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Jackie Clifford

Clarity Learning and Development


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Are learners ready to embrace learning innovation?


Over the years, I have run many ‘Train the Trainer’ programmes and delivered units on HR qualifications relating to learning and development. One of the things I have particularly enjoyed is the debate around what we actually mean by the word ‘learn’. It creates such discussion and on occasions the conversation becomes quite charged. 

What is learning?

In 1967, Bass and Vaughan defined learning as 'a relatively permanent change in behaviour that occurs as a result of practice or experience'.

The latter part of the definition relating to change in behaviour seems to be the one that causes most controversy in the training room – participants tell me that they learned dates in History lessons and grammar in English classes, but it hasn’t changed their behaviour. 

This is an interesting point; I believe that using correct grammar is probably a change in behaviour, but some learners view behaviour change in terms of being more assertive or being able to ‘deal with difficult people’. 

In their 2014 book ‘Make it Stick’, Brown, Roediger and Mcdaniel tell us that when they talk about learning they mean ‘acquiring knowledge and skills and having them readily available from memory so you can make sense of future problems and opportunities’. When I’ve offered this definition, learners often seem slightly bemused and not sure how learning relates to problems. 

We need to use methods that will engage our learners in their own learning and support their motivation, rather than introducing something because we heard about it at a conference.

All this has made me wonder whether our learners generally define learning as ‘something that happens when I sit in a classroom setting with a trainer or tutor’. I also wonder if this is often the way that managers define learning as well, which is a double whammy when conversations turn to the development of skills and knowledge and how gaps might be filled.

I still hear people talking about training needs rather than learning needs which has a huge assumption embedded in it i.e. that to learn, I need to be trained. 

This brings me to the title of this article and my wondering about how we in L&D see learning innovation and how those in the workplace see it. 

Pragmatic innovation

One definition of innovation is ‘making changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products’. As we strive to be innovative, we need to be careful that this takes place in a way that is appropriate for our audience and their needs.

As lifelong learners ourselves, L&D professionals are likely to be keen to embrace new and different ideas. Sometimes we can be like magpies, flying after the newest shiny idea and maybe forgetting the context of our participants and the needs of our organisations. 

‘Learning to learn’ is now back on the agenda. 

We need to use methods that will engage our learners in their own learning and support their motivation, rather than introducing something because we heard about it at a conference or read about it in an article and we think it’s a fantastic idea!

I would like us to think about pragmatic innovation; innovation that is used to support learning that is directly linked to individual, team and organisational development. 

Creating a learning mindset

But what if our learners don’t want to be engaged and self-directed? What if our learners only feel that they’ve been learning if they have received a large quantity of information, delivered via a slightly interactive presentation or lecture?

What can we do to change the mindset of our learners and support them to embrace what Andy Lancaster describes as ‘learning in the flow of work’? 

Learning to learn

‘Learning to learn’ is now back on the agenda and I’m keen to explore ways of building this concept into daily working lives. 

I’ve written before about reflection and feel strongly that this is a vital part of daily learning practice. But what else can we do? Here are some ideas:

  1. Provide tools for individuals to reflect on how they learn best and the ways in which they have learned this week, this month and this year. This could include self-assessment questionnaires and ongoing personal development plans (not the ones that are completed during the annual performance review and forgotten until next year!).

  2. Help managers and their team members to consider continuous improvement methods and relate these to ongoing learning. Make learning and continuous improvement part of the daily conversation.

  3. Support managers to use their ongoing performance conversations as learning opportunities by giving them some tools and techniques to use that encourage learning from experience. Simply asking team members ‘what’s been going well and why?’ is a great way to start.

  4. Consider how team members can be encouraged to watch and listen to what is going on around them and use their curiosity to ask questions of their colleagues so that knowledge and skills can be shared every day.

  5. Encourage the use of collaborative platforms and closed social media groups to pose questions and provide answers to questions so that knowledge and experience can be shared in a ‘just-in-time’ manner.

  6. Support teams and individuals to openly discuss the mistakes that have been made during the week or month and then discuss what can be learned from these.

I’d love to expand this list and it would be great to hear what readers are actually doing in real workplaces up and down the country. Please share your comments and ideas so that we can all continue to learn together!


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Jackie Clifford


Read more from Jackie Clifford

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