We are delighted to welcome Tom Spiglanin as our guest blogger this week who is sparking this week’s discussion about On-Fire Learning.
In a recent article, I described on-fire learning as, ‘what the self-directed active learner does at every turn and with every opportunity, zealously looking to grow with each new experience and encounter, always seeking to improve performance.’
In short, the on-fire learner never misses an opportunity to learn something, and that learning is often serendipitous. When the new knowledge is merged with the existing, new ideas are synthesized, and ideas are the fuel of innovation.
From birth, we’re always learning. Some of this is “pre-wired,” such as learning to crawl, stand, walk, talk, run, and more. Much learning is experiential, between the individual and the environment: I burn my hand on the hot pan and learn to sense heat before touching it the next time. Early learning is also social. Rules are learned from authorities, and many of those rules are broken with other children.
Children are so marvelously inquisitive.
Somewhere along the way, most people lose that natural inquisitiveness. They go to schools where rules are expected to be followed. Learning becomes formal and standardized. As they age, play becomes less free-form and more organized. After school-age ends, many head to universities to pursue more formal education. People become employed and are subjected to new rules and expectations. Outside work, they take on financial responsibilities that make successful employment that much more important. The life of Peter Pan, never growing up, looks more and more attractive.
The organization’s perspective
Many organizations followed the university model of instruction when it came to developing employees, placing sage on stage and asking him or her to share what they know in classrooms. New technologies later enabled students and instructors to be distributed around the world, and elearning offered an alternative delivery mechanism. All the while, the underlying approach to education in the workplace remained largely unchanged.
Online social media are now causing organizations to look differently at workplace learning. These media offer new ways of connecting employees with experts and information within the workplace, and the traditional approach of sage on stage no longer fits. While I see these developments as significant steps in a positive direction, they still meet only a small fraction of an individual’s performance and development needs. Research studies suggest, “that informal learning accounts for between 70 and 95% of workplace learning” (Jarche, Informal rule of thumb).
Encouraging informal learning
Because creativity and innovation are a natural result of an on-fire learning style, and because online social media now connect individuals to others and information in ways never before possible (more fuel for the fire), organizations today need to find ways to develop (or foster) self-directed, on-fire learners in the workplace.
Individuals need to be empowered to develop knowledge networks and filter knowledge they gain from them for the benefit of their workplace. At the same time these organizations struggle with concerns about exposing intellectual property or proprietary information, so they create policies to protect against that but may also inhibit or stifle on-fire learning.
In my post, “Social Learning from the Employee’s Perspective,” I identified three things I believe organizations can focus on to encourage self-directed “on-fire” informal learning among employees:
- awareness of knowledge networks and the value they offer for personal and professional development;
- recognizing that interacting with others through online social media often results in learning, whether it was an expected outcome or not; and
- stimulating and encouraging employees to proactively use knowledge networks to benefit their performance in the workplace.
As learning & development professionals, we can lead the charge toward this rekindling, by becoming the change we want to see and igniting and supporting change in those around us. We are in a unique position to influence the organization through our work and connections to the disparate functions of the business. We should take advantage of that wherever possible to encourage and support our organizations to reap the benefits from what we know and continue to learn.
Please join us on Thursday 19 July at 16.00 BST/11.00EDT/08.00PDT to discuss becoming and encouraging on-fire learning in our organizations.
Looking forward to seeing you there!
For almost fifteen years, Tom has been developing learning strategies, educational products, and instructional designs for the Learning Systems Center of The Aerospace Institute, the educational division of The Aerospace Corporation. He also facilitates learning public speaking and communication skills in the classroom and increasingly online using social media.Tom earned his Ph.D. from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, and his B.S. from the University of California at Riverside. All views expressed are his own and not those of his employer. You can find Tom on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tomspiglanin and read his blog Thoughts about workplace learning