Learning occurs in many contexts

The new learning architectThroughout 2011 we will be publishing extracts from The New Learning Architect. Here is the second part of chapter 1.
Most of us go to work in order to perform tasks in return for some mix of money, status, recognition and job satisfaction. We may be lucky enough to have a job that allows us also to contribute to some greater good; we may enjoy the work itself and the company of our fellow employees, customers or suppliers; we may also choose a particular job because it has the potential to satisfy our career learning objectives. Learning may or may not be the reason we go to work, but it is an inevitable consequence, whether or not the employer or employee makes a deliberate attempt to promote it.
The learning architect has to appreciate the many contexts in which learning takes place within the working environment:
Learning can be formal, in the sense that it is packaged up as a ‘course’, with pre-defined entry requirements, a structured curriculum and content, professional facilitation and some form of assessment. Formal learning interventions can be based on individual study or group work, they can be delivered face-to-face or online, or as some blend of all of these. They play a valuable role in ensuring that employees obtain the critical skills they need to carry out their jobs, although only a small fraction of what employees learn in their working careers can be traced back to these interventions.
Learning can be non-formal, in that, while it prepares the employee to carry out their current or future job responsibilities, it is not so formalised as to constitute a ‘course’. One-to-one approaches, such as on-job instruction, coaching and mentoring constitute the majority of non-formal learning, although employers may also choose to run conferences and short workshops for groups of employees, or to provide resources, such as white papers, podcasts and videos for individual use.
Learning can be on-demand, in the sense that it occurs as an immediate response to a work-related problem, rather than in advance; it is ‘just-in-time’ rather than ‘just-in case’. In many jobs there is now more to know than can ever be known and such a rapid turnover of knowledge that it simply makes no sense to try and ‘teach’ every aspect of every job up front. On-demand learning can be supported from the top-down through the provision of performance support materials and help desks, or facilitated as a bottom-up activity through search engines, forums and wikis.
Learning can be experiential. Much of what we learn at work does not occur deliberately, as we ‘learn to’ do something to meet a current or future need; rather it occurs as we ‘learn from’ our own experiences and what we observe of the experiences of others. Experiential learning can be allowed to just happen of its own accord, but the new learning architect will want to help create an environment in which it flourishes, to create the true ‘learning organisation’. Employers can support experiential learning in many ways: through job enrichment and rotation, through performance appraisals and project reviews. They can also encourage employees to reflect on their experiences through techniques such as blogging.
Coming next: The learning architect is a professional
See the first part, Architects for Learning
Obtain your copy of The New Learning Architect