How an Organization Views Learning is Critical


Some thoughts to add to the discussion between Jane Hart and Will Thalheimer

Learning Finds a Way

If someone within an organization wants to learning something, they will. This person finds a way no matter what is or isn’t made available from L&D or another part of the organization.

If this person keeps hitting a dead end every time they try to challenge themselves, they will leave the organization for better opportunities. 

This is a loss to the organization in many ways and is an organizational wide problem. This doesn’t remove L&D or the organization’s responsibility for nourishing and supporting a learning culture.

Who is Directing the Learning?  

It’s helpful to view workplace learning from the perspective of an employee (i.e., the people within or doing work for an organization)?

  • Organizational directed – the organization initiates something (e.g., a new assignment, coaching feedback, a class, e-learning, support group, etc.) that results in learning.
  • Self directed – an individual initiates something (e.g., a new job, seeking a mentor, searching the web, talking with a co-worker, taking a class, etc.) that results in learning.

Each of these has common components (goals, observation, doing, reflecting, supporting) and L&D’s role is to help support learning for both of these perspectives.

Organizational and self directed are not mutually exclusive. They support each other -an alliance. The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age describes this alliance as:

“Think of employment as an alliance: a mutually beneficial deal, with explicit terms, between independent players.”

Employers need to tell their employees, “Help make our company more valuable, and we’ll make you more valuable.”

Employees need to tell their bosses, “Help me grow and flourish, and I’ll help the company grow and flourish.”

The result is a mutually beneficial relationship.

L&D has the biggest opportunity to help in the self-directed space.

How an Organization Views Learning is Critical 

The organizational reputation for learning affects the people that you attract and retain to the organization.  And…people are the most important part of an organization.

Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends 2015 highlights a few items key items:

Millennials are the largest % of workers in the U.S.  

millennials in workforce


Millennials value training & development over all other employer benefits. 

Training is a priority

So, the largest population in the workforce has high expectations of learning as a benefit within an organization.  This doesn’t mean they want more training classes.

They (as well as everyone else other, I believe) want more experiences that add value and joy to their careers and lives.

Millennials don’t just want to spend their time earning a paycheck; they want to invest time acquiring the skills and knowledge they need to grow both personally and professionally.

This is a revolutionary shift from the traditional sense of on-the-job training. Training no longer exists solely to meet compliance or company-mandated policies. The best training program today is a rich learning experience that taps into employee interests, passions and career goals.

Formal Learning is Still Needed in Organizations 

Just because experiences are how people learn best doesn’t mean that formal learning isn’t needed within an organization.

Let’s say you use 70/20/10 as the viewpoint for workplace learning (or a similar lens where formal training is the smallest portion of how people learn at work).

The 10% is a small portion of the someone’s total learning over time but the 10% can be a large number depending on the size of the organization.

What if you have 20,000; 30,000, 50,000 or more employees?  This can add up to a lot of formal learning.

Today, there are many skills that require formal learning (e.g., skills related to safely, compliance, regulatory, medical, legal, etc).  Especially for new employees or novices.  As people learning more, they will value more of the 70/20.  I like how Clark Quinn depicts this shift:


L&D is Only Part of the Equation

The bigger part of the equation is the organization itself, of which L&D is part. In most organizations, L&D doesn’t generate money directly and is provided a budget. The leaders of the organizations that provide the budget have a big influence in how that money is spent.  

It’s critical for workplace learning professionals to have good partnerships with their business partners.

The partnership is based on how well you help your business partners achieve its goals. This is why learning professionals need to speak the same language as their partners and not “learning” language.

If you work in an organization as a learning professional, I prefer the term Learning Business Partner. You are a business partner who understands the business, its challenges and you also provide a lens on learning that others don’t have.

This is where learning professionals provide the most value to the organization. This is where you have to be brave to suggest and influence new ways of supporting employee learning.

You can help your business partners with seeing learning in a new way beyond the traditional course format. There are several other groups that you need to work with and influence in addition to business partners (e.g., legal, procurement, IT, etc).

It won’t happen all at once.  It takes a lot of effort, time, patience, bravery, compromise, tenacity, will power and passion. As Mark Oehlert says “start small, but think big and move fast.”

When you work within the organization you support, learning can be confusing.  We’re all human.



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