learning at workThink back if you will to the last time your HR department organised a mandatory training session for you.  You can probably hear the groans that went around the office.  To be honest, I suspect the HR team shared this ambivalence.  After all, no one wants to be disliked by their peers, and you want to create this culture whereby learning is seen as an essential part of your day and is enjoyable, right?

There is another way however, and social media is at the very heart of it.  We’re living in the midst of a fundamental shift in how learning is delivered.  TED recently went past 1 billion views of its videos for instance.  The Khan Academy is threatening to revolutionise how our children are taught, whilst universities around the world are opening up their courses online.  These MOOCs have already seen millions enroll on courses at the best universities that would previously have been the preserve of the few.

So how does this impact your organisation and how can you tap into social learning?

The incredible demand for things like TED show that people do want to learn.  They want to pick up new skills and get better at their jobs.  The Khan Academy, not to mention the vast number of online support forums, show that people are all too happy to help others and share their knowledge around.

Social learning therefore is simply a case of tapping into this culture, and make no mistake, it is a culture that you need to develop.  Having the tools and the technologies will be useless if you don’t have a culture of continuous learning and improvement.

Social learning is not just the technology of social media, although it makes use of it. It is not merely the ability to express yourself in a group of opt-in friends. Social learning combines social media tools with a shift in the corporate culture, a shift that encourages ongoing knowledge transfer and connects people in ways that make learning a joy.

For many people, learning is associated with being a solitary endeavour, possibly even a competitive one.  The classrooms of our youth were not generally ones where we helped and learned from our peers.  Despite the prompting of thought leaders such as W. Edwards Demming, our workplaces still have this culture of competition and political posturing where learning and mentoring is overshadowed.

The thing is, your time is limited.  If you want learning to happen, it can’t be something that HR has to provide.  You don’t have the time or resources to provide the learning your workplace needs.  It’s essential that you socialise it.  You have to make it the responsibility of everyone and both encourage and empower them to self-select where they can both learn and mentor.

Tips for creating a learning culture

  1. Lead from the top – If you want to make learning a habitual exercise that all employees engage in, then it needs an example to be set by your senior managers.  The simple act of them showing that learning is important also shows employees that no one is perfect or has all of the answers.  Your leaders need to be the champions of this culture, and the embodiment of it.
  2. Accept your flaws – If you don’t have any weaknesses, you won’t need to learn new things, right?  If a learning culture is to develop we need to be able to look honestly at our failings without getting defensive about them.  Don’t wait for annual appraisals.  Instead make reviewing performance a regular event, whether that’s formally or informally.  Today’s business environment entails high uncertainty and rapid change, with less room for traditional planning. What leaders know is less important than how well they can challenge, learn and adapt. In such environments, fast and furious learning trumps rigid protocol.
  3. Go easy on mistakes – It’s said so often, yet still the feeling persists that many employees are terrified of making mistakes at work.  This fear translates then into a failure to try new things, and certainly a failure to admit that you may have things to learn.  It stems from the notion of hero leadership we still see so often whereby the leader is supposed to know it all and can turn organisations around with the click of their finger.  Chance is often overlooked, and however much we do the right things, the results can sometimes disappoint.  If you focus instead on doing things the right way then you focus on things you can control and improve.