What I learnt about learning.

Transforming something that’s already good is indeed a huge challenge and it needs a very different mindset and very competent set of people (as your team) who are highly skilled in making major transformations happen. I have observed that business and functional transformation has fast evolved as a center of expertise in many organizations and in some organizations it is also evolving as a permanent function. The landscape of learning (What, Why, How, When and Where of Learning) has changed significantly over the last one decade and some of the major paradigm shifts have happened due to the following:

1. There have been new research outcomes and suggestions in the area of neuro science and human learning that has helped us understand how people learn and hence it has compelled many to re-think their learning interventions and designs.

2. The advent of technology and disruption caused by the digital and social media has turned the concept of training and classroom learning upside down. Today, the technology of Learning Management Systems (LMS) has beautifully evolved from systems of record to platforms of sharing, networking, knowledge management and hence learning. The LMS functionality and its apps have made them a superior platform for learning on the go. Smooth dovetailing of the LMS with the HR ERP is helping connect the learning function with the overall competency-based HR processes of the company.

3. The unique needs, styles and aspirations of the millennials and younger generational workforce members have compelled many organizations to re-think their learning function and its offerings. The whole shift from traditional classroom-based training to mixed models of learning such as on-the-job, coaching and mentoring, open source learning platforms on the internet is picking up rather fast and every company needs to have a clear strategy, plan and a technology platform that can cater to this.

4. Sustained economic uncertainty has compelled organizations to become more efficient with the learning and capability building investment. Theoretically speaking, learning is still a discretional spending. However, many have learnt that not having the right capabilities, skills, competencies and knowledge makes today’s knowledge workforce inefficient and unproductive and that severely affects the organizations’ performance and perpetuity.

It is important that the learning function takes advantage of the fast evolving digital and social tech platforms. You better be continuously innovating and learning or you will soon become irrelevant to your audience and learners. For instance, 20 years ago not many would have imagined that high-street banking will die and all those beautiful bank buildings on the high street will become cafes, bars or boutique shops. Because of the shift towards online banking, the banks with the best online banking products, solutions and service and security will survive and win. Similarly, not many imagined that you would not have to buy a newspaper or watch television at home to keep pace with the world and its news. Today, I don’t buy a newspaper and watch television for news!! Look at what’s happening to the retail sector. I had never imagined shopping suits or shoes online, but today I do and it works well. Hence, make sure you have team members who are tech savvy and have the necessary skills and competencies for leveraging the best in class technology and social networking/learning platforms.

Moving from Instructional Design (ID) to Learning Experience Design (LED)

Companies and vendors still talk about instructional design (ID) as the core of learning content development. ID was at the core when the dominant medium and channel of learning was the classroom, where the belief was that the instructor or teacher is detrimental to one’s learning. Charles Jennings, my good friend and the father of 70:20:10 learning principle and framework helped me understand and learn how important and fundamental this learning principle and framework is. 70 +20 = 90% of your LED should be on the job with leader led support and just 10% should be formal (Classroom + E-learning). E-learning modules, even if they are available on the mobile, are categorized as formal learning offerings. One of my biggest learning was in the area of designing action learning offerings for people to learn on-the-job. The difficult part in doing this is designing and ensuring a standardized way for the leaders to coach and support their employees whilst they are in action learning mode. I must say that I continue to learn in this area every day. Another important learning for me was that the company has to make some clear strategic choices about what they will do themselves versus what they should buy from vendors especially in the area of learning content development. We built a small but a powerful content development organization in Pune for the Philips University and they are more a COE, where they do develop some of the learning content for Philips University but their primary role is to ensure quality of learning design and content for all learning offerings of our company and develop strategic vendors for the bulk of learning offerings. It works very well and I am blessed to have a fantastic team of highly competent and skilled people who are making a huge difference.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

I had once blogged on this topic and in my opinion it’s important when it comes to learning too. You can create the entire infrastructure and build all the technology platforms, but if you don’t work on creating a learning culture, culture where learning is sought, supported and celebrated – you will fail in achieving the desired impact of learning in any organization. Leader led learning is a very strong trait of any organization’s culture. It’s when leaders of the organization own, support and drive learning versus the Learning COE. Learning COE should be the enabler and the value creator and not the owner of learning. Building a learning culture is by far the most difficult thing when you are transforming learning and one my learnings is that it takes time to build the culture. It’s a journey – but you have to be at it.

