The New Learning Universe – the perspective of new entrants into the workplace

The New Learning Universe Part 1 by Frank Plummer, Systems Analyst at WillowDNA When I was at school, learning looked like this. We went in at 8.30am and had two 60-minute lessons before a break, two more 60-minute lessons and then lunch, a further two 60-minute lessons and then home time. Learning tended to be opening dog-eared, graffiti-scribbled textbooks and answering a few pages of questions, punctuated by teaching staff asking for feedback and occasionally someone being disruptive. It was not really effective at teaching you the material – we may have picked up enough to know the difference between a positive and negative number – but in most the experience taught us how to learn. It gave us the key skills we needed to consume learning in later life. Were that same approach used now, for key professional skills in the workplace, it would not work – it would not be adequate for the materials we need to digest and the complexity we need to handle – but that is where learning in the workplace has evolved. For the new starter to the workplace, the last thing they want to be doing is sitting competency exams or being dragged through a series of learning programmes. They are scared stiff as it is – having to remember names, numbers, procedures and where to park their car! Whilst there is a time and a place for these, I do not think it is in their first few months on the job. If they are passionate about their environment, eager to learn and very excited to be there – they will learn  and of their own accord. Teenager at computer office first jobIt sounds silly, but if you don’t know how to use the office printer, dial out to an external number on the office phone or log in to your office emails – what would you do?  You would – I hope – find a way to learn that information. You would use the tools and the facilities available to you to try and gain that knowledge.  Workplaces can certainly make that much easier by ensuring this key information is quick to find, updated regularly and accurate, but it doesn’t warrant a major induction. There are different avenues people take when they start a job and want to learn. They may be shy, need their confidence boosting – in which case “solo” learning may be more appropriate for them in their first few, shaky, nerve-wracking weeks. They may be happy to have peer assistance, in which case having a community around them might work best. Providing the tools and facility to use if they want to is the key factor here – it is up to them whether they use it or not. The reality is, new starters will learn a huge amount in their first few weeks and months at a new position. This is especially true to new starters to the workplace – university graduates, college/sixth form leavers – as the learning processes are still clear in their mind from having dragged themselves through the past few years of education. It may be that they do not learn best when consuming traditional learning at all – digital learning that replicates those models  may not work for them. They can use the skills that have carried them through the last 11-12 years of their life to learn about you, your workplace, your practices and your customers – so let them do it! Provide material, tools and resources to let them find their own way of learning. There is no right way and no wrong way – there is only their way (that last sentence was heavily influenced by the Karate Kid!). Technologies such as the Experience/Tin Can API really begin to seem attractive in learning landscapes like this. Unstructured, largely ambiguous data that has been stored from a variety of sources can be extremely valuable. When this data is analysed and the information extracted, a picture of how that specific learner has evolved and how they are growing as a professional can be built – and from that, you can begin to see how learning could be tailored for that individual in the future. Would they benefit from going on that course, or going to that conference? Or would booking them out into small, ad-hoc projects which are unique but give them a lot of exposure work best? I think that these changes in how learning is done will be key in the very near future, tapping in to the technology we all now have in our pockets but at the same time offering freedom and open ended learning for our learners.