taken part in this year?

Respondent: Well, I’ve only done a few things, but I’ve been to this course and this course, this one too and I went to this conference. So really, I would say I’ve not done too much training, I don’t think I’ve learnt that much either as we don’t really have many opportunities to learn here.

Me: That’s interesting you say that, so do you feel that you’re only learning when you’re sent on a training programme?

Respondent: I suppose, yeah, I mean – how else would I be learning and improving if I’m not sent on training.

Me: Ok, well, let me ask you this, how did you find out how to use pivot tables to produce that dataset you shared with me a couple of weeks back?

Respondent: ah well, you know what? I never knew how to use pivot tables until Jenny in the finance team really helped me out and spent 20 mins showing me how easy it was to do.

Me: That’s great and how did you create that amazing presentation for last week’s company meet?

Respondent: Zack in our marketing team was a life saver! I went to one of those talks we have here sometimes, which is odd because I never usually go as what’s the point ya know? But at this one Zack was talking to the group about how to build engaging presentations to land your messages and I took a lot away from that. It really helped me create the presentation for last week’s meet.

Me: Again that is great to hear, so it really sounds like to me that you learnt a lot in both of those examples. It seems you’ve probably been learning a lot more this year than you think.

Respondent: Yeah, I suppose, but it’s not like I did any training, I didn’t attend anything ya know.

Me: No you didn’t, but who says you have to do training? Did you not learn how to do all these things from those around you and other tools we have here? This is all what I would call learning and to me it seems like you’ve been doing lots of it.

Respondent: I suppose so…………. I just feel like I’ve not learnt much this year, we don’t have enough training programmes here I think. Actually, what other training do you think I can do this year? My manager says that one of my objectives is to do some more training so I need to find some things to do.

I think you get my point…

What I hope you get from the above transcript is that it’s not that people are not learning new things and improving their skills, behaviours and work performance. It is that they don’t recognise many of these scenarios when they are exchanging knowledge with other people, using google to find answers to questions or videos to see the visual solution to a problem as learning experiences.

In some ways I feel like a magician who pulls the rabbit out of the hat, with the hat resembling the traditional way many view “Training” and the revealing of the rabbit being the eureka moment of ‘shit I can’t believe he just blew my mind on the concept of training and actually I’m learning all the time’.

I believe an instrumental part of my role in learning (or as I like to look at it as human development) is to help people recognise that learning is an everyday behaviour.

It is not something we are given a defined slot to do, it is around us everyday and we are actively partaking in it whether we know it or not.

What I would like to see more of across the industry is not ‘teaching people how to learn’ but helping people to recognise the learning experiences around them and building learning as an everyday behaviour as part of an evolving culture.

In my view, L&D is not and should never be a siloed top down order giver. We are an enabler, one that supports in many different life cycles whether that be times of change or in the flow of life. The aspiration should be to help people solve the problems that cause them to stagnate, build connections, nurture knowledge sharing and champion learning as an everyday behaviour.

If you really want to make learning a key component of your culture then help people recognise the ways we learn. Your people will keep using the language of training and believing that learning needs to be delivered to them in a pretty parcel from their HR/L&D function until you instigate that change of narrative.

Bottom line, if you want to make real change that provides benefits for both people and a business, then help people recognise we are always learning and make learning an essential everyday behaviour.

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