1. Don’t confuse learning with leadership development. Learning is a sum of many parts, while leadership development, talent management, culture building, capability building, leveraging technology are some of the important parts. If you don’t embed leadership development under learning and treat and manage it separately – you might end up confusing the organization and there might be duplication of efforts.

2. Run your learning like a business. Most progressive companies invest significantly in learning and as the Chief Learning Officer you are managing significant budgets. Business acumen, the ability to manage P&L and be operationally excellent are pre-requisites for any CLO. Fortunately, I had done line roles in the past and had the experience of managing P&Ls and large budgets, but I learnt how to run learning like a business, which creates value for its stakeholders and measure its impact on the organization and its eco-system. The five practices of excellence—Project Management, Process Management, Change Management, Performance Management and Continuous Improvement—are fundamental in managing a large scale learning transformation program. Make sure you have the best-in-class people owning and leading each of the above-mentioned practice and apply lean and design thinking as you build the ‘Learning Machine’ for your company and run it like a business.

In conclusion, learning is indeed a very specialized subject and it has some very specific technical nuances, which one needs to learn. However, it’s not rocket science if you have a strategic mindset, are operationally savvy and have the will and wherewithal to learn and innovate. It takes time to transform learning and create a learning culture and in my experience it takes about two to three years to manage a project well. The transformation journey has its moments and every moment and experience over the past two to three years has been learning for me. If I was asked to do it all over again, I would say a BIG YES and will be able to do it more smartly because of my learning about learning.

I am re-blogging this article, which was carried by People Matters, a leading HR Magazine and learning resource for Human Resource Professionals. The original article can be accessed at http://goo.gl/VnUIsF 

2 thoughts on “What I learnt about learning.

  1. Hi Yashwant,

    Great blog. This post interested me the most since it is in the learning space. I like your emphasis on Learner Experience Design.
    I have one opinion though that I would like to express. eLearning is still seen as something distinct from on-the-job learning. In my opinion, the reason is that eLearning (especially the ability to create interactive eLearning content) has never been easy, so it is not well integrated with the on-the-job environment. eLearning has always needed “external experts”.

    However, technology now has grown leaps and bounds and it would make sense to reap the eLearning benefits in core business functions. This would come with democratization of eLearning – the ability for lots more people (or anyone) to create eLearning material.
    A simple example – a distributed sales team could be fed with bite sized interactive eLearning modules about the product portfolio, USPs of products and commercials involved – and all such modules being created by the internal team (training or marketing team) with more ease than they create powerpoint presentations. Any updates or new product training would take just minutes to create and disseminate.

    I believe it is time that eLearning takes a more mainstream role in business. I have a disclaimer though – this belief also comes from the fact that I am leading a company (a technology platform) that powers eLearning for business specific trainings by making interactive content creation easier than creating powerpoint slides :).

    Would be curious to know about your opinion on the role that a more democratized eLearning can play in businesses.

    Regards,
    Gagan

  2. Hi Yashwant,

    Great blog. This post interested me the most since it is in the learning space. I like your emphasis on Learner Experience Design.
    I have one opinion though that I would like to express. eLearning is still seen as something distinct from on-the-job learning. In my opinion, the reason is that eLearning (especially the ability to create interactive eLearning content) has never been easy, so it is not well integrated with the on-the-job environment. eLearning has always needed “external experts”.

    However, technology now has grown leaps and bounds and it would make sense to reap the eLearning benefits in core business functions. This would come with democratization of eLearning – the ability for lots more people (or anyone) to create eLearning material.
    A simple example – a distributed sales team could be fed with bite sized interactive eLearning modules about the product portfolio, USPs of products and commercials involved – and all such modules being created by the internal team (training or marketing team) with more ease than they create powerpoint presentations. Any updates or new product training would take just minutes to create and disseminate.

    I believe it is time that eLearning takes a more mainstream role in business. I have a disclaimer though – this belief also comes from the fact that I am leading a company (a technology platform) that powers eLearning for business specific trainings by making interactive content creation easier than creating powerpoint slides🙂.

    Would be curious to know about your opinion on the role that a more democratized eLearning can play in businesses.

    Regards,
    Gagan

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