Why Workplace Learning is Complicated


I’m continuing the discussion between Brent Schlenker and Jane Hart who both have interesting perspectives on people unwilling to learn in a corporate environment.  As Brett says, “it’s more complicated than most think.”

Here’s my oversimplified explanation of why it’s complicated:

It’s all about people.  

And people are complicated.

Organizations create goals based on their vision, mission and strategies.

Departments within the organization, create goals that support organizational goals.

Action plans are created to help achieve these goals.

Different people own portions of the action plans.

Owners of the plan bring their own filter (e.g., experiences, motivations, fears, biases, etc) to the plan.

People need to “do things” to make progress on the action plan.

These people also bring their own filters to the “doing” part of the plan.

As do their managers, which may or may not align with each other.

Some of the things that people “do” require them to behave differently.

Doing something differently means changing.

Most people want to do the right thing.

But, people may or may not be ready to change because of the different filters they have.

And changing to support organizational goals may not be in the best interest of each person.

A big part of changing is learning or unlearning.

Most of this learning/unlearning happens through experiences and connecting with other people.

Work is learning and learning is work.

People have to try new things and sometimes fail from these experiences.

And this needs to be encouraged and supported by their managers and the organization.

If it is supported, most people will learn faster and gain more confidence in changing.

They will also tell friends and colleagues about their supportive work environment.

If it’s not supported, people won’t change.

And for the people who can find a new job, they will.

Most of the reasons that people don’t change their behavior is because of their environment (process, tools, manager).  

Some of the learning/unlearning required for change happens through formal learning experiences and events.

This is usually when people lack the skills needed for change.

People also need to see how formal learning is connected to their work.

Learning and change are a process that can take a while.

Sometimes people “can do it.”

Sometimes people “can’t do it.”

Sometimes people take a while “to do it.”

Sometimes people “won’t do it.”

Sometimes people don’t understand “what to do.”

Sometimes people do change but it’s not the right change for their manager or the organization.

Leaders need to build trust, be consistent and patient.

The workplace is changing faster than ever.

The future of work is learning.

Everyone needs to create their own learning network to keep learning.

The organization is not responsible for your learning.

They can only help support and provide an environment where learning flourishes.

You are responsible for your own learning.

If you are not changing or changing fast enough, you’ll be left behind.

Which means you need to change to be successful.

Leading us back to why it’s complicated.

Because it’s about people.