Learning is not something to get

When times were tough, training departments slashed budgets by replacing face-to-face instruction with online reading. They failed to follow through with the discussions, practice, social processing, and reinforcement that makes lessons stick. It didn’t work. Most eLearning is ineffective drudgery. ~ Jay Cross

In too many cases we view learning as something that is done to people. It’s almost as if we are goin’ to get some learnin’! We think we can “get” an education or “get people trained”. This is absurd.

A wonderful example is provided from a possible near-future in Margaret Atwood’s absorbingly dystopic novel, The Year of the Flood: “I was going to Martha Graham [College] partly to get away from Lucerne, but also I had to do something so I might as well get an education. That’s how they talked about it, as if an education was a thing you got, like a dress.”

We need to look at work and learning together. A workscape perspective can help us see how learning and working are interrelated in a business environment that is a complex, interconnected ecosystem today. But this causes problems for our current management and organizational models.

If learning is everywhere, then who is in charge of it?

If learning is the work, why do we need a separate department responsible for managing it?

If workers are responsible for learning, why can’t they take control of it?

Our networked reality is changing how we view workplace learning. The questioning is already happening.  The basics of our economy are in question. Copyright is no longer the bastion of our knowledge economy. Complexity informs every aspect of our lives. So why should learning be controlled by some external, and usually not that important, department?

Individuals need to take control of their learning in a world where they are simultaneously connected, mobile, and global; while conversely contractual, part-time, and local. Organizations must also move learning away from training and HR, as some external band-aid solution that gets called in from time to time, to an essential part of doing business in the network age. Learning has to be owned by the workers and learning support has to be a business function. Then we can get on with net work.